At Brooklyn Bark we jokingly call it "zipper surgery." But it is no joke. Sometimes it is the only way to save a pup (or kitty's) life after a bout of "creative eating." How to recognize? What to do? We turned to Dr. Chris Gaylord of North Slope Veterinary for an expert's insight.
Brooklyn Bark: Sometimes Barkers chew up toys or eat things that they shouldn’t. When do we need to worry?
Dr. Chris: Anytime you have reason to suspect that your dog or cat has swallowed something that is not digestible you need to be concerned. Some dogs have digestive systems like trash compactors and whatever they eat passes safely through and comes out the other end. But, there is always a risk of foreign material obstructing somewhere (usually either in the stomach or small intestines) and this can be fatal.
BBark: So what should I do if I see my dog or cat eat something weird?
Dr. Chris: Rapid response is important because in the best case scenario your veterinarian can give an emetic to induce vomiting so that the foreign material can be ejected from the stomach before it reaches the small intestines. If it’s a potentially toxic substance, they may also give activated charcoal to filter out any toxic material.
BBark: What are some signs that my pet may have a foreign body obstruction?
Dr. Chris: Vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and abdominal pain. Foreign bodies are not easy to diagnose even with radiographs. Many things that dogs and cats eat are not visible on radiographs so your veterinarian will have to look for an “obstructive pattern” in the abdomen. Often special tests and/or advanced imaging are required to determine if a foreign body is present.
BBark: What are the treatment options?
Dr. Chris: The biggest difficulties with foreign bodies are first to determine their presence and second to assess if they are likely to cause a problem. Anything that a dog or cat swallows that is not digestible is technically a foreign body, although many of these will cause an upset stomach but then pass through the gastrointestinal tract without causing an obstruction. In these cases, the symptoms can be treated and the animal monitored to make sure they don’t become obstructed. Intestinal obstructions require surgery, more or less immediately, to remove the foreign body. Additionally the surgeon needs to assess the health of the surrounding tissue. This requires the surgeon to actually view and handle the stomach and or intestines during surgery; it cannot be determined beforehand. Tissue that has been severely damaged or is necrotic needs to be removed. While most dogs and cats live through foreign body surgery, there is a very real risk of complications both during the surgery and throughout the recovery period. The financial implications of an obstructive foreign body surgery are substantial as well. Bills for foreign body diagnosis and surgery can run upwards of three thousand dollars.
BBark: Are there certain things to watch out for to try to prevent this from happening?
Dr. Chris: Toys are a big one for dogs that are aggressive chewers. In the summer especially, corn cobs and peach pits are a common problem. If nature set out to design something that would act as a perfect plug for a dog’s intestine, it would look a lot like a peach pit. For cats, string tends to be the biggest problem because they love to play with it and it easily gets stuck in their gastrointestinal tract. Sometimes this can cause an intestinal plication which is a “bunching up” of the intestines.
In general, it is important to pay attention to your pet, especially puppies and younger dogs, and take precautions if they have a tendency to chew up things they shouldn’t.
BBark: Can bones or rawhides cause a foreign body obstruction?
Dr. Chris: Yes, absolutely. Any time your dog has a bone or rawhide you should monitor them. Some dogs will chew very gently at the edges while other dogs (i.e. Labradors) will attempt to swallow whatever gets in their mouth immediately as if the act of chewing were a crime. Bones can be digested eventually, or pass though, but if they lodge in the intestines they would likely require surgery.
BBark: What kind of things have you seen dogs swallow?
Dr. Chris: Tennis balls, bouncy balls, Christmas tree hooks, remote controls, a cross on a pendant, socks, peach pits, corn cobs, compact discs, various coinage, staples, all kinds of things.
Christopher Gaylord, DVM, is the practice owner of North Slope Veterinary, 207 6th Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11217. A graduate of Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Gaylord practiced in Manhattan and Jersey City before opening his practice in Park Slope. He can be reached at info@NorthSlopeVet.com To make an appointment with Dr. Gaylord, call 718-789-7170, M-F: 9am-7pm or Sat: 9am-3pm. House calls available on request.