What if my dog eats a foreign object? The Ultimate Guide

How do I know if my dog has eaten a foreign body?

Most pets that have ingested a foreign body will exhibit some of these clinical signs:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal tenderness or pain
  • decreased appetite (know as anorexia)
  • straining to defecate or producing small amounts of feces
  • lethargy
  • changes in behavior such as biting or growling when picked up or handled around the abdomen
  • After obtaining a thorough medical history, your veterinarian will perform a careful physical examination. If a foreign body is suspected, abdominal radiographs (X-rays) will be performed. Several views or a series of specialized X-rays using contrast material (barium or other radiographic dye) will often be necessary. In addition, your veterinarian may recommend blood and urine tests to assess whether the patients health has been compromised by the obstruction, or to rule-out other causes of vomiting such as pancreatitis, gastroenteritis, infections, or hormonal diseases such as Addisons disease.

    What Foreign Objects Is My Dog Likely to Swallow?

    Dogs, cats, and other pets don’t always recognize danger, especially younger pets. To them, if an object looks interesting, why not swallow it? Some of the more commonly ingested items include:

  • Toys – If the toy is small enough to fit in your pet’s mouth, it can be a hazard.
  • Jewelry – Common pieces swallowed are earrings and necklaces. Rough edges and backs of stud earrings can also cause tearing or piercing of the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Bones and meat skewers – Bones can get lodged in the esophagus or splinter and cause severe damage. Meat skewers can puncture the GI tract, as well as become lodged.
  • String – Christmas tinsel, gift wrapping, yarn, and other string-like objects are particularly appealing to cats, and can create a dangerous obstruction.
  • Clothing – Is your pet a panty raider? Items like socks and underwear are frequent offenders.
  • Feminine products – These, unfortunately, are commonly ingested by pets and can cause a blockage.
  • Rawhide – Small pieces of rawhide can cause choking or an obstruction.
  • Small objects – Anything small enough for your pet’s mouth, but large enough to get stuck in their throat, esophagus, stomach, or intestines, is a risk. This includes batteries, rocks, sticks, golf balls, leather items, and coins.
  • What happens when a foreign body is ingested?

    Some objects are small and smooth enough to pass right through the gut without causing a problem. Larger objects can get stuck within the intestine and block any food from getting through, initially causing to dog vomiting. Another problem arises due to the peristaltic (or squeezing) motion of the muscular gut wall as it tries to push the foreign body along. If the object is not removed the pressure builds up around it resulting in the blood supply to the gut wall being compromised, then becoming devitalised. In the worst case scenario the gut wall may then rupture where bacteria and ingesta can enter the abdomen causing severe pain, peritonitis, shock and eventual death.

    A linear foreign body (eg a string) may be caught in the mouth but start to travel through the intestines. This results in the intestines starting to bunch up and there is a high risk of the string cutting through the intestines.

    My Dog Ate a Foreign Body! Now What?

    Ever place a piece of food down only to turn around and find it missing? You wonder if you’ve lost your mind, but then you see your dog eying you guiltily. Oh, dogs. Anything that tastes remotely good can be at risk for disappearing down their gullet.

    Sometimes, non-food items are at risk of disappearing. Toys, socks, trash — basically anything lying around your house can be a possible snack in your dog’s eyes. Rescue dogs that were starving at some point in their life can also develop ‘the gobbles’, where they will overeat if given the opportunity and swallow things they shouldn’t. Let’s take a look at what to do when your dog swallows a foreign object.

    Finding out exactly what foreign object your dog ate is imperative in deciding whether you need to seek veterinarian help or not. For toxic substances, like antifreeze, large amounts of chocolate for your dog’s size, or foods containing xylitol, you should get professional help as soon as possible. For more advice on what to do when poisons have been ingested, call the ASPCA poison control at 888-426-4435 for guidance.

    Let’s say you came home to your nearly-full garbage bag torn apart and its contents are spread all over the place. You’re not exactly sure what trash items may have been gobbled up by your pup. Some non-food items that are small enough will be able to pass through your pet’s digestive system unimpeded. Hopefully, your dog has torn the item, like a food wrapper, into small enough pieces that it will come out the other end without issues.

    So, your dog ate a large foreign object, like a sock or a stuffed animal. Larger objects can get stuck anywhere in the digestive system from the esophagus to the intestines, to the stomach. Large objects will likely need veterinary assistance, and possibly surgery, to be removed. They may induce vomiting to expel the foreign object your dog ate.

    Remember, younger dogs will try to eat almost anything. Be conscientious about what you leave lying around the house. If they get into too much trouble while you aren’t home, consider crate training for their safety. If your dog ate a foreign object and you are unsure of what to do, give your vet a call. They will give you advice on whether to bring them in for an emergency visit or not.

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    Let us help figure it out. First, find a local clinic with a universal scanner to check your pet.