Foreign Body Ingestion

Dogs and cats explore much of their world by picking up objects in their mouths to be examined, similar to the way humans use their hands. The accidental swallowing of these objects is a fairly common event, especially for the younger animals. Fortunately, most things that are swallowed are either vomited up or pass through the intestinal tract without significant harm being done. Sometimes, however, objects become stuck somewhere in the stomach or intestines and an operation is needed to remove them.

An obstruction may be suspected if your pet has a history of chewing objects in the past and begins to vomit as well as showing evidence of abdominal discomfort, depression, loss of appetite and dehydration. Blood samples may not be very helpful, other than to rule out other possibilities, while radiographs often are more revealing. Many foreign bodies, unfortunately, don’t show up on radiographs and thus a contrast material, such as barium, is needed to help make the diagnosis. In veterinary medicine sometimes the practitioner is able to palpate the foreign body within the intestines upon examination with some of our smaller patients. If there is enough supportive evidence then exploratory surgery is usually recommended.

If your pet does have a foreign body that must be removed surgically the sooner it is removed the less the damage will be to the intestinal lining. If the object is solitary the procedure is called an enterotomy. This procedure involves making a single incision over or adjacent to the foreign body and then expelling the object through the opening. The opening is then sutured closed and allowed to heal. If the object is linear in nature several enterotomies are often needed is this case. If there is too much damage done to the intestines from the foreign body then entire sections of the intestine may have to be removed surgically. If the object has been stuck in one place for too long or if the object has cut through the intestines (perforation) resulting in a leakage of the contents into the abdominal cavity this will lead to a very serious generalized infection called a peritonitis. Postoperatively, antibiotics and a special diet food are needed to promote an optimal environment for healing to take place in the shortest time. If there are no complications the pet can often be reunited with the family in 3 to 5 days.

Swallowing any non-food object can lead to serious, even life threatening, consequences. While in many instances nothing may happen to your pet from swallowing a foreign body you need to always be aware of any abnormal symptoms that may suggest that an object maybe stuck somewhere in the intestines. Early recognition, treatment and close monitoring postoperatively are the key elements to a successful outcome if an obstruction should occur. Unfortunately, most pets don’t learn from their experience and change their behavior in order avoid the same mistake in the future.

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