Swallowing material such as plastic, rubber, fabric, metal, rocks, string, and certain foods (corn cobs, chicken bones, oversized treats, and other large foods) may lead to problems if they get stuck!
Ingested material that can cause a problem is referred to as a foreign body. Foreign bodies can cause a spectrum of problems ranging from mild irritation to getting stuck and causing an obstruction to potentially making a hole in the intestines called a perforation. The degree of problems depends on the object’s size, shape, and density, and the size of the animal that consumes it.
Symptoms that a foreign body could be causing problems include:
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea three times or more in an hour
- Blood in vomit and/or diarrhea
- Sporadic vomiting and/or diarrhea that lasts longer than 36 hours
- Pain, discomfort, or tension when you touch the abdomen
- Weakness or lethargy
- Anorexia or a decreased appetite that lasts longer than 24 hours
- Refusing regular food and only eating treats
- Defecating pieces of foreign material
If any of these signs are seen, or if you are otherwise concerned about your pet, they should be seen on an emergency basis or at your primary care veterinarian as soon as possible.
What kind of problems can foreign bodies cause?
- Irritation: Rough, sharp, hard, or heavy objects can cause inflammation and irritation to the intestines.
- Pancreatitis: Ingesting butter or other fatty substances can lead to inflammation of the pancreas, called pancreatitis, which can be very painful.
- Obstruction: Some objects can get stuck, preventing food and gas from moving along. This can become life-threatening as the intestines can distend and lose blood supply, which can lead to perforation. Obstructions can be complete, or partial, meaning that some material may be able to pass by.
- Perforation: Some sharp objects, or obstructions that are left too long, can make a hole in the intestinal wall. This is a life-threatening emergency that can lead to a very severe infection in the abdomen.
- Aspiration Pneumonia: With excessive vomiting, there is a risk that some of the vomit will be inhaled (aspirated), leading to severe breathing problems and pneumonia.
Help! I think my pet has some of the symptoms above! What will the visit be like?
- History: Your veterinarian will ask questions about different materials your dog could have gotten into and about your pet’s symptoms.
- Physical Examination: Your veterinarian will check for dehydration, abdominal pain, and other problems.
- X-Rays: X-rays can clearly show metal or bone. Cloth, rubber, and food are not always clearly seen because they can blend in.
- X-rays can show signs of obstruction and perforation if the intestines are very dilated or there is free fluid in the abdomen.
- Your veterinarian will likely recommend 2 or 3 x-rays to turn a 2D image into a 3D image
- Obstructions on x-rays can be subtle, so sometimes films may be sent to a radiologist for a second opinion.
- Gas or inflammation can mimic an early obstruction. If there is a suspicion of an early obstruction, your veterinarian may recommend rechecking x-rays later or performing an ultrasound.
- Chest x-rays are recommended if there is a concern for aspiration pneumonia.
- Ultrasound: Sometimes recommended if there is a suspicion of an early obstruction on x-rays to determine if a foreign object or a separate condition is going on.
- Blood Work: Blood work is recommended if there is a concern of electrolyte changes from vomiting or diarrhea, and to look for other causes of vomiting and diarrhea.
- Blood work is routinely recommended before surgery to make sure that there are no underlying problems that could lead to complications.
What would happen if my pet has an obstruction?
Typically, once an obstruction is confirmed, immediate intervention is recommended to prevent life-threatening complications.
- Endoscopy: An endoscope is a small fiber-optic camera with a tool to grab objects. Not all hospitals may have access to endoscopes.
- Endoscopy may be recommended for relatively small objects in the stomach, esophagus, and rectum.
- Endoscopy is relatively less invasive than surgery, though it still requires anesthesia.
- If endoscopy is unsuccessful, surgery may need to follow.
- Surgery: A surgeon will remove the foreign object under general anesthesia if it is causing an obstruction, perforation, or prolonged clinical signs.
- If the stomach or intestines are perforated or are very damaged, sections may be removed through a process called resection and anastomosis.
- Complications include bleeding, infection, and failure of the intestinal stitches, which can lead to perforation.
- Animals are typically hospitalized overnight after foreign body surgeries to receive fluid support and pain medications.
If you have any questions or concerns at all, don’t hesitate to contact our team right away!