Ingestion of Foreign Bodies in Dogs & Cats

Squeaky toys, socks, even corn on the cob can all pose a risk of foreign body obstructions in dogs. While some dogs can pass these objects on in their stool, other dogs will become obstructed. This causes both damage to the intestines and a life-threatening condition. In the following article, I will discuss GI foreign bodies and obstructions and the clinical signs and treatment.

We all know some dogs are “keen” on getting into things they shouldn’t. There are a lot of both man-made and natural substances that can get stuck in the G.I tract. Some of the more common items in dogs include socks, balls, the centers of squeaky toys, and even corn on the cob. Cats like to eat strings, yarn, rubber bands, and other linear objects like cords from curtains.

In some cases, a dog or cat may pass or defecate the foreign body; in other cases, the object becomes lodged or stuck in the stomach or small intestines, causing a life-threatening condition. This occurs for two reasons.

First, damage to the G.I tract can cause adhesion and scarring. If a foreign body causes a perforation, bacteria from the G.I tract will be spread into the abdomen, causing a condition known as sepsis or a systemic body infection. It is also important to note that some objects can stay in the stomach for several months before shifting positions and getting lodged in a place that causes an obstruction.

Second, a true GI obstructed patient will be unable to digest food and defecate. Or will only be able to defecate the small amount of material that can pass by the obstruction. As a result, a state of malnutrition will occur, causing a patient to be unable to metabolize food and gain the energy needed from it. Over relatively short periods, the patient will lose weight and become emaciated.

Dogs and cats with GI tract obstruction will likely have symptoms of vomiting, not defecating, or only defecating in small amounts. They may Lose Appetite eating only the most enticing things or not at all. Over just a week to a few weeks, they can lose a significant amount of weight.

If you think your dog or cat may have eaten something that could cause a GI obstruction, it is very important to schedule an appointment with your Veterinarian right away. Your veterinarian will obtain a history, and it is very important to mention if you think your pet ate something they shouldn’t have and what that object or thing is. Your veterinarian will then perform a thorough physical examination, and when possible, attempt to feel your pet’s GI tract from the outside, palpating for any foreign objects.

If a foreign body is suspected, radiographs are the first diagnostic test often recommended. X-rays can detect foreign objects made of metal or mineral (calcium bones, for example) but cannot see all things a patient could ingest. However, in many cases, x-rays may reveal an “obstructive pattern”, meaning dilated intestines that appear due to the obstruction. If radiographs are suspicious but not fully diagnostic, an ultrasound is recommended, which is an even more sensitive test.

If a foreign body is diagnosed, surgery will likely be recommended to remove it, especially when it appears unlikely that the obstruction will pass on its own. In these cases, exploratory surgery is recommended to remove the foreign body. With removal, many patients will do well and will return to full function shortly after surgery.

As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you think your pet is prone to getting into things they shouldn’t, taking great care to avoid the opportunity for your dog or cat to eat something is of paramount importance.

Some measures which can help include keeping your laundry in a closed closet and off the floor; keeping pets away from children’s toys and tempting items like hair bands and pencils; taking trash containing food (peach pits, corn on the cob, chicken bones) directly to an outdoor trash can, and generally pet-proofing your home.

Dogs & Cats with Foreign Body Obstruction

If you think your dog or cat has eaten something they shouldn’t have, I recommend calling one of our Veterinary Hospitals to schedule an appointment with a member of our veterinary team. Foreign body obstructions can be very serious, and even life-threatening, but with proper treatment, they are often curable. With a little bit of care and a lot of love, we’ll have your pet feeling better in no time and back home with you.

Jeffrey Stupine, V.M.D.

Medical Director

World of Animals Veterinary Hospitals