Most of the time pet owners aren’t too concerned about the various objects, play toys, and things found in nature that their pets chew on. This is primarily because pets seldom seem to have any difficulty with their favorite chew toys. Actually, it is often very comical to watch a pet spend hours playing with something as simple as a plastic water bottle or bouncy ball.
However, the statistics about pets swallowing foreign objects may shock you. Approximately 95 percent of all foreign objects swallowed by pets will pass without causing any problems. However, the other 5 percent are usually very serious and cause life threatening illness.
There have been countless times when I was amazed at the kind of foreign bodies in the colon captured on X-ray during examination for some other problem. These cases were not affected by the foreign body, they were just coincidental findings that were swallowed and passed without incident. I have seen things like nails, staples, wire, rocks, rubber balls and even sewing needles. Not long ago, I had to surgically remove a number 5 billiard ball from the stomach of an adult boxer.
Typically, young and playful puppies are most likely to swallow a foreign body because they are constantly chewing up anything they can get their teeth on. Yet I have seen adult dogs and cats become ill due to swallowing a foreign object. Actually, adult cats seem to swallow more things than kittens. Unfortunately, many foreign bodies causing problems are the toys that we give our pets to play with and chew on.
Obviously, some toys are more dangerous than others, and some pets are more destructive and likely to swallow a piece of a chew toy. Therefore, pet owners should pay close attention to their pets and decide on an individual basis which toys are right. Balls about the size of a golf ball or smaller are never a good idea simply because they are easily swallowed yet too big to pass from the stomach into the intestines.
Many owners ask whether or not rawhide chews are safe. For many dogs, rawhide chews seem to be fine, however if a dog bites off a large piece and swallows it, the dog may vomit for a day or two until the rawhide dissolves. Most recently, rope toys have been the culprit for a couple of very ill patients that were presented to my clinic.
First of all, Nestle is a 1-year-old chocolate labrador that has been notorious for chewing on everything she could get a hold of. Usually, dogs will stop chewing so much once they have all of their adult teeth at about 6 months old. Unfortunately, Nestle has never stopped chewing like a 4-month-old puppy. Nestle decided that a rope toy was so much fun to chew on, it must be even better to eat it.
Boomer is a boxer and another adult dog who thought a rope toy must be delicious. Nestle and Boomer underwent surgery to remove the rope toy that had gotten lodged in their small intestines. All foreign objects swallowed have potential for causing harm. However, strings and rope are particularly harmful.
Just like with Nestle and Boomer, often part of the rope will pass into the intestines while a portion of it gets stuck in the stomach. The stomach and intestines continues to try to push the rope through thereby causing the rope to mimic a draw-string similar to a pair of sweatpants.
Therefore, a large amount of intestines is drawn into a very tight ball. As you can imagine, this is extremely painful and can cause permanent damage to the intestines. Nestle actually had a small perforation in her intestines allowing for increased chance of infection post-operatively. Boomer had an intussusception which is when a portion of the intestine becomes trapped within its self, kind of like a long sleeve shirt does when you pull your arm out and the sleeve goes up inside. Fortunately, both dogs recovered well from surgery that involved opening their stomachs and two places in their intestines.
Most recently, a one-year-old chocolate labrador named Bert was presented to the clinic for chronic vomiting. Bert would eat and then promptly vomit a portion of the meal. X-rays revealed a small dense object stuck in his stomach. Surgery was performed to remove the object which turned out to be a sharp-edged hard piece of plastic. Afterwards, we found out that his favorite chew toy had always been plastic water bottles. Bert recovered completely, but he is not sure why he can no longer play with plastic water bottles.
Sometimes it is impossible to stop pets from chewing and swallowing certain objects. You should be careful what type of toys you give them to play with. Be especially mindful of the toys they are allowed to have when you cannot supervise them.
If you have a question or if you think your pet may have swallowed a foreign object, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure that your pet lives a long, healthy and happy life.