Swallowing Objects

Being a pet parent, it is your prime responsibility to make sure that your house is pet proofed and all harmful things (for our pooches) are stowed away from their reach. Never forget that these lil’ naughty ones can hurt themselves, and sometimes even seriously, if they accidentally ingest an object. Here’s how to keep them safe.

Coby, a rather naughty German Shepherd ingested a Scotch Brite scrub pad (which is used to clean utensils) while he was playing in the kitchen. For two months after the ingestion, he was fine and suddenly after about two months he started vomiting and did not eat properly. Dr Gautam Anand first prescribed some antibiotics, then an x-ray was done and it was seen that he had the scrub pad lodged in his intestine. It was successfully removed by surgery.

The curious beings…
Like toddlers, pets too have a tendency to chew anything and almost everything that they can lay their mouth on. During the growing months, they are inquisitive and curious. Like humans touch and feel everything using their hands, dogs try and get that feeling by biting the particular object. Thus, great care needs to be taken with puppies, especially those curious and naughty ones.
Foreign body ingestion is a common feature in puppies and even in grown up dogs. It is a condition in which the dog swallows any foreign body or a non-edible item. According to Dr S Ayyappan, “Foreign body ingestion is more commonly seen in pups irrespective of breeds as pups are naturally curious animals. They love to chew and play with objects and accidentally swallow them.” While Dr C Ansar Kamran from Bangaluru says, “Foreign objects can be swallowed by any breed of dogs, especially during the puppy age. But Labradors, Golden Retrievers and St Bernards can be more prone because of their greedy food habits.”
The problem…
The digestive tract comprises a long tube that passes food from the mouth, down the oesophagus (food pipe), into the stomach, through the small intestine, to the colon (where stool is formed) and the rectum. If the swallowed item is small, then there are chances that it may just pass through the dog’s system and if the object swallowed is relatively large, then it may get stuck/lodged in the intestine or stomach. The larger objects usually obstruct the stomach outflow and the flow of the small intestine. If the object manages to move to the colon, there are high chances that it will probably pass successfully through the system. Never try to pull out protruding objects from your pet’s rectum because by doing so, you can cause serious damage to the internal tissues if the object is still lodged inside.
Vets believe that it generally takes around 10-12 hours for the ingesta (swallowed material) to move through the entire digestive system. But in certain cases objects can remain in the stomach or the intestine for a longer period of time also, which may be months.
The ingesta…
The ingesta can range from garden stones, crazy balls, mango/plum/peach seed, wooden pieces, nuts & bolts, all pins, nails, small clothes like socks, handkerchiefs, etc, plastic toys, bones, needles and lots more. In cases where the dog swallows coins, there are chances that the dog may also suffer zinc toxicity.
The symptoms…
The dogs who have ingested a foreign body usually don’t eat well and feel depressed. You may notice that the dog is having loose stools and diarrhoea. They may be experiencing weakness and lethargy as well. Dr Gautam adds, “If the dog vomits immediately after the ingestion, it means that the ingesta was stuck in the oesophagus or the food pipe. But if the pet vomits after about 2-3 hours and is not passing stool, it means that the obstruction is in the intestine. In cases of complete digestive system blockage, the dog will be unable to keep anything down, including liquids. Often when sharp and rough objects are ingested, the food pipe tends to get damaged.”
The diagnosis…
There are cases wherein by physically examining the abdomen of the pet you may find out the ingesta. But it is recommended that as soon as you think that there is anything unusual, you should rush your pet to the vet. If the veterinarian suspects an intestinal foreign body, he/she will probably recommend x-ray, which will show the stuck object such as metal, rock, or bone, but may not show a cloth or plastic object. Some patients may require repeated x-rays, a contrast study, or even an ultrasound for proper diagnosis.
The treatment…
In most cases, the best treatment that the vet would recommend is surgically removing the ingesta or the lodged object. If the object is very small then there can be certain antibiotics that can be given otherwise the only option is surgery. If a foreign body is found in the stomach or intestines, the object is removed by making an incision in the intestine or stomach.
While, Dr Ayyappan says, “For foreign body stuck in the food pipe, best procedure is by endoscopy. Otherwise surgical removal is done depending on the location. If it is located at the end of the food pipe, it can be removed by approaching it from a surgical incision made in the stomach. Some dogs will naturally vomit out the object. Do not try to induce vomiting. It can damage the food pipe. If it is in the stomach or small intestine, surgical removal is the best choice. If there is damage to the intestines, the affected portion is cutoff and the healthy ends are sutured together.”
“The main thing to keep in mind for the surgery is to keep the dog properly hydrated,” mentions Dr Gautam. Also after the surgery, a rest of about 15-20 days is necessary for complete recovery. Dr Gautam adds that pet parents should be extra cautious with puppies and dogs, especially those whose outdoor activity is not much.
Tips to follow

  • Garbage should be disposed off properly because these naughty fellows enjoy sniffing in the garbage can. Make sure that the garbage can is covered properly.
  • Pet-proof your house so that small objects don’t lie within their reach.
  • If you have small kids in your house, it is important to teach them that how dangerous can foreign body ingestion be for their canine friends. Make it a habit for them to keep their small toys and other nick-knacks out of reach of the pet.
  • Examine all chew toys that you offer your pets.
  • Never leave strings or ribbons within reach of your pets.

It is good to keep a check on your pet to avoid any mishap, but it would not be fair to keep them bounded and devoid of fun. It is their natural tendency to hold things and explore new places while they are growing up. Just be careful and let your pet have the fun.

“The most common foreign bodies I have encountered are stones in the small intestines. I have also treated pups who have swallowed thread, socks and metals such as wires.”
– Dr S Ayyappan
“Diagnosis becomes easy when the object is felt in the abdomen through external palpation coupled with the history and the clinical signs. Problem arises when it cannot be palpated externally because the symptoms produced by obstructing foreign objects overlap with those of many other diseases, in which case we need to take the help of barium meal radiographs.”
– Dr C Ansar Kamran
Risky household items!
Common household items like tube socks and shoulder pads are often found to be chewy to our pooches. According to Dr Karen Halligan of Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Los Angeles), hundreds of dogs in America have undergone surgery to remove clothing articles and other household items from their stomachs and intestines. Ingestion of clothing items, which normally does not show in x-ray, may develop symptoms like vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy and depression within 48 hours. Consult your vet immediately in such situation!

(With inputs from Dr Gautam Anand of Dr Anand’s Pets Clinic, New Delhi; Dr S Ayyappan of Pet Clinic, Chennai; and Dr C Ansar Kamran, Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, Veterinary College, Bengaluru).