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Swallowed Foreign Objects and Puppies

Symptoms and First Aid for Swallowed Foreign Objects

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Swallowed Foreign Objects and Puppies

This 7-month-old pup loves games but must be monitored to prevent her chewing up and swallowing dangerous toys.

Image © Amy Shojai, CABC

Puppies explore their world by mouthing, tasting, and chewing and as a result, swallowed objects get them into trouble. Puppies may gulp some things accidentally when a piece of a toy breaks off. Other dangerous objects prove too tempting--used tampons, and even grease-smeared foil proves irresistible to puppies who troll the waste baskets for scraps. Foreign body obstruction in puppies can be a medical emergency that costs you money and could cost your puppy his life.

Common Swallowed Objects

Veterinary Pet Insurance claims adjusters ranked the top ten most common items surgically removed from pets’ gastrointestinal tracts. The most common item is socks, followed by underwear, panty hose, rocks, balls, chew toys, corncobs, bones, hair ties/ribbons, and sticks. Most items tend to be owner-scented objects, but the list doesn’t stop there.

Whole toys or parts of toys, jewelry, coins, pins, erasers, and paper clips are often swallowed. String, thread (with or without the needle), fishing hooks and lines, Christmas tree tinsel, and yarn are extremely dangerous. String from turkey roasts is particularly appealing so watch out for those holiday food hazards. And for puppies able to crunch up the object, pieces of wood or bone prove hazardous. Even too much of a rawhide chew can stop up his innards. Puppies may even eat rocks.

First Aid for Swallowed Objects

  • If the item was swallowed within two hours it’s probably still in the stomach. If the object isn’t sharp, feed your pet a small meal first, and then induce vomiting. The food helps cushion the object and protect the tummy, and also pets vomit more easily if the stomach is full. If he won’t vomit, you’ll need to see a veterinarian.
  • For sharp objects go to the vet immediately. It could cause as much damage coming back up if the puppy vomits.
  • After two hours, the object will have passed into the intestines and vomiting won’t help. Most objects small enough to pass through the digestive system may be eliminated with the feces and cause no problems. Feed a bulky meal of dry food to cushion stones or other heavy objects, and help them move on out. Food also turns on the digestive juices, which can help soften wads of rawhide treats, so they pass more readily. In most cases as long as it is small enough, objects pass harmlessly through the body and end up on the lawn. Monitor your puppy’s productivity. Use a disposable popsicle stick or plastic knife to chop up and search through the puppy droppings for the object.
  • The exception to allowing small objects pass are swallowed metal objects like coins or batteries. DON’T WAIT, get your puppy seen immediately. Stomach acids interact with these metal objects and cause zinc or lead poisoning. String is another dangerous object when swallowed and requires you to seek professional help.
  • If you’ve seen the pet swallow something he shouldn’t but it doesn’t pass, or the puppy begins vomiting, retching without result, won’t eat, looks or behaves distressed, or coughs repeatedly, seek help immediately. Any object, even tiny ones, potentially may lodge in and block the intestinal tract.

Symptoms Of Swallowed Objects

Diagnosis can be based seeing the puppy swallow something or based on symptoms. It’s generally confirmed by X-rays or other diagnostics like an endoscope to determine the exact location and size of the blockage, and sometimes to identify the object itself. Specific signs depend on where the blockage is located and the type of object.

  • An object caught in the stomach or intestines causes vomiting which may come and go for days or weeks if the blockage is not complete and food can pass around it.
  • Complete blockage is a medical emergency that results in a bloated, painful stomach with sudden, constant vomiting. The dog refuses food, and immediately throws up anything she drinks.
  • Signs of zinc toxicity (from coins) include pale gums, bloody urine, jaundice—a yellow tinge to the whites of the eyes or inside the ears—along with vomiting, diarrhea, and refusal to eat.
  • Lead poisoning from batteries can also cause teeth grinding, seizures and hyperactivity, loss of appetite and vomiting.
  • Copper poisoning has similar signs plus a swollen tummy.
  • String-type articles may be caught between the teeth in the mouth, with the rest swallowed.

WARNING ABOUT STRING! Never pull on the visible end of string--either out the mouth or hanging out the puppy's rectum. String and thread is often attached to a needle or fishhook that's embedded in tissue further down the digestive tract. Pulling the string at your end could further injure the intestines, and kill the dog.

Intestines propel food using muscle contractions called peristalsis that move through the entire length of the intestine (kind of like an earthworm) to help push the contents through. But when a foreign object like string is caught at one end, the intestine literally "gathers" itself like fabric on a thread, resulting in a kind of accordion formation. The result is sudden severe vomiting and diarrhea, and rapid dehydration. Your veterinarian should evaluate any blockage situation to determine the best course of treatment. Surgery is often necessary to remove the obstruction.

Veterinary Treatment

If blockage is not promptly addressed, the resulting damage may become irreparable. Sharp objects may slice or puncture the bowel, and obstruction may interfere with blood flow to the organs and cause bowel tissue to die. Peritonitis is the end result in either case, and usually kills the victim.

Once located, the object is removed. The veterinarian can sometimes do this with an endoscope down the puppy’s throat or the other direction up through his rectum, or with surgery. Any internal damage is repaired. If surgery can correct the problem before peritonitis sets in, most puppies fully recover. Should tissue die, the damaged sections of the intestine may be removed and the living portions of bowel reattached; these puppies typically have a good prognosis.

Most puppies outgrow indiscriminate munching. The best course is preventing your dog from swallowing dangerous items. Choose dog-safe toys that can't be chewed into tiny pieces, and supervise object play. Anything a child would put in his mouth is fair game for puppies. Puppy-proof your home by thinking like your dog, so that you won't be caught off guard when your dog eats the rubber bumpers off the door stops.

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