Veterinary Care When Dogs Swallow Objects

What to Do When Your Dog Swallows Something.

dog swallowed objectDogs like to chew – and some canine companions have a tendency to chew anything they can get into their mouths. While munching on the occasion stick or leather shoe can be harmless –  the situation can become a serious and life-threatening problem if the object is swallowed.

Our veterinarians have seen dogs who have swallowed almost every type of object imaginable, including: watches, shoelaces, socks, plastic food containers . .  and even Halloween vampire teeth!

Where Do Swallowed Objects “Get Stuck” In Your Dog?

A dog’s digestive tract is a long tube, where food passes from the mouth, down the esophagus, into the stomach, through the long small intestine, then forming stool in the colon and out the rectum as “poop”.

The digestion process can take from 8-24 hours for food to move through the entire digestive tract. However, when objects are too large to pass, they can actually remain in the stomach for weeks or even months.

Swallowed objects usually cause a blockage (“get stuck”) either at the stomach outflow or within the small intestine. Because of the continual digesting movement of the intestinal tract, a foreign object can literally bunch the intestines into an accordion-like mass. Sharp objects can also pierce the intestines – causing internal bleeding as well  as “sepsis” or infection.

What are the Symptoms of Swallowing Objects?

Dog’s with a “stuck” ingested foreign body generally will not feel well. Initially, in some cases, they may have diarrhea. They may stop eating and/or act depressed. Most dogs with digested foreign bodies will vomit – either often or intermittently. With a complete blockage, the dog or cat will be unable to keep anything down, including liquids. The longer the blockage lasts, the more dangerous the animal’s condition becomes.

Diagnosing Swallowed Objects in a Dog

Examination by your veterinarian is essential if you think your dog is showing signs of having swallowed something. In some cases the veterinarian may be able to make a diagnosis simply by feeling the abdomen. If your veterinarian suspects a swallowed object, the next step is x-rays to see exactly what is in there – and where in the digestive system it is located. Cloth or plastic objects are not always visible - but metal, rock, or bone will be seen on the x-ray. The x-ray may also reveal other tell-tale signs of a blockage – such as ballooning intestines.

Sometimes an ultrasound can also help in finding and identifying swallowed objects in a dog’s stomach or intestines. In more problematic cases, your veterinarian may need to conduct exploratory surgery to find the suspected obstruction.

Get your dog to a veterinarian quickly if you suspect there is a possibility they swallowed something! Sadly, in many cases, without early medical intervention, a dog with an intestinal blockage will die. But with timely treatment, your beloved canine can recover and go on to live a long and happy life. So do not delay in seeing a veterinarian if your dog shows any of the symptoms of an intestinal blockage.

Treating Swallowed Objects in Dogs

If the swallowed object has managed to move to the colon, it may  successfully pass – but defecating the sharp or irregular shaped object may require veterinary assistance. Never, ever pull protruding objects from your pet’s rectum yourself -you could cause serious damage to the internal tissues.

If the object appears lodged and not going to pass, the dog must first be stabilized with IV fluids, pain control medication and/or antibiotics therapy.

In fortunate cases, the dog may still have the object in the stomach - and induced vomiting may be able to remove the object. Objects still in the stomach may also be able to be removed by your veterinarian using an endoscope without surgery. An endoscope is a long fiber optic tube inserted into the stomach via the mouth.

However, once an object is lodged in a dog’s intestine, only abdominal surgery can remove it. Following surgery, the dog will need a period of hospitalization for continued monitoring and recuperation.

Keep Your Dog Safe from Swallowing Objects

Just as you would “baby proof” your home for a toddler, you should “dog proof” your household for Fido or Spot. Secure the trash & put food and food containers out of your pets’ reach - dogs may eat a container if it smells like the food that was in it! Turkey and chicken bones should never be given to a dog, as they become easily lodged in the digestive tract. Corncobs are another food object that taste great to dogs, but can cause serious blockages.

Keep all small swallowable items picked up. Leather is particularly attractive to some dogs – so try to keep your shoes in a safe place such as a closet. Children’s toys are often as attractive to dogs as they are to kids – so help your children keep their toys stored away in chests or bins.

Only purchase appropriately sized chew toys for the size of the dog(s) in your home. Routinely examine all  toys and stuffed animals for any small pieces that may be chewed off and swallowed. Discard any toys that are damaged – many a dog has swallowed the stuffing or squeaker from a plush toy or stuffed animal! And never leave strings, ribbons, rubber bands, hair ties, etc. within reach of your pets.

Above all, if you suspect that your dog has swallowed something, call your veterinarian immediately. The sooner your dog receives medical attention, the easier the removal will be, and the better the chances of full recovery with fewer complications.

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