One of the most common presentations at an animal emergency room is a pet who is vomiting for unknown reasons. While infectious diseases, parasites, or even food intolerance are reasons for vomiting, Emergency Veterinarians are often faced with a pet who has some sort of unknown, foreign object lodged in their gastric tract. In fact, at one of our Noah’s emergency hospitals, one doctor performed 10 foreign body surgeries in just 15 days! When all was said and done, the hospital had a nice collection of dog toys, bones, shredded towels, feminine products, and even chewed up socks and underwear!
What would prompt a pet to ingest some of these things? Veterinarians have been trying to answer that question for years There's even an annual contest of x-rays submitted by Veterinarians, showing a wide variety of items pets have eaten. You can see a video of a past contest here. Make sure you watch for the 5” paring knife or the lady’s diamond ring!
The reasons behind this behavior are quite variable and often depend on the personality of our pets. It’s not hard to imagine why a bone, or even a pet’s favored toy would end up in the stomach, but why a knife or a rock or a diamond ring? One important concept to remember is that our pets, both dogs and cats, will explore the world around them with their mouths. Picture an over-exuberant Labrador puppy playing with a stick or a rock in the backyard…see how he’s tossing it around, catching it and tossing it to himself again? It’s that kind of behavior that can cause an accidental ingestion.
We also need to remember that our pets are often bonded to us and playing with items that have our scent is a way of staying close to us. Unfortunately, small objects with the owner’s smell can find their way over the lips, through the gums…look out stomach, here it comes! Maybe the diamond ring had a faint smell of food from when the owner was preparing dinner or maybe the rock was splashed with grease from the grill.
Sometimes, the offending object mimics natural prey in some way. Cats are often attracted to items that glitter and move in a breeze, reminiscent of birds or insects, so tinsel or garland is often swallowed from the Christmas tree. String, ribbon, or even sewing thread can fascinate our feline friends and these items are far too easy to swallow. The results, however, are often far from benign.
Thankfully, with good observation from pet owners and today's advanced diagnostic testing, we can often find these objects in the GI tract quickly and make a plan for removing them. In some cases, if the item is still in the stomach, an endoscope can be used to retrieve the object, avoiding the need for an exploratory surgery. In other cases, if the foreign body is close to the colon, hospitalization and fluids can help move it along where it can be either defecated out or it can be grasped via a rectal exam. Sometimes surgery is the only option, especially if the object might be adhered to the gastrointestinal tract or if allowing it to stay could cause further damage to the pet. The patient’s prognosis is often very good with surgery, but it is important to understand that between the procedure and the follow up hospitalization and recovery time, you could look at an overall cost of $1500 - $3000. If you are the owner of a new puppy or kitten, you might look into a pet insurance policy for him or her, just in case!
If you are faced with a vomiting pet and your suspicion is something is missing from the trash or your bathroom, give your Veterinarian a call. Plan for an examination and x-rays. While surgery is not always necessary, having a Veterinarian examine your pet is ALWAYS the best option, in comparison to the advice from your well-intentioned (but often unknowledgeable) social media “friends”.
Any stories of the weird things that your pets have decided to eat?