Foreign Body Ingestion
Our pets are very curious about objects in and around the house. They can often be found chewing on and ingesting things they shouldn’t, and if they are not watched carefully these foreign bodies may end up obstructing their intestinal tract. Nationwide pet insurance reports foreign body ingestion as one of its most common claims – more than 6,500 claims were submitted in 2015. Some of the more common objects that are swallowed include: rocks, string, toys, small balls, rope, hair ties, rawhide chunks, jewelry, coins, yarn, socks and underwear, plastic bags, carpeting, and pieces of shoes. While some of these items may pass safely on their own after a day or two, if they are too large they may cause a partial or complete obstruction. The most common place that becomes obstructed is the outflow of the stomach or the small intestine. String or rope can lodge by the base of the tongue and cause obstruction symptoms as well.
Most pets that have ingested a foreign body will exhibit some of these clinical signs:
- Decreased appetite or anorexia
- Vomiting: may be intermittent or unable to keep anything down, including liquids
- Straining to defecate or producing small amounts of feces/diarrhea
- Abdominal tenderness or pain: may be difficult to recognize
- Changes in behavior such as biting or growling when picked up or handled around the abdomen
- Pawing at the face or mouth
Any animal that expresses these symptoms should be evaluated by a veterinarian – the sooner they are seen, the better the prognosis.
With any suspicion of illness, the veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of your pet. If a foreign body is suspected, the veterinarian may recommend further diagnostics that may include: abdominal radiographs, blood and urine testing, ultrasound, and/or an exploratory surgery.
Time is critical in an intestinal obstruction since the blood supply to the tissues is often compromised by the presence of the blockage. Because of the dire consequences of not doing surgery when it is needed, it is often best to opt for surgery earlier rather than later in the evaluation process. After removal of a foreign body, the patient will require hospitalization and continued care and monitoring for several days to recover. The prognosis after surgery depends on the location and duration of the obstruction as well as the health status of the pet prior to surgery, although most will make a full recovery.
As with most things, prevention is key for pets of all ages. Some tips to prevent a foreign body ingestion in your pet include:
- Monitor your pet’s habits. Keep all swallow-able items picked up and placed out of reach. Discuss appropriately sized chew toys with your veterinarian – consider the size of ALL pets in your home when buying new toys.
- Discard any toys that have small, damaged pieces that may be eaten. Do not use toys that contain string, ribbon, or rope. Place all yarn, string, and hair ties in sealed containers, especially around cats.
- If you suspect that your pet has swallowed a foreign body, call your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian will guide you in the best diagnostic and treatment approach – the sooner your pet is seen, the better their chances of a full recovery.