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22 Dec Foreign Bodies In Pets

Gastric and intestinal foreign bodies can be anything small enough for a dog or cat to swallow, but not pass through the entire G.I. system without producing an obstruction.  Even some items that individually are small enough to pass through the stomach will obstruct the intestine.  Then there are objects that are small enough to pass through the full length of bowel if in single file, but when clumped together, become a problem.

What sort of things have been removed from pets?  If it can be swallowed, a veterinarian somewhere has removed it.  Common objects are socks, corn cobs, rocks, sanitary pads, string, safety pins, and underwear.  What would entice an animal to eat such things?  They are animals and less discriminating in what they eat than humans.  Smell and flavor are often a cause.  Dogs enjoy mouthing rocks and accidentally will swallow one or two.  Cats love to play and lick all sorts of items, often chewing and swallowing also.

Recently, I had to remove a used drier sheet (think “Bounce”) from a cat.  I can think of no enjoyable reason for that to appeal to a cat except as a toy.  Nor can I think of a cat being starved enough that it would willingly eat a drier sheet.  Yet, it happened.

I have removed hair ties from cats.  One cat had a fondness for them and would eat any not connected to its owner.  Eventually, a couple of ties stuck together in the stomach, starting a chain reaction.  In time, they filled all the available space and vomiting ensued. Of course, at this time no one, including the owner, knew why the cat was off feed and vomiting.  X-ray showed a dark mass.  During surgery, I removed 30 ties in all stages of decomposition.

Corn cobs, due to their rough surface, are often a cause of obstruction.  They are food and are frequently available to the pet during summer and fall.  Left in the garbage, fields, or tossed aside after a picnic, the pet sees and smells “food” not a potential problem.  The cobs leave the stomach, but get caught in the intestine causing first, muscle spasm around the cob, then inflammation and mucosal lining irritation, then ulceration and adhesion.  At this point, surgical removal is the only answer.

Knitting yarn or sewing thread can be extremely dangerous.  A loop of that can get caught under the tongue and act as an anchor holding the yarn/thread in place.  The end then can work its way through the stomach and into the intestine. Being anchored under the tongue, the yarn/thread cause the intestine to bunch up along the entire length.  Thin thread will cause the bowel to be cut through along the inner surface.  This produces massive trauma to the intestine requiring major repair.  Thicker yarn causes less cutting action.

I have also removed the metal clips that come off the top of plastic bags incasing turkeys, chickens and Styrofoam from food containers.

The list seems to be endless and the challenges numerous. Pets have been known to pass some unbelievable things.  I have removed rocks, sport socks, towels and other objects rectally that I never thought could pass through the intestine.  However, once vomiting and anorexia begin, it is time to start the diagnostic process with the knowledge that removal will be the answer.

Currently in most small veterinary practices the diagnosis of foreign bodies involves abdominal palpation, x-ray and then exploratory surgery – gastrotomy (opening the stomach), then enterotomy (opening the intestine) to remove the foreign body.  The procedure is standard and routinely successful.  With gastroscopy becoming more available in larger practices, the removal of gastric foreign bodies without surgery is becoming more popular.

A pet owner can avoid many of these problems with constant vigilance in keeping small items away from their pets.  Owners are dealing with animals who love to play and eat, much like toddlers.  If enough potentially dangerous things go in the mouth, eventually one will be swallowed.  However, even if an object is swallowed, it does not necessarily follow that a medical/surgical problem will ensue.  Often times, just a phone call to a veterinarian will help solve the problem.

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