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Dangers of Foreign Body Ingestion in Our Pets

Dangers of Foreign Body Ingestion

Dr Julie Schell  BSc(Hons), DVM, CVA, CVCHM, CVC


Mike, a 7 month old kitten, was very fortunate to be scheduled for his neuter surgery today.

Unbeknownst to us and his owners, Mike had swallowed a whole fabric covered, red hair elastic and it was trapped in his stomach.  Measuring 20cm in length and 0.4cm wide, it posed a huge threat to his well being.

Foreign bodies. which are non-food items ingested by the pet, not only irritate and inflame the stomach lining, but they also can cause blockage of the intestine leading to painful and life threatening gastrointestinal/digestive disturbances.

We discovered that Mike had the foreign body because while he was at our hospital he vomited it out.  We did not know how long it had been there or whether or not there were more. This inspired us to perform gastroscopy before his neuter surgery in order to search out and remove any other elastics or foreign bodies.  A gastroscopy involves using our flexible endoscope to pass down a pet’s esophagus, into their stomach and proximal small intestine. An endoscope may also be used to pass up their colon, in order to view with a special fibre optic camera the inside of the gastrointestinal system.  It also helps us grasp and remove many of the foreign bodies without having to cut into the stomach or intestines surgically.

Mike’s foreign body also reminds us to help educate pet owners about the dangers of other foreign bodies that we have had to remove from other patients in the past. This has included: hair elastics, Lego or other children’s toys, rubber bands, plastic bags, pine cones, corn on the cob, telephone cords, electronic cords, string, thread, Christmas tinsel, erasers, needles, bones, antlers, rocks, foam particles, rope toys, balls, bottle caps, milk jug lids, coins, whole almonds or other nuts, ear plugs, jewelry, socks, peach pits, avocado pits, turkey or roast beef twine, underwear, and plants that many pets love to chew and swallow.  All of these items and many more can pose serious threats and need to be stored safely out or reach of all animals. Children need to be educated to clean up after themselves so that pets do not eat their toys which are often small or have pieces that come apart easily.

Pets, both young and old, may decide to eat foreign bodies because they smell like food or they smell like their owners who they love, or because they are bored.  They may have a neurological issue called Pica, which causes them to think that non-food items should be eaten.

Sometimes anxiety or poor nutrition, under nutrition, or gastrointestinal parasites cause animals to eat non-food items. Diseases such as Hyperthyroidism and Diabetes Mellitus, which increase a pet’s appetite, can also cause pets to eat non-food items.  Also, pets being treated with certain medications such as prednisolone, a steroid, can increase their appetite, which may encourage them to eat items they have previously left alone.

To help prevent your pet from eating non-food items due to boredom, provide them with an enriched indoor environment including look-out towers where they can see outside, videos on TV, radio so they can listen to soothing music, cat condos, safe toys and chews in many areas of your house that will attract your pets. Interactive toys such as puzzles, cubes or Kongs can be stuffed with treats and provide stimulation for your pet. You can ask us if a toy is safe- we can give you good ideas and provide safe chews and toys for your pets.

Also, bring your dog or cat to daycare several times per week to decrease boredom.  Take them on lots of walks. Even cats enjoy outdoor walks on leach and harness.  There are even pet strollers which allow you to take older dogs and cats for outside walks.  This provides stimulation including new sights, sounds and smells.

You can also hire a dog walker or a pet sitter to give your pet extra attention during the day, especially if you are at work. Enroll your dog in hobbies and classes such as agility and obedience and dock diving because a tired dog is a happy dog!  And they will be much less likely to destroy the home or eat non-food items.

Check out our article on ways to decrease anxiety in pets by clicking here!

If you suspect that your pet has Pica, or is eating non-food items definitely contact us right away.  If we are closed at that time contact the nearest pet emergency clinic.

Please let us know if you have any question.   403 278 1984

Thank you very much!


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