Saturday, October 29, 2011

Dogs and Cats that Eat Things They Should Not

Dog ate my homework and other things
Dogs and cats, like children, are curious animals and love to play. However, they also like to chew on their toys and stuff and, as a result, sometimes swallow harmful objects that can affect their digestion and life. It is important that you protect your dog or cat from ingesting dangerous foreign bodies.

A gastrointestinal foreign body refers to any material other than food that is eaten and that results in serious digestive problems. Foreign bodies can become lodged in the stomach and intestines creating an obstruction. Commonly ingested non-food items include toys, string, clothing, and plastic. In fact, any household object your dog or cat chews on can become a foreign body problem.

Dogs of any age are susceptible to developing foreign body problems but this is most commonly seen in young dogs or cats less than 2 years of age. These youngsters are naturally curious and enjoy playing. Popular chew toys for dogs are socks, shoes, pantyhose and underwear. Cats prefer shoelaces, strings, yarn and needles. Frequently, while playing and chewing on these items, the dog or cat may unintentionally ingest some or all of the material. Although some smaller foreign bodies can pass through the gut without getting stuck and causing a problem, the larger pieces can result in serious gastrointestinal complications.

My pediatrician used to say that nickles and dimes are not worth calling about. But call him if my child swallows a quarter or half dollar.

What to Watch For

Dogs that have ingested a foreign object usually show signs of gastrointestinal upset. If your dog refuses to eat, begins vomiting, drooling or has abnormal bowel movements, contact your veterinarian. In some instances, you may notice a foreign object, such as a string, protruding from the rectum of your dog or cat. Do not try to pull the object out - consult your vet.


Your veterinarian will begin by obtaining a complete and thorough medical history, including recent chewing on foreign material. A physical examination will follow. If a foreign body is suspected, abdominal radiographs (x-rays) will be recommended. Most foreign objects can be confirmed on plain x-rays but a few elusive ones may require a dye material like barium in order for diagnosis.
Since removal of most foreign bodies requires surgery, once a gastrointestinal foreign body is diagnosed, your veterinarian may order blood tests to assess the general health of your dog.

Actual Case at Providence Veterinary Hospital 

Scampy, a 23 month old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, stopped eating and was swallowing with effort as if he had heartburn. Radiographs were taken and the stomach appeared to be full. Scampy hadn’t eaten much so what was in the stomach?

After a barium series, it was determined that something indeed was in the stomach and probable not going anywhere. We monitored Scampi for a few days to see if whatever was there would pass. It did not.

It was decided that surgery should be done to remove whatever we saw on radiographs.
Sock taken out of Scampy's stomach
After an incision in the abdomen and then one in the stomach, a sock was removed from Scampy’s stomach. Here is the picture of the sock with a quarter next to it to see the relative size of the sock ingested.
Once Scampy was able to eat and drink without vomiting, he was sent home.
Preventative Care
The best way to prevent your dog from ingesting foreign bodies is to prevent access to objects that could be swallowed. Keep dangerous objects away from your dog and allow him to chew only on toys that cannot be swallowed. Never let him play with string or clothing.

If you suspect that your dog may have ingested something that may not pass through his intestinal tract, contact your veterinarian. Waiting until your pet starts to vomit will make removal of the foreign material more difficult, dangerous and costly.

The Providence Veterinary Hospital Blog is a publication of Peter Herman, VMD, at the Providence Veterinary Hospital, 2400 Providence Ave. in Chester, PA. Contact Dr. Herman at 610-872-4000 or visit us at