Certain breeds of dog are prone to swallowing objects that they shouldn’t. In veterinary terms we call such objects foreign bodies. There are 2 main risks when a dog swallows a ‘foreign body’; if it is a sharp one such as a large fragment of bone or a nail then there is the risk of perforating the stomach/intestinal wall, and if it is a large one then there is the risk of gastrointestinal obstruction. Both of these are life-threatening scenarios that require urgent veterinary attention.
At Sunset Vet we see several cases of ‘foreign bodies’ a week, usually affecting Golden Retrievers, Labradors and Pitbulls. These are breeds that love to carry things in their mouths, so some foreign body cases may be a genuine case of accidental swallowing. Most are probably intentional though, with hunger, playfulness and general over exuberance contributing factors. We rarely see foreign bodies in Bali Dogs, who seem to be too savvy to succumb to such avoidable situations!
Bear in mind that bone is a biological tissue and when eaten in small pieces, can actually be broken down and digested in the dog’s stomach. It is when dogs get overzealous when chewing bones that they bite off more than they can chew. It is also important to remember that raw, meaty bones are very healthy for dogs, as they are natural carnivores and bones are not only highly nutritious but also the chewing mechanism helps keep their teeth clean. For this reason bones are often referred to as ‘nature’s toothbrush’. For safety you should only give your dog RAW bones (never cooked, otherwise they can splinter causing sharp fragments) and also ideally long bones such as the humerus or femur of pigs/cows/sheep. Ideally not bones that have been cut, as this can also leave sharp edges. At Sunset Vet we sell frozen pig bones, which are a safe size and shape for your pet.
A foreign body can get stuck anywhere from the mouth to the rectum. When the dog is reluctant to eat or drink and is drooling a lot, the first place to check is in the mouth, both at the back and also under the tongue. Bits of sticks or bones can break off and get wedged across the dog’s throat, and can also penetrate the soft mucosa under the dog’s tongue. Sometimes the penetrating wound is difficult to see, and we have even seen cases where the original entry point has healed over and the trapped piece of wood is embedded and causing a painful abscess. For such cases, exploration with some forceps under general anesthesia is the only solution.
The esophagus is also a place that foreign bodies can get stuck, one of the most common being pork knuckles as these bits of bone are a size that is tempting for the dog to swallow whole. A dog with an esophageal foreign body will usually be retching unproductively and since the dog will be in considerable discomfort, these cases are usually brought to the vet quickly. The solution depends on where in the esophagus the object is trapped and the size/shape of it. An Xray is taken to see exactly where it is, and whether it can be removed via an endoscope, or whether surgery is required. Occasionally at Sunset Vet we see fishhooks that have been swallowed, sometimes with fishing line attached. Remarkably these can sometimes pass out in the poop by themselves, but if your dog is unlucky the hook can catch on to the mucosa and either endoscopy and/or surgery under general anesthesia will be indicated.
Once the foreign body is in the stomach, the symptoms may not be as marked and these ones are a little more of a diagnostic challenge. Dogs may not be retching or vomiting, they may simply be uncomfortable or off their food. Remember that only radio-opaque materials show up white on an xray (metal and bone for example), whilst plastic or rubber often appears the same shade of grey as the stomach and the food inside it. In cases where we suspect there may be a stomach foreign body, which is not obvious on plain Xray, vets will perform a barium contrast series. Barium is soft, silvery alkaline earth metal which being a metal is very radio-opaque, it is given in the form barium sulphate and helps line the walls of the stomach and intestines so that any abnormalities are clearly demarcated. A barium series involves mixing the barium sulphate into some canned dog food, feeding it to the dog (by force if the dog has no appetite) and then taking sequential Xrays over the next few hours until the barium has passed into the large intestine. If the barium stays in one place for a long time it suggests there may be an obstruction at that point, and surgery is indicated (in medical terms we call this an ex-lap, short for exploratory laparotomy).
If the foreign body is causing a complete or significant blockage but is identified within 48 hours of being ingested, the surgery to remove it is usually straightforward. A gastrotomy (surgically opening the stomach) usually has faster healing and less complications than an enterectomy (surgically opening the intestine), so if the foreign body has already entered the small intestine but then got stuck, the surgeon may attempt to push it back to the stomach and then perform a gastrotomy. In cases where there has been a delay in diagnosis it is not uncommon to find that the intestinal mucosa has turned a dark purple or black colour, and this means that particular loop of intestine must be removed and the healthy ends sutured back together – a more challenging surgery but nevertheless one with a fairly good prognosis if identified in good time before the bacteria have crossed the damaged intestinal wall into the abdomen and caused a septic peritonitis.
Prevention is always better (and cheaper) than cure so the take home message is, be careful with the size, shape and type of bones you feed your dog, never allow your dog to scavenge where there is garbage, and always be careful with toys to ensure they are not small enough to be swallowed by your dog.
Sunset Vet offers veterinary services via their Kuta (24hr) and Ubud (8am-10pm) clinics. For further information or to make an appointment call them on 03619348915 (Kuta) or 0361975296 (Ubud), or visit www.sunsetvetbali.com or www.facebook.com/sunsetvetbali or Instagram: sunset_vet_bali
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