What do you do if your dog has swallowed a foreign object?

Brown dog holding wooden spoon in mouthDogs are curious by nature and like to investigate; especially with their mouths. Often, they won’t hesitate to put something new and interesting in there and this can lead to trouble. And, as you know, they like stuff that’s really gross! Of course what’s gross to we humans may be an absolute delicacy for your pooch. So, what do you do if your dog has swallowed a foreign object?

What do dogs commonly swallow?

First, let’s look at a list of things that dogs commonly swallow:

  • Sticks
  • Bones
  • String
  • Used tampons
  • Corn cobs
  • Pins
  • Erasers
  • Paper clips
  • Balls
  • Fishing hooks
  • Toys
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Pantyhose
  • Hair ties and ribbons
  • Rocks
  • Anything gross they find on the street

X-ray of dogs intestinesForeign body obstruction

When your dog swallows something, it usually takes 10 to 24 hours to get through her system. Some objects will pass through without causing a problem. But when they do cause problems, the main danger is foreign body obstruction. This occurs when the object can’t make it through the intestinal tract and it’s very serious. Call your veterinarian immediately when this happens.

If you think your dog has swallowed an object, look for these signs:

  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal tenderness or pain
  • Lack of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Straining to defecate
  • Lethargy
  • Behavior changes like biting or growling when you pick her up

It’s possible that something like a sharp stick can get all the way through her system and then get stuck when she’s trying to poop. This can cause pain and damage by puncturing the bowel. A friend of mine had a dog who had swallowed string and it was actually hanging out of his rectum (the dog’s that is). In a case like this – don’t pull! Why? You don’t know where that string is within your dog’s system and you don’t want to cause any damage to internal organs.

If your dog has swallowed coins, this can be serious as the stomach acids interact with the metal causing metal poisoning. Signs of toxicity include pale gums, bloody urine, jaundice (a yellow tinge to the whites of the eyes or inside the ears), vomiting, diarrhea and a refusal to eat.

Dogs have also been known to swallow batteries and this can cause lead poisoning. Signs to look for are teeth grinding, hyperactivity, seizures, loss of appetite and vomiting.

Larger objects can become stuck in the intestine blocking any food trying to get through and this will cause your dog to vomit. Additionally, these large objects can cause a peristaltic (squeezing) motion of the gut wall as it tries to push them through. This results in an interference of the blood flow to the area and  can cause tissue death. If the gut ruptures, it’s especially dangerous as bacteria can enter and will cause pain, peritonitis, shock and death.

TreatmentIntestinal blockage surgery in dog diagram

If the item was swallowed within two hours, you can give your dog a small meal to cushion the stomach and induce vomiting. Food will also get the digestive juices going and this can soften the swallowed object. If the object is still in your dog’s esophagus, your veterinarian can use a flexible endoscope to locate and possibly remove it.

If the item is sharp, do not induce vomiting as this could do damage when it’s expelled. Contact your veterinarian immediately.

After two hours, the object will have made it to the intestines and vomiting won’t help. If there’s blockage in the intestine or stomach, this can interrupt blood flow and cause organ death. If there’s a complete blockage, your dog will have a painful, bloated stomach with sudden constant vomiting. Your dog will also refuse food and throw up anything she drinks. In this case, surgery is likely necessary. If there is tissue death, it can be removed and the living tissues reattached.

Your dog may also require a blood test and a check for electrolyte imbalances and dehydration. Your veterinarian can administer intravenous fluids in this case. An x-ray will help to determine the exact location of the foreign object and sometimes a contrast agent is used if the blockage isn’t obvious. In some cases, sections of the bowel are removed.

The longer the foreign object is present within your dog’s system, the more serious damage it can cause.

How to prevent your dog from swallowing foreign objects

Obviously, you can’t watch your dog every minute. But there are some things you can do to lessen the chances that she will swallow something undesirable.

  • Keep the commonly ingested objects mentioned above out of her reach
  • Clear things from your yard and garden that she might swallow
  • Prevent access to the garbage
  • Watch her when she’s eating bones
  • Keep her on a leash when walking

Conclusion

Your dog is apt to swallow some pretty strange things if you give her the opportunity. Many will pass through her system without consequence. But, sometimes, they can cause serious problems. While you can’t stop her from swallowing foreign objects 100% of the time, there are precautions you can take.

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