Chew on this: according to a recent list compiled by VPI’s claims adjusters, socks, underwear, panty hose, rocks and balls are the most common items surgically removed from pets’ gastrointestinal tracts.
Sounds painful, right?
Curiosity Leads to Chewing
Pets can swallow virtually anything ranging from coins, bones, sticks and buttons to paper clips, ribbon, tinsel, hair ties, corn cobs and everything in between, resulting in internal injuries and costly veterinary bills.
“It’s no secret that cats are curious and dogs like to chew on things,” said Dr. Carol McConnell, vice president and chief veterinary medical officer for VPI.
“Unfortunately, those traits can motivate pets to chew on, bite, or swallow items they shouldn’t. Some of these objects will pass naturally, but others have a tendency to become lodged in pets’ gastrointestinal tracts, resulting in pain, vomiting, or internal injury. In those cases, surgery may be a necessity.”
Signs Your Pet May Have Ingested a Foreign Body
How do pet owners know if Fido or Miss Whiskers ingested something they shouldn’t have? Dr. Tina Swan, a clinical veterinarian with Veterinary Pet Insurance, says animals can show a wide variety of symptoms, from acting quieter than usual and not wanting to eat, to acting painful and vomiting.
“If a pet owner has any suspicion that a foreign object was ingested and is concerned that it will not pass easily, the animal should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible,” she says.
What can pet owners expect once they arrive at the veterinarian’s office? A thorough physical exam and likely abdominal radiographs (X-rays). These are usually the initial steps taken to determine if a foreign object has been ingested. However, according to Dr. Swan, many objects may not show up clearly on a radiograph. Other diagnostics such as an ultrasound may be recommended to examine the intestinal tract for foreign material and to help determine whether or not it is causing an obstruction.
“Would you wait four to seven years to take your child to the pediatrician if he or she was sick?” she asks. “Probably not; only your veterinarian can determine if your pet is healthy.”
Pet Owners Should Act Fast
For pet owners who think their pets are healthy and don’t need to make routine visits to the veterinarian, Dr. Swan reminds them that animals age more rapidly than humans—an average of four to seven years faster. “Would you wait four to seven years to take your child to the pediatrician if he or she was sick?” she asks. “Probably not; only your veterinarian can determine if your pet is healthy.”
In select cases, endoscopy (a procedure where a tubular optical instrument is used as a viewing system to examine the inner part of a pet’s body), is a potential alternative to remove foreign objects while they are still in the esophagus or in the stomach.
Should an endoscopy not be possible, or the object fails to pass naturally with supportive care and IV fluids, surgery is normally the last option.
A Solution for Everyone
While any invasive procedure on animals can be quite costly, the good news is that VPI insurance policies reimburse pet owners for X-rays and testing to determine the source of a gastrointestinal blockage, and surgical removal of the foreign body, if necessary.
“The complications associated with a foreign body lodged in the intestinal tract can be devastating,” explains Dr. Swan. “The sooner the problem is diagnosed, treated and a foreign object removed, the better the outcome is for the animal.”
Take Preventive Measures
Pet owners can help avoid an emergency trip to the veterinarian by keeping a clean living space and by keeping dangerous or easily swallowed objects out of their pets reach.
Dr. Swan recommends keeping a set number of durable toys readily available so that if one goes missing, it will be noticed sooner. Pet owners should also refrain from giving their animals’ table scraps, since some foods are not easily digested and could potentially cause harm to a pet's gastrointestinal tract.
As any responsible pet owner should, always supervise your pets as much as possible.