Dr. K's Case of the Month: My Pet Ate What?!

By Dr. Heather Kovacevich

Tucker came to see me because he had vomited food a few times. He had a normal appetite, normal stools, and a normal energy level. His owner had seen him trying to chew open the macadamia nuts that had fallen from his tree in the backyard a few days earlier but he had taken them away from him and kept him from going near the tree ever since. On physical exam, he was bright, alert, and friendly. He did not react to abdominal palpation. Radiographs (x-rays) were taken of his abdomen which revealed normal intestines as well as all other organs. He was sent home with an anti-nausea medication.

Three days later he returned because now he was refusing to eat and was acting lethargic. Radiographs were repeated which revealed dilated small intestinal loops and a suspicious circular foreign object in the GI tract. The owner did say that Tucker had asked to go out in the middle of the night the night before and had brought back a macadamia nut from the yard in his mouth, which the owner disposed of. Based on the findings on the x-rays as well as his inappetance, it was determined that Tucker must have swallowed a nut which had now lodged in his intestine.

Tucker was taken to surgery where a large hard brown object was removed from his small intestine. The surgery was successful and Tucker made a full recovery. The object was shown to the owner who confirmed that it was indeed a macadamia nut in the shell. The owner was encouraged to have the tree removed from his yard as it would be nearly impossible to prevent Tucker from ingesting them again in the future.

 

Princess came to see me because she was refusing to eat and vomiting food and bile. Her owner had been playing with her a few nights back with a long ribbon which had since gone missing. She was concerned that Princess may have ingested it. Radiographs were taken which revealed bunched up small intestines as well as gas filled loops of bowel. Based on these results, it was determined that Princess had an intestinal foreign body which had led to an obstruction of her GI tract.

Princess was taken to surgery where a linear (long and thin) foreign body was found making its way through her small intestine. These types of foreign bodies can be very dangerous since the intestines keep trying to push it through but it gets stuck at a bend in the tract and then bunches up the intestines and can even lead to a perforation (hole) in the wall of the gut. Multiple incisions had to be made in the intestines to remove the long piece of ribbon. The surgery was a success and Princess made a full recovery. The owner was instructed to put long ribbons/strings out of the cat's reach when play time was over and to never leave ribbons available to her when she was unsupervised.

Dogs and cats are notorious for eating things they shouldn't and they never learn from their mistakes. We are constantly surprised by what they are able to swallow and sometimes pass without complication. The diameter of the small intestine is much smaller than the diameter of the throat and esophagus so this is the region where items get stuck! Unfortunately, the only way to remove them is to operate which is not without risks. Below is a list of the most common intestinal foreign objects we find in our patients:

  • Balls
  • Stuffed toys
  • Rope
  • Towels
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Pacifiers
  • Baby bottle nipples
  • Queen palm seeds
  • Ribbons/strings
  • Bedding
  • Plastic

There are times when an owner will see their pet swallow an item that could be problematic and bring their pet to see us right away. If the item is still in the stomach, we can often times induce vomiting to retrieve the item before it passes into the small intestine.

I often tell the tale of the Great Dane who vomited an entire Clifford The Red Dog stuffed animal that the owner didn't even know was missing. There is a veterinary magazine that produces an annual segment called "They Ate What?" which features the most bizarre x-rays of foreign bodies found in patients across the country. Cell phone chargers, knives, spoons, large quantities of coins or screws, and even diamond rings have all been ingested by our furry friends. There is truth to the statement that "dogs will eat anything!"

It’s important to pay attention to signs that your pet may have ingested a foreign body. If they are lethargic, refusing to eat, and/or vomiting, it is important to have them seen by their veterinarian right away.

 

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