What is a “foreign body”?


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Our question this week was:

Hi Dr. Debra – I volunteer at an animal shelter and I hear staff talking about foreign body this and foreign body that. I am embarrassed to say I have no idea what they mean.

Barbara H. Lancing, MI


Hi Barbara– thanks for your email and question. Actually, your question is quite reasonable. It is one of those terms that as medical professionals we may flip around and assume that everyone knows what it means. In its simplest terms, a foreign body is basically "something" that shouldn't be "somewhere".

A foreign body can be in the skin – for example a thorn or a piece of metal lodged in the foot would be a type of foreign body. A foreign body can also be in the eye – such as a plant awn that blew into the eye. The most common way the term is used is in reference to something that a pet ingested that can cause an obstruction. For example, dogs will eat underwear, toys or corn cobs that can't be passed through the gastrointestinal tract. Cats will eat yarn, ribbon, nipples of baby bottles, toys, string that when ingested would be all considered foreign bodies.

Many "foreign bodies" can cause obstructions which require surgery to remove it. Other foreign bodies may pass.

I hope that explains it. By the way, we have an article on Gastrointestinal Foreign Bodies in Cats that you might be interested in.


Dr. Debra

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About The Author

debra-primovic Dr. Debra Primovic

Debra A. Primovic, BSN, DVM, Editor-in-Chief, is a graduate of the Ohio State University School of Nursing and the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine. Following her veterinary medical training, Dr. Primovic practiced in general small animal practices as well as veterinary emergency practices. She was staff veterinarian at the Animal Emergency Clinic of St. Louis, Missouri, one of the busiest emergency/critical care practices in the United States as well as MedVet Columbus, winner of the AAHA Hospital of the year in 2014. She also spends time in general practice at the Granville Veterinary Clinic. Dr. Primovic divides her time among veterinary emergency and general practice, editing, writing, and updating articles for PetPlace.com, and editing and indexing for veterinary publications. She loves both dogs and cats but has had extraordinary cats in her life, all of which have died over the past couple years. Special cats in her life were Kali, Sammy, Pepper and Beanie.