Our question this week was:Hi Dr. Jon – 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, MIAnswer
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.
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