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Gastrointestinal Foreign Bodies in Dogs

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Dogs, like children, are curious animals and love to play. However, they also like to chew on their toys and, as a result, sometimes swallow harmful objects that can affect their health. It is important that you protect your dog from ingesting dangerous foreign bodies.

A gastrointestinal foreign body refers to any material other than food that is eaten and that results in serious digestive problems. Foreign bodies can become lodged in the stomach and intestines creating an obstruction. Commonly ingested non-food items include toys, string, clothing, and plastic. In fact, any household object your dog chews on can become a foreign body problem.

Dogs of any age are susceptible to developing foreign body problems but this is most commonly seen in young dogs less than 2 years of age. These youngsters are naturally curious and enjoy playing. Popular chew toys for dogs are socks, shoes, pantyhose and underwear. Frequently, while playing and chewing on these items, the dog may unintentionally ingest some or all of the material. Although some smaller foreign bodies can pass through the gut without getting stuck and causing a problem, the larger pieces can result in serious gastrointestinal complications.

What to Watch For

Dogs that have ingested a foreign object usually show signs of gastrointestinal upset. If your dog refuses to eat, begins vomiting, drooling or has abnormal bowel movements, contact your veterinarian. In some instances, you may notice a foreign object, such as a string, protruding from the rectum. Do not try to pull the object out - consult your vet.

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will begin by obtaining a complete and thorough medical history, including recent chewing on foreign material. A physical examination will follow. If a foreign body is suspected, abdominal radiographs (x-rays) will be recommended. Most foreign objects can be confirmed on plain x-rays but a few elusive ones may require a dye material like barium in order for diagnosis.

Since removal of most foreign bodies requires surgery, once a gastrointestinal foreign body is diagnosed, your veterinarian may order blood tests to assess the general health of your dog.

Treatment

Most dogs with a gastrointestinal foreign body obstruction have been vomiting or not eating for a period of time. This leads to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Your veterinarian will most likely want to hospitalize your dog and administer intravenous fluids prior to anesthesia. Once he is more stable, he will be anesthetized and prepared for surgery.

After sedation, your dog will have his mid abdomen shaved. Your veterinarian will make an incision along the center of the abdomen and will examine the stomach and intestines for foreign material or obstructions. Then he will make another small incision in the stomach and/or intestine to remove the foreign material. In severe obstructions, he may have to make multiple and if portions of the intestine have been damaged, he may also need to remove sections of the intestine.

After the foreign body is removed, your veterinarian will suture the incision in the stomach and/or intestine as well as the body wall and skin. Your dog will continue to receive intravenous fluids until he is able to eat and drink without vomiting. Your veterinarian may prescribe medication for pain such as butorphanol as well as antibiotics to prevent infection. Based on the severity of intestinal damage, your dog may be hospitalized for 2-5 days.

Surgical removal of foreign objects is a common procedure in veterinary medicine. During the surgery the intestines, as well as other abdominal organs, can be examined for damage or illness. Unfortunately, every surgery has negative aspects such as post-operative pain, potentially long hospital stays and possible infection. Surgery is the only treatment for intestinal obstruction so your veterinarian will take steps to either treat for or prevent some of the surgical complications.

Home Care

Once your dog is able to eat and drink without vomiting, he'll be able to come home. Be sure to give all medication as prescribed by your veterinarian and periodically check the incision.

Sutures are generally removed in 7-10 days. Until then, do not allow your dog to lick or chew at the sutures – an Elizabethan collar may be necessary. You should also watch the incision for swelling or discharge. Your dog will need to be fed a bland diet for 2-3 days and gradually return to a normal diet. Baby food and prescription bland diets are typically recommended. Contact your veterinarian if your dog refuses to eat or begins vomiting.

Preventative Care

The best way to prevent your dog from ingesting foreign bodies is to prevent access to objects that could be swallowed. Keep dangerous objects away from your dog and allow him to chew only on toys that cannot be swallowed. Never let him play with string or clothing.

If you suspect that your dog may have ingested something that may not pass through his intestinal tract, contact your veterinarian. Waiting until your pet starts to vomit will make removal of the foreign material more difficult and costly.

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