Ingestion of Foreign Objects

By: Whitney Hall, DVM

TVMA Member
McAllen, TX.

Published June 2014

Has a sock or toy ever gone mysteriously missing around your house? “Inedible” is not in the vocabulary of many of our pets, so be aware of the signs and risks associated with a gastrointestinalRelating to the stomach and the intestines. (GI) foreign body.

What is a GI foreign body?

Objects that get trapped or lodged in the stomach or intestines are known as gastrointestinal (GI) foreign bodies and can cause serious problems in dogs, cats, ferrets and other pets. Foreign bodies can be caused by lots of items, including:

  • Plastic (pieces of toys, water bottle caps)
  • Cloth (washcloths, socks, pieces of blankets, strings)
  • Metal (coins, children’s toys, needles)
  • Food (corn cobs, large amounts of dog food, bones)

GI foreign bodies are dangerous because they can cause a variety of problems, including excessive vomiting and diarrhea as well as tears in the intestinal wall and allowing intestinal contents to leak into the abdomen, leading to a life-threatening condition known as peritonitisInflammation of the peritoneum, typically caused by bacterial infection either via the blood or after rupture of an abdominal organ..

What can I do for my pet at home?

If you suspect your pet has ingested something potentially harmful, consult with your local Texas veterinarian right away. Do not attempt to induce vomiting unless instructed to do so by your veterinarian. Do not stick your hand in its mouth as you may get bitten, even if your pet doesn’t usually bite. Vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite are the most common clinical signs associated with GI foreign bodies. If they vomit once, a general rule is to withhold food for several hours to prevent further irritation of the stomach and esophagusIt connects the throat to the stomach. It is a muscular tube lined with mucous membrane.. If the vomiting continues, take your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

When do we need to visit our veterinarian?

Symptoms of a GI foreign body can range from mild to severe and will depend on where in the digestive tract the object is lodged. If you observe any of the following signs, take your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible:

Waiting too long to take your pet to the veterinarian can result in a more severe illness, such as peritonitis.

What is my veterinarian going to recommend?

All of the signs that may be exhibited by a pet with a GI foreign body can also be caused by other diseases, so your veterinarian may recommend diagnostic tests based on the exact signs and unique history of your Texas pet. Common diagnostics include:

  • Bloodwork
  • Radiographs , including a barium study
  • Fecal examinations

Other diagnostics are sometimes recommended. Hospitalization or surgery may be recommended in certain cases, while other pets may be sent home with symptomatic treatment.

What if my pet needs surgery?

If a foreign body causes it to get lodged in the GI tract, surgical removal may be required. During surgery, the veterinarian will remove the foreign body and any unhealthy tissue. After abdominal surgery, your pet will likely stay hospitalized for a few days for observation and intravenous fluid therapy. It may take several days before your pet is able to eat regular food again.

How can I prevent my pet from eating foreign objects?

Store toys, strings, clothing, garbage and other small objects in areas that they cannot access. Never feed your pet chicken or rib bones. Make sure that all toys are intact and accounted for after playtime. Some pets may need to be crate-trained to keep them away from potential foreign bodies when they are not supervised.

Partner with your Texas veterinarian to learn about health risks in eating “inedible” objects and to create a healthy environment for your furry family members.

Whitney Hall, DVM, is a graduate of Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine who lives in McAllen, Texas. Dr. Hall practices at Veterinary Wellness Center.