What did my dog just eat?
Have you ever wondered what it would cost a veterinarian to remove a foreign object from a dog’s GI tract? Well, in the vet business, they call it the “$ 1,000 sock”. Cost is just one reason to be clear about what your dog is putting in their mouth.
Matthew McCarthy, DVM, owner of Juniper Valley Animal Hospital in Middle Village, Queens, NY, has removed many gastrointestinal foreign bodies (GIFBs – veterinarian speaking of things that get stuck in an animal’s stomach, intestines, or colon) from dogs and cats. “For us vets, GIFBs are a pretty exciting subject, much like party favors because you never know what you’ll find,” says Dr. McCarthy. “Get a few vets together and bring up the issue of GIFBs. The conversation will be similar to the scene from the Jaws movie, in which Quint, Brody, and Hooper try to battle each other on their various scars. Except for us, it’s the size, amount, and weirdness of the object retrieved. “
Here are Dr. McCarthy’s thoughts on what dogs ingest and how they can be protected.
Q: What seems to be the most attractive?
ONE: This can be anything, but dogs may have a slight preference for foods (pork, beef, or chicken bones) or those that only smell like food (kitchen rags, sink sponges, metal food containers). Also things that have the smell of the owner (think of underwear or anything in a laundry basket). In cats, we mainly see gastrointestinal foreign bodies from threads or hair (their own or those of a family member).
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Q: Have you been surprised by something that you removed?
ONE: Dogs are definitely the worst offenders; Cats are much more selective / picky. Apple Air Pods seem to be pretty tasty lately, but we’ve found remotes (aka “clickers”), pacifiers for toddlers, all kinds of Lego pieces (actually, little kids’ toys in general), lipstick cases, and batteries. Quite a few dogs seem to be able to remove the squeakers from plush toys and turn them into a snack.
For cats, perhaps the most surprising obstacle is their own hair. One would assume that a cat is more than capable of grooming and handling its hair. However, there appears to be a certain subgroup of cats who are so obsessed with grooming that the amount of hair overwhelms their gastrointestinal tract to the point of obstruction.
Q: Why do you think dogs and cats do this?
ONE: Every time I remove a GIFB I ask myself: what on earth would motivate this dog to eat this? Sure, dogs often go for things that seem like food, but as for the other things, it’s everyone’s guess. I am not aware of any studies that have specifically looked at this, but it is reasonable to assume that dogs that are bored or anxious are more prone to destructive behavior that can lead to the accidental ingestion of indigestible items. Younger cats often pick up things they love to play with, such as thread, shirt buttons, catnip mouse toys, and the like.
Some metabolic disorders, such as anemia or certain vitamin deficiencies, can make both dogs and cats want to consume non-food items. In these cases, however, they seem to be looking for more organic substances such as dirt, cat litter, wood, gravel, grass or stones. We refer to this state as pica and it is very different from recording artificial objects.
Q: Are certain dog breeds more likely to pick up objects than others?
ONE: Oh yeah! Big goofy breeds like Labradors and Golden Retrievers, as well as any combination of these like Labradoodles and Golden Doodles.
Q: How do you know when to take your pet to the vet?
ONE: The most obvious answer is when you see them pick something up (like the sock above). Depending on the item and the size and breed of a dog, there is a good chance he / she will vomit the item if it is caught fairly soon. For those who are a little late for us; having an object too big to throw up; or for breeds that are unsafe to induce vomiting (such as French or English bulldogs, where vomit can wash back into their lungs and cause pneumonia), the sooner the better rule still applies.
If we can figure out what they ate and work out a plan to retrieve it, they are less likely to need more radical surgery and longer hospitalization. Unfortunately, most of our foreign body gastrointestinal patients present after several days of vomiting and anorexia [lack of appetite]Since their owners do not know that they have eaten anything worrying. These patients often require more complicated operations and have long hospital stays.
Q: What does the treatment cost?
ONE: It depends on two things: what they ate and when they ate it. For those who rushed in because they picked up the object, inducing vomiting is quite inexpensive. Typically, treatment includes an exam, one injection to induce vomiting, and another to stop vomiting. In our practice, this can range from $ 125 to $ 200 depending on size (larger dogs will need more medication).
If vomiting is not an option, endoscopic retrieval using flexible tubing with a light, camera, and hook may be possible to grab the object and guide it back through the esophagus and out of the mouth. As with surgery, this procedure requires anesthesia. However, because it is a relatively quick and non-invasive procedure, the cost is significantly less than surgery and hospitalization – usually in the hundreds of dollars ($ 500 would be a good number).
In those cases where the owners are not aware that their pet has eaten anything and the patient has nonspecific signs of anorexia and vomiting, we will perform various diagnoses, including blood tests, in addition to a physical exam. X-rays; and in some cases, ultrasound of the gastrointestinal tract. These tests add to the overall cost. In addition, these cases are more likely to require complicated / extensive surgery and lengthy hospital stays.
In a general, non-specialized practice like ours, simple gastrointestinal foreign body surgery with no complications typically costs about $ 1,500 to $ 2,000. Complications could include the need to remove one or more sections of the bowel (called a resection and anastomosis) or treating a common abdominal infection (peritonitis) from a broken bowel. When these do occur, expect the cost to double or triple. In some cases, the foreign body has caused so much damage that the operation has to be performed by a veterinarian in a referral facility. In this case, the cost could exceed $ 5,000.
Q: What can we do to prevent dogs from swallowing dangerous objects?
ONE: For puppies, you really want to make your house puppy-safe by keeping everything the puppy can have in its mouth (keys, remote controls, rubber bands, hair ties, etc.) out of sight. If this is not possible, it is okay to confine the puppy to a specific room, crate, or kennel if it is not being watched directly. For those big, goofy breeds I mentioned earlier, such restrictions may need to go well beyond puppy age.
And be careful. If your dog has shown a tendency to tear apart blankets or plush toys and eat them, do not allow them to have these items. Swap them out for chew-resistant beds and food puzzles. Some of our repeat offenders (that is, one or more cases of ingestion of a foreign body) wear lightweight basket muzzles most of the time.
The safety list
• Watch your dog, not your cell phone. Dogs love to eat whatever they can find – corn on the cob, plastic food containers, and more – while you scroll or tweet.
• Shorter lines (four to six feet) are better; It’s hard to see what your dog is doing 12 feet in front of you. If you do notice, the affected object may have disappeared into its digestive tract.
• Carry goodies to trade for non-edible items.
• Consider a slight basket muzzle if your dog is a known offender.
At home: dogs
• Check the toy to make sure it is appropriate in size and hardness.
• Be careful with soft or soft chew toys (remember, squeakers are delicious).
• Puppy-safe house: nothing mouth-sized within reach.
• Consider keeping young dogs in particular in a safe chewing area (an extra room, large crate, or kennel or playpen for smaller breeds).
At home: cats
• Regular brushing, especially for long-haired breeds (at least twice a week).
• Regular use of hairball preventive / lubricants like Laxatone or Petromalt (flavored lubricants that soften and prevent hairballs). Usually a 1-inch strip twice a week is fine.
• Keep cords or similar objects away from kittens. Sewing / knitting accessories should be kept in closed containers.
• Contact your veterinarian immediately if you see your pet ingesting anything that seems worrying, or if your pet looks “off” or vomits repeatedly (especially after meals).
• Take out pet insurance. Not only can it pay for the treatment / removal of GIFBs, but it can also be lifesaving.
• Introduce your veterinarian and their team as partners in your pet’s health and speak up with any concerns or questions you may have about any aspect of your pet’s care.