Some dogs are well known for eating just about anything – those who share their life with a Labrador will attest to that! Veterinary Practice News, a publication for veterinary professionals, holds an annual competition to judge the strangest item an animal has eaten. Vets and pet parents send in radiographs for evaluation; some of the most spectacular cases have been a Dobermann that gorged himself on 26 golf balls, a Labrador pup that ate a fishing rod, and a snake that swallowed the neighbor's Siamese cat.
The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) in the United Kingdom recently compiled a list of the ten most common items swallowed by nearly 400 pets that were treated by their vets. Here's the complete list, in order of case volume.
- Bones (59 cases)
- Stones (29)
- Corn on the cob (28)
- Plastic parts of kids toys and food wrapping (25)
- Rubber balls (19)
- Rubber parts of dog toys (19)
- Socks (11)
- Thread (9)
- Babies' dummy (pacifier) (9)
- Kebab sticks (7) and peach stones (7)
There are dogs with gourmet tastes that aren't likely to eat such items, but for most pet parents, it's important that they learn to recognize the signs that their furry friend has swallowed something inappropriate. Initially, the dog will be off-color and listless. They will usually lose their appetite and may show signs of a tummy ache. Vomiting is a frequent symptom and it's not uncommon for a dog to throw up water. Over time, they'll dehydrate and become very ill.
If you think your dog has swallowed something they shouldn't have, it's essential to have them checked by their vet. The earlier they are treated, the less chance there is of long-term damage to their intestines. If the object is left there, it will block the intestine and put pressure on the intestinal wall. Over time, it may even penetrate the intestines, causing peritonitis, which is a very serious illness.
An x-ray will be needed to confirm your suspicions and to get an idea of where in the gastrointestinal tract the object has become lodged. At this stage, a decision will be made about how to remove it. Will it be pulled back out the way it went in using an endoscope or will abdominal surgery be needed? Both will require general anesthesia but the recovery time with endoscopic removal will be much shorter.
How do you prevent your dog from swallowing things? It's not always easy but there are three things you can do. First, keep items that may be swallowed out of your dog's reach. This means disposing of corncobs straight after dinner or fencing off your nicely pebbled garden. There are no guarantees that this will work because some dogs will eat things you'd not have considered at all interesting to them. Second, keep an eye on your dog when they're in a risky environment. This, too, can be a challenge as it's not possible to watch your dog every second of the day. Lastly, teach your dog a reliable "drop it" or "leave it" command, so that if you see them pick up something they shouldn't, you can make them let it go before it disappears down their throat. This takes time and practice, but it's a useful skill for any dog to learn.