The case of the dog who ate the non-food item.

Closed doorEating non-food items is a big problem in pets.  It happens so often that I am amazed at how seldom I have to do surgery to remedy the situation.  Frequently the animal vomits up the item.  Sometimes it passes all the way through.

In September, we were all set to do surgery for an intestinal blockage on a young Saint Bernard.  She had eaten very little food for the past 3 weeks, and had lost 25 percent of her body weight.  I could feel a mass in her abdomen.  The night before her operation, she passed a pair of underpants she had eaten weeks earlier.  Her recovery was uneventful after that.

The most dangerous are items that lodge in mid-intestine, as they are more likely to perforate the bowel, and that is bad news.

BellaItems that sit in the stomach can cause intermittent problems depending on where they lodge.  That's what happened to this little gal (pictured in recovery, post-op).  She had been having problems for 5 days.  At night, she vomited and felt terrible.  The next morning, she seemed fine, ate, drank, kept it down.

On Friday evening, she vomited up some pieces of plastic flower she had consumed at some unknown time.  "She just chews on everything!"  I couldn't help thinking that maybe we need to "pick up everything off the floor". 

Closed closeupTaking an X-ray to look for foreign objects is usually unrewarding, as most of them Open closeupare not dense enough to be seen.  This is certainly true for plastic.  However, sometimes you can see a flat piece of plastic if you catch it edge-on.  This makes it very thick, as far as the X-ray is concerned, and that's what we see here.  At left is a close-up view of the top picture. There is a white line that is lying flat over the exit valve from the stomach, like a closed door.  Stuff can't pass through, so the dog vomits and feels bad.

The next morning, she feels fine.  The new X-ray (on the right) now shows the white line in a different position.  The foreign object has moved, and the "door is open".  We can't tell what the object is, but we know something is in there.

GrasperI had hoped we might be able to retrieve it with the endoscope, using a grasping Dark greenforceps. There were several long strips of plastic, and we were able to grab these, like so.

Unfortunately, the plastic leaf that was the "door" had become embedded in the exit, and we could not grasp it through the scope.  She wound up having to have surgery after all.

Assorted fbHer prognosis is great, provided she can limit her future intake to food.

3 thoughts on “The case of the dog who ate the non-food item.

  1. Dan says:

    My dog sonic has been sick a few times now and it’s usually shown up the same way. Lathargic then an episode of vomiting which we usually fast for 18-24 hrs. First time this happened he actually swallowed some underwear and just kept bringing everything back up. This time though has been a bit different. He acted a bit weird then when we weren’t home he vomited up his lunch which he then ate again. I came home and found him and nothing really abnormal and I took him out for a walk and whenever he tried to drink or even get a little treat he started to retching or hack and cough like something was bothering his throat. He pooped that night and the next morning he ate a bit then a couple hours later a little more each time retching and looking like he’s going to be sick again. For his lunch he wasn’t interested which has been our indication that he’s getting worse. We took him to the vet and he almost instantly got better ( which happened last time). The vet took his temp and xrayed him for a foreign body then gave us some pills for his upset stomach and throat and we went home with him being somewhat normal the rest of the night and taking another poop later on. Today however he is back being lathargic and slow. We really have to get him interested in food which has never been a problem but he does eat. If he goes up stairs or in the car he looks kind of dazed and shakes a bit like hes not 100% there. I picked him up to put the harness on his front legs and he yelped like he was in pain. The vet said he looked him over and didn’t find anything and no tender spots and we haven’t found anything. We have pet insurence which makes the finacual part easier and I’m not concerned about the cost but what would you suggest? We have gone to his normal vet which said we should get mri’s and ultra sounds or even do exporatory surgery. All the other vets haven’t been help either we just don’t know what to do.

  2. Doc says:

    Hello, Dan,
    For blockages, a barium study is often helpful to rule it in or rule it out. The dog swallows barium dye, which outlines the inside of his stomach and intestines brightly on the X-rays. If the barium doesn’t go through, you know you have a blockage. sometimes it will outline a partial blockage as it flows around it.

    This doesn’t require anesthesia, and is not invasive.

    Sometimes dogs with pancreatitis act this way, but usually have abdominal tenderness. There is a blood test that helps detect this the CPLI (Canine pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity).

    Ultrasound in the hands of a really good specialist can also help evaluate the pancreas, in addition to the other abdominal organs.

    I think I would consult an internal medicine specialist before I would go to surgery, if there is some doubt about where his discomfort lies.

    I really cannot give you good advice, as I have not seen your dog. These are some things to think about and discuss with your doctor.

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