All young animals get into trouble; it doesn’t matter if it’s a dog, a cat, a parrot, a goat, or a calf. With their naturally curious nature, they like to investigate, and this often leads them to get into trouble, including eating things they shouldn’t. Some of the typical things that animals will ingest include clothing, strings, ropes, bones, rocks and toys. By luck, if an animal ingests a foreign object, they may pass it without complication. However, there is also the unfortunate chance when the ingested item can cause a complete obstruction.
Signs that your pet may have ingested a foreign object can include vomiting, diarrhea, lack of interest in eating or drinking, straining to defecate, and sometimes even subtle changes to their behavior or personality. If you observe any of these signs, the sooner you have your pet evaluated the better your pet’s chance of recovery. In order to diagnose a suspected obstruction a veterinarian will first do a thorough physical examination and obtain a full history regarding your pet. It is important to let your veterinarian know if you have given any medications, including aspirin*, Pepto-Bismol*, ibuprofen*, or daily vitamins (essentially anything you give to your pet other than food or treats). Sometimes veterinarians may be able to feel or even suspect a possible intestinal obstruction. However, no matter how thorough of a physical examination is performed, often blood work and x-rays may need to be done, too. The blood work allows for full assessment of organ function such as the liver and the kidneys but also checks white blood and red blood levels. X-rays are often taken in the office, which allows a vet to evaluate the sizes, shapes and position of the intestines. At times a vet will administer a special liquid that highlights any defects or abnormalities within the intestinal tract.
Once an obstruction is confirmed, the patient may be hospitalized on IV fluids, antibiotics, anti-vomiting medications and pain medication. If surgery is deemed necessary, the sooner the patient can be rehydrated and brought to surgery, the better the overall prognosis. If medical treatment is delayed, there is increased risk of the intestine segments dying and the patient becoming sicker and requiring sections of intestines to be cut out. If delayed too long, the patient’s intestines can rupture on the inside and the pet can die from severe systemic infections.
Some animals may be able to pass the obstruction with medical treatment such as IV fluids or stool softeners, as well as time. This treatment option is what we often elect for farm animals such as sheep and goats but this option can do just as well for dogs or cats.
It is very important to give your pet approved toys and keep non-approved objects out of sight and out of reach. If you suspect ingestion of something, you should contact your veterinarian urgently when signs first start. In my experience, pet owners often wait too long before consulting their family veterinarian in the hopes that things work themselves through.
*Please know that you should never give any medication without consulting a veterinarian, as some can be fatal.