He swallowed what? How to protect pets who munch everything in sight
By Sandy Robins
updated 12:16 p.m. PT, Fri., Dec . 15, 2006
Like most mothers of small children, Jenny Biggs of Cary, N.C., is constantly picking up the toys left scattered around the house. But one day her son’s prized Ernie doll was nowhere to be found.
When Brandy, the family’s boxer, suddenly started vomiting and refused to eat, Biggs feared the animal may have swallowed the little stuffed doll. She rushed her pet to the veterinarian.
An X-ray proved her right.
There was Ernie, causing a major gastro-intestinal blockage in the dog. Wasting no time, Dr. Sandy Albright of the Crossroads Veterinary Hospital in nearby Raleigh performed emergency surgery. Brandy made a full recovery.
Ernie, however, was not so lucky.
“Pets eat crazy and bizarre items all the time,” says Albright. “Usually its very accessible stuff around the house, such as toys, laundry items, cell phones.” Everyday items like jewelry or dental floss can prove especially tempting — and life-threatening — for pets. Trash cans are also hazardous territory; Albright has seen dogs who’ve gobbled down wooden meat skewers and discarded corn cobs.
Dr. Mike Pavletic of the Angel Animal Medical Center in Boston tells the story of a couple whose dog gulped the bride’s engagement ring. They spent an anxious night on the eve of their wedding waiting patiently for their pet to give it back.
Then there’s the infamous tale of one woman who became furious when shown what caused her dog’s gastro-obstruction — the remains of a pair of racy, red panties.
“They weren’t hers,” says Pavletic.
Shouldn’t puppies grow out of it?
All puppies and kittens chew household objects especially when they are teething, explains Albright. Most stop around the age of 6 months when they get their permanent teeth.
But certain pets don’t outgrow their oral fixations.
As breeds go, labradors are known gnawers. For other dogs, odd digestive habits may be a form of pica, a craving for unnatural foods like gravel and rocks. Dogs have been known to ingest several pounds at a time.
Cats are attracted to string and ribbons and often unintentionally swallow these items. Pet snakes have been known to ingest light bulbs left lying around the home, says Albright.
The desire to warn pet owners of the dangers lurking in their homes prompted Albright to open The Museum of Foreign Body Ingestion at her animal care facility. On display are some of the weird and wacky items Albright has surgically removed from pets over the last five years.
The Wall of Fame exhibit includes: Ernie’s mangled remains, 6-inch nails, 15 cents (a dime and five pennies), and the remnants of a pocket book devoured by a cat.
One of the saddest items is a sports bra that a 13-month-old Weimaraner named Nova choked down after nosing it out of her owner’s a gym bag.
Albright and her team had to perform three operations to remove the bra from the dog’s stomach and deal with resulting complications. The damage to the dog’s esophagus was so severe she died 10 days later.
“We all did everything we could to save her,” says Nova’s devastated owner Crystal Sheppard of Holly Springs, N.C. “Fortunately, I was able to afford to get her the best care.”
Sheppard’s final veterinary bill was well over $5,000. She is now working with Albright to set up a fund in Nova’s honor to assist other pet lovers who, when faced with a similar problem, may not be able to afford the surgical costs needed to save their pet’s life.
Horror story with a happy ending
Pavletic’s other horror stories include a dog that swallowed a huge butcher’s knife. Surgeons were able to remove without it perforating the bowel.
He’s also treated a poodle that gulped down a sewing needle trailing thread. The needle passed through an opening at the base of the skull and lodged into the dog’s brain. Doctors were able to locate it, pulling the needle out by the thread. The pooch made a full recovery.
“You can be extremely lucky and the item passes right through the system without doing any damage,” says Pavletic. “I treated a dog that had eaten a large portion of an oval Colonial rug that was bound with a ribbon-like binding. We were getting ready for surgery when strange objects started protruding from the dog’s rear end. He managed to pass the entire thing. It looked like a gross pasta machine.”
It’s usually curiosity that gets cats into trouble. And boredom plays a huge role in dogs’ eating habits, vets say.
To keep your pet happy when home alone, vets recommend a selection of safe toys and videos to help distract them and keep them out of trouble.
But the best way to keep the family chow hound safe is a regular sweep through your home to remove items that might be irresistible to four-legged garbage disposals.
Sandy Robins is a freelance writer and columnist based in Irvine, Calif.
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