This holiday season we have already seen a rash of pets eating things they shouldn’t, causing obstruction of the stomach or intestines, and often resulting in life-threatening situations if left untreated. Some objects can pass without taking medical intervention, however, if an object causes obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract, patients will demonstrate vomiting (resulting in dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, which in itself is serious), as well as damage to the intestinal wall. These are emergencies, and often surgery is needed to remove the foreign body and repair or remove damaged bowel.

Puppies and kittens especially are likely to play and swallow things. Commonly ingested objects include:

  • Corn cobs
  • String
  • Tinsel
  • Balls
  • Socks and underwear
  • Rocks
  • Jewelry
  • Toys
  • Leashes and collars
  • Plastic bags (especially if there has been food inside)
  • Pieces of shoes
  • Coins (pennies are especially dangerous due to the copper in them)
  • Sewing needles
  • Fish hooks.

Prompt diagnosis is important to prevent intestinal obstruction and subsequent damage to the intestines. When treatment is delayed, patients only become more dehydrated and painful. There is greater risk of intestinal rupture resulting in bacteria and digested food spilling into the abdomen, creating overwhelming infection (sepsis). This is associated with very high mortality and should be avoided at all costs.

Vomiting, loss of appetite, and listlessness are the key signs of intestinal obstruction in pets. Pain is often difficult for owners to discern, however, these pets are very painful even though they hide their clinical signs. The sooner patients are evaluated by a doctor and diagnosed, the better. If you notice more than very occasional vomiting in your pet, or your pet stops eating, don’t delay. If vomiting persists, give us a call and consult with a technician. We can’t emphasize enough that for their sake, most of these patients should be seen by a doctor.