Pet swallowed foreign object

Animals are a little bit like toddlers in more ways than one, and the fact that they tend to explore the world with their mouth is no exception. When animals ingest foreign material things can turn serious quickly. Long Animal Hospital and Emergency Center has the information you need, though, about how to tell (and what to do) if your pet swallows a foreign object.

Hazards of Ingesting Foreign Objects

When a pet eats something that isn’t digestible, it can become stuck in the digestive tract, fully or partially obstructing the normal flow of food through the body. This can occur at any point from the esophagus to the colon.

Left untreated, a foreign body obstruction can lead to severe problems secondary to obstruction. Sharp or string-like objects can cause holes in the gastrointestinal tract. Some objects, such as coins, can also have toxic side effects. 

Pets may ingest foreign objects out of boredom or anxiety, because they smell or taste appealing, or because of nutritional deficiencies or other health problems.

Common culprits include:

  • Pet toys that are easily chewed apart such as squeaky toys or stuffed animals
  • Human toys such as foam darts 
  • Stinky clothing like underwear and socks
  • String objects including ribbon, cords to blinds, fishing line
  • Feminine hygiene items
  • Diapers
  • Food waste such as wrappers, bones, corn cobs, or fruit pits

Signs Your Pet May Have a Foreign Body Obstruction

Sometimes you may see your pet eat something that they shouldn’t, but other times you may not witness the act. So how do you know if there is a problem?

Signs that your pet might have swallowed a foreign object can vary. Some non-food items will pass without a problem and cause no symptoms. Others, however, may lead to a foreign body obstruction. 

Symptoms of a problem include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Drooling
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss

Left untreated, a foreign body obstruction can lead to very serious consequences including dehydration, sepsis, or even rupture of the bowel. 

If you suspect that your pet may have swallowed something that they shouldn’t have, diagnostic testing such as blood work, abdominal radiographs (X-ray), and ultrasound can help us get more information. 

What to Do if Your Pet Swallows Something They Shouldn’t

If your pet swallows something they shouldn’t (or if you suspect that they may have), your first step should be to contact us. Depending on what your pet has eaten, the time that has passed since its ingestion, and how your pet is doing, treatment may differ. 

Possibilities might be:

Wait and see—For many objects that pose a low risk of causing an issue, we may elect to take a wait and see approach. Our team will likely advise to monitor closely if the ingested item is unlikely to become stuck or cause a toxicity. Sometimes if the object has sharp edges, we may recommend feeding something like bread slices to help cushion the item during its passage. 

Inducing vomiting—For some items that are likely to cause an issue, we may recommend causing your pet to vomit. This is not advisable for all foreign objects and is only recommended within a smaller window of time. Whenever vomiting is indicated, it is best done under the supervision of your veterinary team. While in some instances vomiting may be induced at home with hydrogen peroxide, this carries risks and should only be done when the benefits outweigh the risks, as determined by a veterinary professional. 

Damage control—Treatment of potential toxicities and/or secondary problems such as gastroenteritis or pancreatitis may be indicated after the ingestion of a foreign object. 

Intervention—In some instances if a foreign object becomes stuck, medical intervention becomes necessary. Surgical or endoscopic removal of the object may be indicated if it is not passing normally or otherwise causing trouble.

It is best to get us involved right away if you suspect trouble. The earlier that we intervene, typically the better the outcome. While pet foreign body ingestion can be a serious and costly problem, most pet insurance policies cover treatment (read your policy information). 

While it is perfectly natural for your pet to put things in their mouth, it is also a potential problem if they swallow something that they shouldn’t. Do your best to keep tempting objects out of reach and let us know right away if something slips past you. Many foreign objects are no big deal, but for those that are you will be glad that you acted quickly.