Foreign Body Ingestion

Cats and Dogs are curious by nature. They love to investigate new sights, smells, and tastes. Unfortunately, this curiosity can lead them into trouble. Cats are notorious for ingesting thread, wool, paper, rubber bands, plant materials, and small toys. Dogs are notorious for swallowing paper, tissues, articles of clothing, sticks, wicker, bones, food wrappers, rocks, and other foreign objects. Many of these foreign objects pass through the intestinal tract without problem and it is common for cat owners to report all sorts of objects found in their pet's vomit or stool. However, not all foreign objects pass through the digestive tract without complication.

One of the more common and potentially life-threatening conditions seen in veterinary practice is foreign body obstruction. Although most foreign bodies do pass uneventfully through the intestinal tract, if an obstruction occurs for some reason, surgical removal of the blocked object is the only treatment. Another potentially life-threatening condition may occur if the cat swallows thread. As the cat swallows it, the thread may becomes wrapped around the base of the tongue or anchored in the stomach, and will pull against this area every time the cat swallows; if the thread was attached to a needle, the needle may pierce the stomach or intestines and prevent the thread from passing through the intestines.

Foreign Body Ingestion

Clinical signs

Most pets that have ingested a foreign body will exhibit some of these clinical signs:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal tenderness or pain
  • decreased appetite (know as anorexia)
  • straining to defecate or producing small amounts of feces
  • lethargy
  • changes in behavior such as biting or growling when picked up or handled around the abdomen
Foreign Body IngestionForeign Body Ingestion

How is it diagnosed?

After obtaining a thorough medical history, your veterinarian will perform a careful physical examination. If a foreign body is suspected, abdominal radiographs (X-rays) will be performed. Several views or a series of specialized X-rays using contrast material (barium or other radiographic dye) will often be necessary. In addition, your veterinarian may recommend blood and urine tests to assess whether the patient's health has been compromised by the obstruction, or to rule-out other causes of vomiting such as pancreatitis, gastroenteritis, infections, or hormonal diseases such as Addison's disease.

How is an intestinal foreign body treated?

If a foreign body obstruction is diagnosed or suspected, exploratory surgery is generally recommended.

Time is critical since an intestinal or stomach obstruction often compromises or cuts off the blood supply to these vital tissues. If the blood supply is interrupted for more than a few hours, these tissues may become necrotic or die, and irreparable damage or shock may result.

In some instances, the foreign body may be able to pass on its own. In this event, your veterinarian may recommend hospitalization of your dog for close observation, and will perform follow-up radiographs to track the progress of the foreign object.

Foreign Body Ingestion
Foreign Body Ingestion

What is the prognosis?

The prognosis is based on:

  1. the location of the foreign body
  2. the duration of the obstruction
  3. the size, shape, and characteristics of the foreign body
  4. the health status of the pet before foreign body ingestion

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