Many of us have heard stories about pets who have ingested things outside of their regular diets. Maybe you’ve heard of a dog who ate someone’s socks and underwear, or maybe you have first-hand experience dealing with your cat who ate a piece from a plastic plant. In any case, foreign body ingestion in pets can be very concerning. It is important to recognize the signs and know what to do if your pet eats something that they shouldn’t!
Why Do Pets Eat Unusual Things?
There are a few reasons that might explain the consumption of non-foodstuffs. Dogs are notorious for eating fecal material. Sometimes, the feces might be their own, or it might belong to another animal in the household. It is thought that some engage in this undesirable activity out of boredom, and others might ingest feces because of the smell. The odor is certainly a driving factor in pets who like to eat out of the garbage can. Chicken bones, food packages that once contained raw meat, and even spoiled foods can be a tempting treat! Kittens, puppies, and some small terrier dogs have a terrific prey drive, causing them to pounce and chew on moving objects like strings or wires.
Pets who frequently ingest items like rocks, dirt, glass, paper, cloth, and other non-food items have an eating disorder known as pica. It is sometimes difficult to determine what drives animals with pica to eat these items. Behavior is thought to play a role, and pets with high anxiety are more likely to suffer from pica. If your pet’s diet is insufficient, or if your pet has an illness that affects his ability to absorb nutrients, then he might engage in pica due to lack of those nutrients.
How Can I Decide If I Should Go to the Vet?
If your pet is unwell, then you should have your veterinarian examine them. Lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and painful belly are all indications that your pet is sick. Vomiting can be one of the first signs, so make sure to check out Vomiting in Dogs: Causes, Treatment, & When to Worry for more information. You can also find more information in our article, Diarrhea in Dogs: When to Worry.
For healthy pets, it can be difficult to decide whether they should go to their veterinarian. The best advice would be to call your vet and tell them what your pet ingested. They are the experts and can give you the information you need. For example, if your cat ate a leaf from one of your potted plants, then you might think that this is fine, that a small leaf will simply pass through your cat’s digestive tract. However, if that leaf was from a lily plant, then this is an emergency! Lilies are highly toxic to cats and can cause their kidneys to shut down, just from one leaf! Your veterinarian will be able to tell you if something warrants an emergency visit, if it can wait until the following day, or if there is nothing to worry about.
What Should I Expect with Foreign Bodies?
Expectations will vary depending on the type of foreign body ingested. Large objects, fabric, and string are just some of the foreign bodies that can cause obstructions of the stomach or the small intestine. String can get stuck in one part of the digestive tract but get pulled forward by the intestines, causing the intestines to twist and become plicated. Sharp objects can cause perforations in the walls of the digestive tract. Obstructions, plications, and perforations are all worst-case scenarios when it comes to foreign bodies, making pets very sick and requiring immediate medical attention. Emergency surgery is usually necessary in these cases.
Pets who have ingested foreign bodies but are otherwise healthy will need a good physical exam and possibly some x-rays to confirm the location of the foreign body. Sometimes, small foreign bodies might be allowed to pass through your pet’s digestive tract. Other patients might need to be hospitalized for monitoring and to have x-rays repeated after several hours to make sure that an obstruction does not occur. Supportive care like prescription food and anti-nausea medication might be recommended.
If your pet ingests something toxic, then your vet may recommend inducing vomiting and then giving activated charcoal, an oral liquid, in order to block further absorption of the toxic substance. Blood and urine testing will be important tools to make sure that your pet’s internal organs are in good shape. Intravenous fluid therapy is recommended in cases where the kidneys or liver might be compromised, and some toxins may have antidotes that need to be administered. If there are any toxins that can cause neurologic signs, then your pet may need to stay in hospital overnight to be monitored for seizures, vomiting, and trouble breathing.
How Can I Prevent Foreign Bodies?
There are many things that you can do to help keep your pet safe. Heavy duty garbage cans with lids can help keep your pet out of the trash. Big dogs can tip over some trash cans, so if yours does not have a solid base, then store your trash somewhere with limited access like in a lockable cabinet or behind a closed door. This same rule applies to your laundry basket.
Baby gates placed in a doorway can prevent your dog from getting into your cat’s litterbox. Keep any medications, especially human pain medications, out of reach in your medicine cabinet, and store your plants in an area where your cat cannot reach them. Store your power cords, chargers, and batteries in drawers or bins, and be sure to check your yard often for the presence of trash, metal, glass, etc. Keep hair elastics, rubber bands, ribbon, and other string-like materials out of reach from cats.
Try to avoid giving your pets any human foods or table scraps. Instead, have appropriate treats ready for them when you are eating. Make sure that your pets have a high-quality diet that meets all their nutritional needs. Scheduled walks and playtimes can help decrease the need for eating due to boredom. If toys are ripped open or shedding small pieces, then make sure to throw them out right away.
Foreign bodies can be very scary for pet owners because they can make our pets very sick and, in some cases, can be life-threatening. If you suspect that your pet has ingested something he or she shouldn’t have, then make sure to contact your veterinarian right away. They can answer all your questions and get you the help you need to make sure your pet is safe!