Guest post: the most common items swallowed by dogs and cats

Dr Rex Riggs, co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio and one of our veterinary advisors, made me laugh with this post because one of our claims folks who shall remain nameless had to take her dog to the emergency room for surgery because of swallowed undergarments. You'd think it wouldn't happen to us but it does...


Ozzie Let’s just start by saying, dogs and cats will eat anything! I always say a puppy’s motto is…. “Let’s eat it first and we will ask questions later!” Believe me when I say they will eat anything.

The most common foreign body object dogs swallow is by far, underwear.

Dogs love to eat socks, knee highs, stocking, briefs and panty hose. The big problem with these objects is their elasticity. The gastrointestinal tract normally moves food through its length by a process called peristalsis. Peristalsis is the sequential contraction of the intestines, sort of squeezing food along its way.

When one of the undergarments is ingested, they become stuck in one section of the tract, normally at the outflow of the stomach, and the peristalsis tries to move the rest along and this results in the intestines becoming bunched up like an accordion.

Cats, on the other hand (or should we say other paw…sorry had to do it) love to eat string, yarn, thread, dental floss or anything linear. This creates the same bunching mess.

The most common sign of an obstruction is vomiting and inappetence. We need to remember that dogs and cats are great hiders of illness and they often will not show signs until the problem is further along its course. So be cognizant of your pet’s behavior, because it is important to treat these as soon as possible to prevent damage to the intestinal tract.

When we suspect, or know, an animal has ingested something, the first thing we do is take an x-ray. If the object is made of metal or stone, we are lucky, it will show as a bright white item on the radiograph. Clothes and other nonmetallic objects, unfortunately, don’t show up. In those cases, the gas patterns in the intestines can guide us, but other times we need to use barium. Barium is a liquid we put in the stomach and then take a series of x-rays to see how the radiopaque material moves through the bowels. If it stops abruptly n one place, it can mean an obstruction.

Endoscope The treatment for the foreign body is to remove it. This can sometimes be accomplished sometimes by an endoscope, if the item is in the stomach. An endoscope is a long tube with fiber optics and attached camera which allows us to pass it into the stomach, see the object and grasp it with our forceps that we pass through the scope. The advantage of this is we do not need to make an incision and the animal is back to normal the next day. The picture to the right shows the various endoscopes and one of the forceps, that we use at our practice.

When we are not lucky enough to use our scopes, we need to do an exploratory surgery and remove the object and resect any damaged areas of the intestines. If we catch these early, the pet has a good prognosis for a speedy recovery, but the longer the surgery is delayed the more possibilities for complications.

Dr_Riggs Dr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center with his wife Nancy, their two dogs Boo and Maggie, and two cats Franklin and Speeder. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and enjoys travel and photography.

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