Chewing is a perfectly healthy behavior in dogs. Bones keep their teeth strong, plush toys let them hunt their “prey”, and tough rubber toys help exercise jaw muscles. Chewing is usually safe as long as your pup is supervised, but if an item is swallowed, it can potentially become a life threatening emergency.
Toys and bones rank highly on the list of common foreign bodies, but our pooches also have a tendency to gravitate towards items you may not even realize are dangerous. For example, dogs love clothing that smells like their humans. This is why socks, underwear and panty hose topped a list compiled by VPI Pet Insurance of the most common items surgically removed from canine GI tracts. Rocks, sticks and balls were also high on the list.
Treatment for foreign bodies is expensive, painful and difficult depending on the severity of the case. While some items pass through the digestive tract with little more help than a bit of extra fiber in the diet, other objects may become lodged in the intestine and require surgical removal.
Dogs experiencing a foreign body emergency may vomit, struggle to pass stool and become lethargic, dehydrated and weak. Next, severe abdominal pain, tissue necrosis and infection occur creating a critical situation that will result in death without immediate intervention. Even with care, a septic pet may not survive.
So, how can you protect your pup from experiencing a horrifying intestinal obstruction due to a foreign body? Although there is no foolproof answer, there are several steps you can take to minimize the risks:
- Know your pet’s habits. Is your dog a heavy chewer? Does he like to tear up his toys or snag your socks out of the hamper? Maybe he has a stick obsession when he’s in the yard. If you know the objects your dog gravitates towards you can be hyper-vigilant about keeping them out of reach.
- Inspect toys and chew bones frequently. Spend a few moments digging through the toy box once a week. Look for partially torn plushies, damaged toys, and ones with small, loose pieces. Chew toys and Nylabones should also be discarded when they get too small.
- Sweep and vacuum often. Believe it or not, human hair is a very common cause of foreign bodies in smaller pups. They lick the bathroom floor and strands accumulate in the intestine over time creating a blockage. Carpeting, lint and general detritus can have the same effect, so keep floors free of loose debris.
- Check for risk factors before leaving the house. Bored dogs are far more likely to get into trouble, so be sure to pick up toys, bones, clothing, etc before leaving your pup home alone. Cognitive toys that dispense treats as your pup plays can help minimize mischief and separation anxiety while you’re away.
- Monitor your dog during play and in the yard/on walks. A dangerous object can be ingested in the blink of an eye. Watch your pup closely when outside so that you can spot potential threats before he does. During play or chew times, monitor dogs closely.
- When in doubt, seek help immediately. If you suspect your dog may have swallowed something, call your veterinarian. A simple X-ray could mean the difference between a funny story to tell your friends and a devastating emergency for your furry best friend.