What to do When Your Dog or Cat Swallowed an Object

What does it mean if a dog or cat “ingested a foreign body?"

Needle swallowed by a cat
Needle swallowed by a cat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Dogs and cats often swallow items that can be harmful to them. Yikes. Dogs and cats can get into big trouble when they explore new sights, scents and tastes. Dogs are notorious for swallowing paper, tissues, articles of clothing, sticks, rocks, chicken bones, glass, bone, packing peanuts, Christmas ornament, and even tulip bulbs. Cats are notorious for ingesting thread, wool, paper, string, rubber bands, ribbon, tinsel, aluminum foil, plant materials and small toys.

Several of these objects pass through the intestinal tract without any problems. Pet owners often report objects found in their pet's vomit or stool.

However, when something gets stuck or is dangerous (such as glass), your veterinarian needs to SURGICALLY REMOVE IT IMMEDIATELY — before it harms your pet. “Foreign body obstruction” surgery is one of the more common and potentially life-saving procedures in veterinary medicine.

How do I know if my dog or cat has eaten a foreign body?

When a dog or cat has eaten or swallowed a household object or other item, you may likely see these symptoms:
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal tenderness or pain
  • Decreased appetite or 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
  • Items actually in the feces, vomit or rear area
  • Pawing at the face or mouth (if string or other material is wrapped around the tongue)
When you see any of these symptoms, call your vet immediately.

How does my vet diagnose a foreign body in my dog or cat?

It's very likely that your vet will take X-rays of your pet to locate a foreign body.

After getting the medical history from you, your veterinarian will perform:
  • A careful physical examination
  • Abdominal radiographs (x-rays) if a foreign body is known or suspected, possibly using contrast material (barium or other radiographic dye) for the best view.
  • Blood and urine tests to assess whether your pet’s health has been compromised by the obstruction, or to rule out other causes of vomiting such as pancreatitis, enteritis, infections or hormonal diseases such as Addison's disease.
What will my vet do if a foreign body obstruction is diagnosed?

Your vet will act quickly because an intestinal or stomach obstruction is dangerous. It can cut off the blood supply to these vital tissues, and if the blood supply is interrupted, your pet may suffer irreparable damage or shock. If there’s a chance that the foreign body can pass on its own, your veterinarian may recommend hospitalization of your dog for close observation, and will perform follow-up. But in many cases, your veterinarian will recommend exploratory surgery and may remove the object.

If, during testing, your vet found an underlying condition or compromised organ systems, he or she will treat those as well.

Will my pet be OK?

The prognosis is based on the following:
  • Foreign body location
  • How long the obstruction was there
  • Foreign body size, shape and characteristics
  • Your pet’s health status before swallowing the object
The good news is — your veterinarian can identify your pet’s foreign body very quickly and take immediate action. 

Always call your vet when you have any suspicion of a foreign body in your dog or cat!
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How to Keep Your Indoor Cat Happy

Is it true that indoor cat health is better than outdoor cat health?

Cat watching cat
Cat watching cat.
Yes in most cases. Indoor cats are at lower risk for injuries associated with the outdoors (cars, trains, dogs, predators, humans, etc.) and for contracting parasites and infectious diseases. Urban cats that go outdoors often have far shorter life spans (averaging 2 years or less), while most indoor cats live over 15 years. Keeping cats indoors also prevents killing of wildlife, fouling of neighborhood yards, and fighting with other cats.

How can I keep my indoor cat happy?

Besides making sure you’ve taken care of your cat’s needs for food, water, elimination, and warmth, create a daily routine that satisfies your cat's need to hunt, play, and explore, plus retreat, hide and feel in control by following the tips below.

Why does the indoor cat need to hunt?

A cat’s desire to hunt is a naturally reaction to sights and sounds of “prey” of any kind. Therefore, play is essential for indoor cats. Try toys that mimic real prey in terms of size, texture and color so your cat can play "chase the bird, mouse or bug.” Give your cat at least three daily play sessions with different toys. Don’t let your cat play with “human prey,” such as hands and feet under the covers.

How do I ensure that my cat has enough to occupy its time?

A cat chews on a predatory toy.
A cat chews on a predatory toy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
You can keep your indoor cat happy with a variety of toys and games for climbing, hiding and chasing. Cats need to climb and explore. Provide “cat aerobic centers” that offer climbing, hiding and playing opportunities. Scratching posts are also essential, since there’s no opportunity for your cat to condition its claws outdoors. Make sure the post is tall enough to allow your cat to get a good stretching position along the scratching surface.

If my cat hides on top of the furniture or spends its time behind the sofa, should I be concerned?

Not at all. Hiding serves a purpose for the solitary hunter who needs to assess potential danger from a safe haven; simply denying the chance to hide will make things harder for the cat. If hiding persists and is accompanied by lack of appetite, call your veterinarian for advice. You can also try FeliwayTM (a synthetic feline pheromone) for anxiety.

Should I give my indoor cat food at specific times or leave it in the bowl all of the time?

Set meal times are not of any inherent benefit to them. You can allow your cat to eat when it wants to and consume small amounts frequently, as long as it doesn’t lead to obesity.

I’d like to give my indoor cat some fresh air, but I’m not sure if it will walk on a lead. Is there any alternative?

If you introduce a harness when your cat is a kitten, she’ll be used to it as an adult. An outdoor pen in another option, as long as it has a roof to prevent escape. There are a number of commercial cat containment products for both indoor and outdoor use. Ideally the pen will be accessible from the house via a cat door flap, offering your cat access to outdoors while offering you complete peace of mind.
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