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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