With all of us spending more time at home with our pets, our Animal Health team is seeing an increase in animals surrendered with suspected foreign bodies. A foreign body is anything that is not meant to be eaten that has been consumed by the animal and become lodged in the animal’s gastrointestinal tract.
The most common things Animal Health encounters are bones, bits of toys (it’s very important to ensure that all toys are appropriate for your pet and the way they play!), string, tinsel, rope, foam bullets from NERF or similar toys, rocks, bits of rubber, tampons, and pieces of clothing. We’ve seen cats eat a whole sock and even a sewing needle, and a dog eat a bottle too.
An X-ray of a cat that swallowed a sewing needle.
Prevention is the easiest form of treatment for a foreign body.
Items like toys, fabric, string, hair ties, and other small items can be very tempting to a pet. Ensure these items are safely stored out of reach, either up high or in a closed cabinet or drawer when they are not in use. Be sure to account for all toys, especially foam bullets, when children are finished playing and put them away if an animal is around.
If you’ve seen your animal consume something that it shouldn’t have eaten or you’ve found the remains of an item, contact your vet immediately. With the current COVID-19 closures we recommend calling them first. Calgary Humane Society does not recommend trying to induce vomiting as there can be dangerous side effects for your pet if this is not done properly.
The faster you seek veterinary care, the more options you and your pet will have for removing the object.
If you suspect that your pet has consumed an item, watch for signs like lethargy, lack of appetite, not defecating or difficulty defecating, and vomiting. These can be signs that could indicate a foreign body but could also be indicative of a number of other health issues. Diagnostic tools like X-rays, ultrasounds, or bloodwork may be needed to determine exactly what your animal has consumed or if these symptoms are related to something else.
A NERF bullet removed from a cat.
Animals will eat just about anything. If they are curious or seeking enrichment, eating something they shouldn’t might seem like a fun thing to do for a bored pet! Unfortunately, it is not fun for pet owners, and can lead to large veterinary bills, especially if it is not caught immediately. Acting quickly by contacting your vet is imperative as the longer a foreign body stays in the gastrointestinal tract, the worse it can be for your pet. Left untreated, a foreign body can be life-threatening if they cannot pass it on their own. Even if you think your pet is unlikely to consume something that is left out, it is better to put it away. Nothing is off limits to a curious pet, and it is up to us to ensure that their environment is safe and appropriate for them at all times.