What happens if my pet eats something it shouldn't?

Let's talk about foreign body obstruction. A foreign body is an item that originates outside the body. Large or irregularly shaped objects can get stuck along the digestive tract and result in your animal needing urgent veterinary attention. The location and degree of obstruction of the foreign body will determine the presenting signs, the likely prognosis as well as the most appropriate course of action. It is very important that you contact your vet as soon as you know or even suspect that your pet has eaten a foreign body, so that they can advise you on the most appropriate course of action. 

Common objects swallowed by animals include: Corn cobs, sticks, bones, string, balls, fishing hooks, stone fruit pips, toys, socks/stockings and underwear! 

What happens when a foreign body is ingested? 

Some objects are small and smooth enough to pass right through the gut without causing a problem.  Larger objects can get stuck within the intestine and block any food from getting through, initially causing your animal to vomit. Another problem arises due to the peristaltic (or squeezing) motion of the muscular gut wall as it tries to push the foreign body along.  If the object is not removed the pressure builds up around it resulting in the blood supply to the gut wall being compromised, then becoming devitalised.  In the worst-case scenario, the gut wall may then rupture where bacteria and ingesta can enter the abdomen causing severe pain, peritonitis, shock and eventual death.   

The clinical signs observed vary significantly and depend on the degree of obstruction, location, duration, and type of foreign body. Commonly noted signs include: 

  • Vomiting/regurgitation 
  • Lethargy 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Dehydration 
  • Drooling 
  • Diarrhoea (+/- blood) 
  • Evidence of the foreign body (ie bone stuck in mouth) 
  • Increased respiratory rate (due to pain) 

What should I do if my animal has swallowed a foreign object? 

It is important that you contact your vet straight away to let them know that this has happened. Even if you are just suspicious that your animal might have eaten something, it is important to call your Vet. You will receive advice as to the risk of the object getting stuck as well as the most appropriate course of action.  

How to prevent my animal from swallowing foreign objects?

There are a few things that you can do to stop your animal ingesting foreign bodies:

  • Keep commonly ingested things out of reach
  • Clear things from your garden eg. stones, sticks, stone fruit 
  • Prevent access to rubbish 
  • Keep your dog on a lead when out walking 
  • Monitor your animal when they eat bones, you can consider removing them when the meat is gone. Please speak to your vet about alternative ways to keep your animals’ teeth clean. 

If you suspect or have seen your animal eat a foreign body of any kind, or if you have noticed your animal is showing any of the clinical signs, it is important that you contact your vet.