My pet ate something it shouldn’t have; what do I do?

Whether it’s a human baby or a fur baby, they have one habit in common – they love to put things in their mouths that don’t belong. Dogs and cats love licking, biting, and sometimes ingesting whatever they find on the ground.

This behaviour can often lead to a gastrointestinal obstruction, which can cause severe internal damage and can become fatal in a short amount of time (3 to 4 days on average). At Boundary Bay Veterinary Specialty Hospital, we often see animals with foreign bodies that require care by our emergency doctors, internal medicine doctors and/or require emergency surgery.

Here are some of the most common causes of gastrointestinal obstruction:

1. Garbage and recycling – Plastics, food containers, bags, chicken bones, corn cobs.
2. Stationery/office items – Paper, rubber bands, pens, and pencils.
3. Clothing & jewelry – Socks, underwear, rings, earrings.
4. Fibrous materials – Such as yarn, string, bedding, towels, or rope.
5. Outdoor matter – Stones, wood, or bark pieces.
6. Toys – Balls, dolls, play bricks, mini cars, or figurines,

What are the symptoms of gastrointestinal obstruction?

Symptoms of gastrointestinal obstruction can include (but aren’t limited to) abdominal tenderness/pain/swelling, drooling, vomiting, lack of appetite, dehydration, weakness, and inability to poop.

Behaviour-wise, you may notice your pet has become restless or dull. They may also be quick to aggression or other intense reactions when the abdominal area is touched.

How is gastrointestinal obstruction diagnosed?

Animals with gastrointestinal obstruction usually present to the emergency service. Upon arrival, vitals, a physical exam, a FAST ultrasound, and bloodwork are usually performed as an initial assessment. If the ER doctor suspects a foreign body, radiographs, a full ultrasound, or a CT may be performed to further assess.

If you suspect your pet has ingested a foreign/obstructive object, contact your veterinarian immediately or bring your pet directly to our hospital.

Boundary Bay is open 24/7/365 for emergencies. We are VECCS Level 1 certified and capable of handling even the most critical, life-threatening emergencies and trauma, with specialists on staff and on-call to handle any medical or surgical issues.

How is a gastrointestinal obstruction treated?

If a foreign body is confined to the stomach, endoscopic retrieval is often attempted. Endoscopic retrieval involves a camera-carrying tube is inserted into the stomach to identify the object and the object is then grasped by a tube-insertable retrieval instrument.

If endoscopic retrieval fails, or is not indicated because it might be risky, your pet may require a gastrotomy (surgical removal of the foreign object from the stomach). Intestinal obstructions are treated with surgery to remove the foreign object and sometimes require removal of part of the bowel if the bowel has been damaged by the foreign body.

Post-endoscopic or surgical recovery

After the obstruction is successfully treated, your pet will be monitored in-hospital where we have staff on-site 24/7.
When your pet has recovered sufficiently, they will be discharged with pain medications, a e-collar (if applicable), and recommendations for soft, bland food, limited activity, and things to monitor in case complication occur.

More Information

For more information on BBVSH surgical services, click here.
Learn more about our emergency and critical care services and procedures.

Should your pet experience a life-threatening emergency, come directly to our hospital; walk-ins are welcome.
If possible, call ahead at 604-514-8383 to let one of our staff know you are on your way. We’ll be ready either way.


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