My lab is constantly eating stuff he shouldn't. I try very hard to keep him from doing it and he's always fine (sometimes after he vomits), but I worry about possible obstructions. What should I look for?
Pets that eat objects they shouldn't can present any number of ways. Sometimes they will act fine for a while after ingestion until the object becomes lodged in the stomach or intestines, and other times they are ill immediately. Clinical signs range from not wanting to eat and lethargy to vomiting and abdominal pain. If the object ingested was toxic, the clinical signs can vary even more. If your pet is vomiting occasionally, even if they hold down some of their food or water, there could be an object stuck in their GI system that is partly obstructing the stomach or bowls. If you suspect your pet has eaten an object, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Depending on your pet, when the object was eaten, and what type of object it was, the vet may recommend inducing vomiting. This can be risky and should not be done with sharp or caustic foreign material and should always be done under veterinary supervision.
For some ingested objects that are still in the stomach, a procedure called endoscopy may be an option. This is minimally invasive (no surgery) but does require general anesthesia. Once an ingested object has left the stomach and entered the small intestine it becomes more difficult to remove with endoscopy.
I can't overstate enough that if you suspect your pet has eaten an object, contact your veterinarian immediately. The vet may recommend in-hospital monitoring, treatment, or home monitoring based on the object ingested, timing, and your pet's past history or physical exam. The sooner a veterinarian can identify and treat things stuck in the intestines the better because the longer an object is lodged there the more damage it causes the intestines, which may increase complications and surgical risk.
This week's expert is Dr. Tanya Tag, Chief of Staff, Emergency & Critical Care Veterinarian at The PET+ER and Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.