Dogs are naturally curious and love investigating new sights, smells and tastes. Most of the time, this instinct is harmless, however, in some cases, the consequences can cause illness or worse if your four-legged friend decides to taste test the wrong thing.
The team at Healthy Paws Pet Insurance & Foundation, alongside consulting veterinarian, Dr. Zac Pilossoph, has some advice and insights for pet parents to keep in mind as their pups explore the world – and its flavors:
What Are the Most Appealing Items for Pets to Chew and Swallow?
We’ve seen dogs chew and swallow a lot of things that they shouldn’t – from socks and rope toys to avocado pits and rocks. Why? Dogs naturally gravitate to testing stuff out with their mouths, whether it’s something they plan on ingesting or something they get satisfaction from crunching on (think of a dog running rampant with an empty plastic water bottle). On top of that, they have a knack for seeking out items that carry their owners’ scent.
Healthy Paws’ consulting veterinarian Dr. Zac Pilossoph says certain objects are more common for dogs to want to taste. Dogs like to chew and ingest items that have a general smell that appeal to them, such as rope, belongings with their pet parents’ scent on it such as socks or underwear, and bone marrow bones and treats – all of which don’t digest well and can quickly become a Foreign Body Obstruction (FBO). Be especially careful with bone marrow treats. Dogs can digest them with time, but they are sharp and can cause perforations within the gastrointestinal tract before actually breaking down.
“Dogs also like items that mimic their natural desire to chew and crunch things or that they play with outside, such as tennis balls and rocks,” said Dr. Zac. “These items can be swallowed and lodged in some segment of the gastrointestinal tract.”
Why Do Pets Ingest Inedible Items?
Pet parents must always expect the unexpected, from the most rambunctious pups to the mellow dogs. Why? Animals, especially young ones, tend to eat things because they’re curious or just don’t know better. Ingesting any non-food object (or foods that are toxic to dogs such as chocolate, grapes, or xylitol-containing items) can have serious and potentially deadly effects on a pet’s health.
Many of these can require an emergency trip to the vet for serious complications and treatment, such as an obstruction that requires a vet to induce vomiting, perform abdominal ultrasounds, or surgery to save a pet’s life. In the past year, Healthy Paws saw that stomach issue-related claims were the most common for both dogs and cats to visit the vet.
What Are the Most Unusual Items Ingested?
Dr. Zac also warns of commonly discarded household items that dogs tend to gravitate to, such as avocado pits and tampons that may be left in the garbage.
“When ingested, tampons expand in a dog’s stomach and can cause a blockage that can be life-threatening to a dog,” said Dr. Zac. “Of course, dogs are usually willing to taste and swallow food-related items, whether in the garbage or not. Corn cobs, peach pits, and avocado pits can equally cause big problems if ingested by a dog.”
For example, a Labrador puppy had two obstruction incidents in four months. Wagner first ate an avocado pit, requiring an abdominal surgery in February, and then gulped down a pair of his mom’s ankle socks, calling for another surgery in May.
Do Both Dogs and Cats Ingest Similar Items?
Dogs and cats may eat different things. A cat is attracted by items that appeal to their predatory instincts. A dog, on the other hand, is going to want to chew on something that feels good on their back molars or gravitate to items that have a distinct smell, like garbage cans and clothing.
Cats tend to have more linear foreign body obstructions from ingesting things such as string, wire or thin pieces of plastic. These items get anchored under their tongue or get stuck in their stomach or intestines. As the stringy item crinkles up or tries to pass through, it can cause a sawing-effect and traumatically cut through their intestines. Dogs can get linear foreign bodies as well, but they aren’t as frequent.
Are Certain Dog Breeds More Likely to Ingest Inedible Objects than Others?
“The classic larger breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and Pitbull mix breeds are more likely to eat first and think later,” said Dr. Zac.
Brachycephalic or “smush-nosed” dogs, such as French and English Bulldogs, often have less ability to pass inedible objects if accidentally swallowed because of the specific anatomical differences in their gastrointestinal system compared to other larger breed dogs.
What Are the Symptoms of Foreign Body Obstructions that Pet Parents Should Look out for?
Your pet may begin experiencing general gastrointestinal upset abnormalities, such as vomiting and diarrhea, loss of appetite, pain in the abdomen, or a lethargic or depressed mood. If you see any of these symptoms, Dr. Zac recommends seeking immediate veterinary attention.
Stringy items such as yarn and tinsel can prove especially dangerous if they get into intestines and can cause bunching and “sawing”, potentially leading to an intestinal perforation quickly. If caught early enough, some foreign bodies may be removed endoscopically (i.e. with a claw device that is passed down the pet’s throat and into the stomach). However, other foreign body obstructions may need surgery to address, especially if it has moved farther down the GI tract.
Upon arriving at the vet office, diagnostic tests, including blood work and a urinalysis, as well as ultrasounds and radiographs may be needed to locate the object. Foreign Body Objects can be located in the esophagus, stomach, intestines, or rectum. If any other abdominal organs have been damaged, or the intestines perforated, more intensive surgery may be needed.
So, How Much Can All of this Cost?
The costs of surgically removing a foreign body obstruction can start at $2,500 and go up to $10,000. The cost of treating a pet who has ingested something problematic can vary based on the animal, what they’ve eaten, as well as where you live. Pet insurance can help with these kinds of unexpected accidents and illnesses that you can’t plan for. Some examples of pets eating something requiring vet care include:
A five-month-old Labrador who swallowed a squeaker from a rope toy and needed surgery and racked up a vet bill of $6,220.
A seven-year-old Maine Coon cat, who suffered from an obstruction due to a hairball and something toxic he ate. The treatment brought his pet parents a $3,790 vet bill.
A one-year-old Dachshund who had two foreign body obstructions within one year: first he chewed a piece of plastic from a dog toy (vet bill: $4,632) and six months later he needed surgery for a treat that wouldn’t break down (vet bill: $5,699).
Pet insurance can help cover the costs of diagnostic testing, surgeries, treatments, and medication for injuries and illnesses that are not pre-existing to policy coverage. Ultimately, pet insurance allows for peace of mind, allowing you to go into every veterinary visit with the confidence that you’ll be able to do what is best for your pet, and not just the best that you can afford.
What Are Steps a Pet Parent Can Take to Prevent their Pet from Ingesting Foreign Objects?
First, it’s a good idea to keep a mental inventory of your pet’s toys because if one goes missing, it might be in their belly.
Never give your pet string or ribbon and supervise all play with edible toys.
Kittens and puppies especially should never be given any toys small enough to swallow or with detachable parts.
For households with small children, be vigilant. Some pets love to chew kid’s toys as much as their own.
And as for the Christmas tree? Skip the tinsel!
Keep a close eye on your pet for any unusual symptoms and seek immediate veterinary care if any of the ones described above arise. It’s important to keep your pet active; make sure you have plenty of ways to keep your pet in shape without creating health hazards.
Though pets can oftentimes get into trouble, we love them endlessly. That is why pet insurance is there for you and your pets when you need it most. Because when it comes to our pets and their health, finances should never get in the way of giving them the highest quality of care.