Deadly obstruction

Late one night when I was getting ready to crawl into bed after a busy day at the hospital, I received a phone call from the panicked owners of a dog called Rascal. He had been given a rawhide bone, which he had happily chewed until suddenly he appeared to be choking. 

I rushed to the hospital where I met Rascal and his owners. He is a small dog, and the seemingly small bone was causing him great distress. 

An x-ray exam soon revealed that Rascal had swallowed a significant part of the bone (5 cm), which has lodged in his esophagus on its way to the stomach. His stomach was severely distended, and full of air swallowed on his frantic attempts to breath and cough out the bone. 

The condition required an immediate intervention. 

Rascal was put under anesthesia, which allowed us to use a special tube to push the bone into his stomach. The stomach is easier to access by surgery, and has less complications, by comparison to the esophagus. 
It turned to be a late date night for my wife and me there in the surgery room, operating and monitoring that rascal Rascal. 

He had his stomach cut open to relieve the tension and distention, and there we found two more pieces of rawhide bone. They were, of course, removed. He was saved by his very attentive owners who had rushed him to the hospital right away.

Gastrointestinal obstruction is quite a common incident seen in the veterinary world.

Dogs and cats, especially the young ones, are naturally curious and playful, hence the inclination to chew and swallow various objects. A foreign object may lodge in any part of the gastrointestinal system, in the esophagus, stomach, or intestine. 

Dogs have been known to swallow bones, balls, corn cobs, toys, sticks, stones, pins, needles, wood splinters, cloth, rawhide, leather, strings, fruit pits, and other objects. The most common foreign body found in cats is string. 

Any household object your pet chews can become a foreign body problem. Although some smaller objects can get through the gut without becoming stuck, the larger pieces can result in serious gastrointestinal complications. 

The presence of a foreign body can lead not only to partial or complete obstruction, but also to a tear of the gastrointestinal tract. Some foreign objects ingested, such as coins and batteries, can lead to intoxication.

Partial obstruction allows limited passage of fluids and gas through the gastrointestinal tract, whereas complete obstruction does not allow any passage. A complete obstruction is a very severe condition, usually with a rapid progressio. It poses potential severe consequences, if not treated right away. 

Gastrointestinal blockage can lead to impairment of blood flow, and often to permanent damage to the area of the blockage, infection due to bacterial overgrowth, and severe dehydration.

The clinical presentation of foreign bodies depends on the location of the object, and whether the object is causing a partial or complete obstruction.

The most common symptom associated with gastrointestinal foreign body is vomiting. In a complete obstruction, the vomiting will be profound, and will frequently be accompanied by lethargy, loss of appetite, and depression. 

A pet with an untreated case of complete obstruction will probably die within just a few days.

In a partial obstruction, the symptoms will be less severe, and will be intermittent. The animal will lose weight, but as long as it keeps drinking, it may live for 3 to 4 weeks.

Foreign bodies are usually diagnosed by imaging. Some objects can be seen on a plain x-ray. In other case, the object itself cannot be seen, but the shape of the intestine reveals a typical pattern that highly suggests the presence of a foreign body. 

Sometimes a contrast x-ray is required. In this type of test, the animal is fed a special dyeing material that helps determine whether there is an obstruction, and, if so, its nature. Certain foreign bodies can be diagnosed by ultrasound, or an endoscopic exam.

Once a diagnosis of foreign body is established, the treatment depends on the location of the object and the pet’s medical condition. If the pet’s condition allows it, the vet will repeat the x-rays to assess whether the object is moving, and can pass on its own. 

In many cases, a surgical intervention is required. In simple cases, the surgery involves only removing the object. In more complicated cases, where the blockage has caused permanent damage, the surgery is more involved and may include a partial removal of the damaged intestinal segment.

Besides removing the object, most animals require hospitalization with intravenous supply of fluids until they get back on tract and are able to drink and eat on their own. The treatment usually involves medication such as antibiotics and electrolytes supplementation.

Prevention is very important, and may spare your animal from suffering a very painful and potentially life-threatening condition. 

It is important to pet proof your house. Keep any objects that your pet might ingest out of reach. Make sure that the toys you give to your pets are large enough that they cannot be swallowed, and that they are good quality and not easily broken into pieces. Your vet can guide you which toys and treats are ideal for your pet.

Some dogs tend to chew on objects more than others, and I would keep toys away from such dogs. Better to be safe than sorry. 

It is very important to make sure your pet does not have access to garbage and garbage bins. 

Some dogs have an extreme tendency to chew on things they find when they are walked outdoors. If that is the case with your dog, and you feel that you are having difficulty controlling the situation, consider a muzzle.

If your pet shows any of the symptoms mentioned, especially choking or severe or intermittent vomiting, take it at once to be seen by your vet.

How does this story make you feel? (90 total votes)
Castanet MoodMeter

More Dr. Oz's Vet Advice articles

About the Author

Dr. Moshe Oz owns Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital, a small animal veterinary practice in West Kelowna.

Dr. Oz has deep love and affection for animals. It was his childhood dream to become a veterinarian, a dream that he has fulfilled when he graduated with honours from KUVM,on 2006. Dr. Oz's special interest is internal medicine and surgery.

In his free time Dr. Oz enjoys training and racing triathlons, including the legendary Penticton's Ironman.

Dr. Oz can be contacted through his website: www.KelownaVet.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories