What to Do When Your Puppy Swallows a Foreign Object

Puppy chewing a toy

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Puppies explore their world by mouthing, tasting, and chewing and as a result, they swallow foreign objects that can potentially make them sick. Puppies may gulp some things accidentally when a piece of a toy breaks off or something falls onto the ground without the owner's knowledge. Other dangerous objects prove too tempting—used tampons, and even grease-smeared foil proves irresistible to puppies who troll the wastebaskets for scraps. Foreign body obstruction in puppies can be a medical emergency that can cost you money and your puppy's life if not immediate attention is received.

Commonly Swallowed Objects

Veterinary pet insurance claims adjusters ranked the top 10 most common items surgically removed from pets’ gastrointestinal tracts. The most common item is socks, followed by underwear, pantyhose, rocks, balls, chew toys, corn cobs, bones, hair ties/ribbons, and sticks. Most items tend to be owner-scented objects, but the list doesn’t stop there.

Whole toys or parts of toys, jewelry, coins, pins, erasers, and paper clips are often swallowed. String, thread (with or without the needle), fishing hooks and lines, Christmas tree tinsel, and yarn are extremely dangerous. String from turkey roasts is particularly appealing so watch out for those holiday food hazards. And for puppies able to crunch up the object, pieces of wood or bone prove hazardous. Even too much of a rawhide chew can stop up his innards. Puppies may even eat rocks.

Warning

Never pull on the visible end of the string—either out the mouth or hanging out the puppy's rectum. String and thread are often attached to a needle, fishhook, or organ that's embedded in tissue further down the digestive tract. Pulling the string at your end could further injure the intestines and prove fatal.

First Aid for Swallowed Objects

If the item was swallowed within one to two hours, it’s probably still in the stomach. Call your vet immediately to see if they advise inducing vomiting at the veterinary clinic. They may advise coming in right away to have vomiting induced or a call to an animal poison hotline (like the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline) if there is a concern for toxicity. In some situations, they may advise inducing vomiting at home (however it is not recommended without the guidance of a veterinarian due to some safety concerns with at-home methods).

After two hours, the object will have passed into the intestines and vomiting won’t help. You will still want to call your vet for advice. Many objects small enough to pass through the digestive system may be eliminated with the feces and cause no problems (however do not risk this with coins or batteries). Feed a bulky meal of dry food to cushion stones or other heavy objects, and help them move on out. Food also turns on the digestive juices, which can help soften wads of rawhide treats, so they pass more readily.

In most cases as long as it is small enough, objects pass harmlessly through the body and end up on the lawn. Monitor your puppy’s productivity. Use a disposable popsicle stick or plastic knife to chop up and search through the puppy droppings for the object.

If your dog swallows the below objects, take extra caution:

  • Sharp Objects: Call your vet and prepare to go to the vet immediately.
  • Metal Objects Like Coins or Batteries: The exception to allowing small objects pass are swallowed metal objects like coins or batteries. Don't wait; get your puppy seen immediately. Stomach acids interact with these metal objects and cause zinc or lead poisoning.
  • String: String is another dangerous object when swallowed and requires you to seek professional help.

Warning


If you’ve seen the pet swallow something they shouldn’t and they become lethargic, have decreased appetite, vomiting, retching, diarrhea, repeatedly cough, or look distressed, seek help immediately. Any object, even tiny ones, potentially may lodge in and block the intestinal tract.

Symptoms of Swallowed Objects

Diagnosis can be based on seeing the puppy swallow something or based on symptoms. It’s confirmed by X-rays or other diagnostics like an endoscope to determine the exact location and size of the blockage, and sometimes to identify the object itself. Specific signs depend on where the blockage is located and the type of object. Any of the following signs mean that your pet needs to go to the vet promptly: vomiting, diarrhea, decreased energy or interest in getting up, decreased appetite, inability to keep food or water down, retching, distended stomach, hunching, or seemingly painful.

  • An object caught in the stomach or intestines causes vomiting, lethargy, and dehydration which needs medical attention from your veterinarian. Sometimes it may come and go for days or weeks if the blockage is not complete and food can pass around it but if any signs are seen a visit to a vet is needed to help your pet.
  • A complete blockage is a medical emergency that results in a bloated, painful stomach often with vomiting. The dog refuses food and immediately throws up anything he or she drinks. These are often life-threatening.
  • Signs of zinc toxicity (from coins) include pale gums, bloody urine, jaundice—a yellow tinge to the whites of the eyes or inside the ears—along with vomiting, diarrhea, and refusal to eat.
  • Lead poisoning from batteries can also cause teeth grinding, seizures and hyperactivity, loss of appetite, and vomiting.
  • Copper poisoning has similar signs plus a swollen tummy.
  • String-type articles may be caught between the teeth in the mouth, with the rest swallowed.
Signs Your Dog Swallowed Something Bad

The Spruce / Joshua Seong

Intestines propel food using muscle contractions called peristalsis that move through the entire length of the intestine (kind of like an earthworm) to help push the contents through. But when a foreign object like a string is caught at one end, the intestine literally "gathers" itself like fabric on a thread, resulting in a kind of accordion formation. The result is sudden severe vomiting and diarrhea, and rapid dehydration. Your veterinarian should evaluate any blockage situation to determine the best course of treatment. Surgery is often necessary to remove the obstruction.

Treatment for Swallowed Objects

If the blockage is not promptly addressed, the resulting damage may become irreparable. Sharp objects may slice or puncture the bowel, and obstruction from any objects may interfere with blood flow to the organs and cause bowel tissue to die. Peritonitis is the result in either case and usually proves fatal.

Once located, the object will be removed. The veterinarian can sometimes do this with an endoscope down the puppy’s throat or the other direction up through his rectum, or with surgery. Any internal damage is repaired. If surgery can correct the problem before peritonitis sets in, most puppies fully recover. Should tissue die, the damaged sections of the intestine may be removed, and the living portions of the bowel reattached; these puppies typically have a decent prognosis but a lot depends on the specific location of the surgery and the degree of damage that was present at the time.

How to Prevent Your Puppy From Swallowing a Foreign Object

Most puppies outgrow indiscriminate munching. The best course is preventing your dog from swallowing dangerous items. Choose dog-safe toys that can't be chewed into tiny pieces, and supervise object play. Keep things picked up at all times and only allow chewing under your supervision. Anything a child would put in their mouth is fair game for puppies. Puppy-proof your home by thinking like your dog, so that you won't be caught off guard when your dog eats the rubber bumpers off the door stops. Keep trash up and away from your dogs no matter the age.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.
Article Sources
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  1. Gastrointestinal Obstruction in Small Animals. Merck Veterinary Manual