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My dog has rocks in his stomach; do you think they are in his head?

by Katie McKay | Jul 04, 2020

Despite their keen sense of smell, dogs somehow find things like poop and squirrels, either freshly dug or dead for days, irresistible. Although we have talked about poop, a lot, I was surprised to note that despite being a golden retriever rescue, we have not talked about foreign bodies! How can this be? Let's take care of that today.

Foreign bodies can happen anywhere… nose, eye, toes, ears, basically it is a solid object that is inside the dog where it should not be. Since dogs basically try to eat everything before it eats them, let's focus on gastrointestinal foreign bodies.

Garbage gut is usually more of a nuisance than a major problem. Your dog ate something, you think, so you call the emergency room. This usually ends up sounding something like, "well if you aren't sure, you should bring him in." The consequences of waiting too long and not addressing serious problems can be catastrophic, but rushing to the emergency room because your dog ate one M&M isn't exactly conducive to a busy emergency room staff. Instead of taking up precious time that could be spend on real emergencies, I prefer to have a more educated approach to a conversation ensuring the best care for my idiot dog.  Let's unpack this…

Diarrhea and vomiting can be caused by a number of different things. I suspect everyone has their dinner party story about the time your dog ate the ________ or a ______. Sometimes they puke once and never look back, other times they need a few days of mom's cooking to let everything get back to normal. But there are certainly those stories that end in the $3500 emergency surgery to remove said object. How do we know when to be concerned and when to act?

 

Case 1: Young male golden retriever manages to ingest an entire EZ-foil mini loaf pan while being crated. Owner returns to find tiny bits of crushed foil and a silver toothed smile.  It’s 7pm on a weeknight and your vet is closed. What do you do?

Action Plan: Non-Emergency. In this case, it looks like the dog did some great chewing before eating the pan piece by piece. Since he is up wagging his tail and ready for dinner and eats it happily without vomiting, I opt to skip the ER and call my vet in the morning. We end up visiting the vet and getting an x-ray to make sure everything is moving along and within a few hours of breakfast, we have sparkly poop.

Case 2: Adorable chocolate lab gets into the trash that you just threw the rotisserie chicken carcass in. It's 9pm on a Friday night and he is resting comfortably on the floor but didn't eat his dinner.

Action Plan: In this case, it’s probably an Emergency. Chicken bones, especially cooked bones, are extremely dangerous because they can break apart into fragments easily. These can poke, jab and dig their way through the entire gastrointestinal tract. Tears in the intestines can cause leakage of bacteria into the abdomen resulting in sepsis (a severe and fatal blood infection). You and Hershey will sleep much better knowing he is under the watchful eye of 24 hour care. Your vet can take x-rays to make sure the bones move thru the system, give supportive care like fluids, and react quickly if there is a problem.

Case 3: You are bringing in the groceries and have to make two trips to the car. Your curious fur child sticks her head in every bag and finds the pound of raw hamburger wrapped in plastic. Before you can return with the second load, she scarfs it down proudly and smiles and wags her tail as you walk through the door to see the empty Styrofoam container. An hour later she vomits but has no other symptoms except not wanting dinner. Overnight, she wakes you 4 or 5 times and has diarrhea.

Action Plan: Non-Emergency. Eating an entire pound of raw hamburger is gross and can mean that high levels of bacteria will be forcefully ejected from your dog overnight, but generally with a day of rest from all food and then a bland diet this will resolve this on its own. Carefully clean up after your dog and be sure to disinfect your home and your hands.

Case 4: Your dog is happily spending time with you outside. He is behaving completely normally and is eating well and drinking well. At 4am, you hear the sound of the vomiting alarm clock and rush to let him out. Unfortunately you were a few seconds too late and on the rug is a small hard object which turns out to be a rock. Your dog vomits 2-3 more times before lunch, but nothing comes out.

Action Plan: This is an emergency. This rock eating idiot probably didn't eat just one and although he was able to vomit one up, he could have ingested larger rocks that are now obstructing his intestine or are stuck in his stomach and too big to pass through. An x-ray is needed to make sure there aren't any more rocks and if there are, where they are located. Surgery may be needed and getting to surgery sooner rather than later is essential to prevent further complications, such as lack of blood flow to tissues near the object.

It isn't clear to us why dogs exhibit PICA (ingestion of non-food items) because the reasons seem to vary widely. The easiest way to prevent an emergency is to keep your dog from eating things in the first place, but that isn't always possible.

Emergency

  1. Bones
  2. Mushrooms!
  3. Indigestible garbage
  4. Uncooked yeast dough-super dangerous
  5. Your dog has eaten anything and has a history of pancreatitis or GI issues
  6. Your dog is very old or very young
  7. Persistent vomiting
  8. It has been longer than 24 hours and the object has not passed
  9. Signs of abdominal pain (hunched, crying, distended or "hard" belly
  10. Linear objects like string or ribbon-these can become lodged and slice into the intestine.
  11. Drooling-he/she may be choking or ingested a toxin
  12. Batteries

Things that are likely not emergent

  1. Passes within 10-24 hours
  2. Small, smooth objects, objects less than 1.5 inches
  3. Aluminum foil
  4. Plastic wrap
  5. Very small amounts of chocolate, like an M&M consumed by a large dog
  6. squirrels? Amazingly various small mammals seem to pass!

Should you induce vomiting? I would not recommend trying this without the advice and instruction of a veterinarian. This is tricky because there are a number of things to assess, such as, amount to give your dog, how much time has passed since ingestion, and most importantly, will this cause more harm coming back up than just letting it pass? Needles, glass, yeast dough are all potentially very dangerous to bring back up. The esophagus passes right by the heart and its major vessels. Vomiting up dangerous objects can result in major bleeds and more complicated surgery involving the heart. My golden once swallowed a Popsicle stick right in front of my eyes....without thinking I immediately gave her hydrogen peroxide and thankfully it came right back up, but when I thought about it later, that could have been a disaster.

Our dogs eat things, sometimes when we don't even know it. It's great when we can be right there to catch it but that doesn't always happen. Remember not to panic and make decisions based on how your pet is acting. When something isn't right, its time to ask for help! In the meantime, we can continue to lecture them on how to make good choices......

Cheers!
Katie

Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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