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Honey Bun, a Pomeranian in Albany, Ga., made news last week when hegobbled a $10,000 packet of loose diamonds in his owner's jewelry store. But the ingestion of more ordinary household objects is so common that almost every veterinarian has a story to tell about the strangest thing surgically removed from a patient.
For Dr. Tony Johnson, a professor of emergency and critical care at Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine, the list of eaten items he has removed from dogs in his 15-year ER career is so extensive that he can identify trends.
“Underwear is most popular. And feminine hygiene items, too.”
Though eating bizarre items isn't limited to one type of dog, Johnson says there is one breed that is more likely to ingest the indigestible.
“Labrador Retrievers,” he says, without hesitation. “While I’ve pulled things out of 14-year-old dogs, a foreign object is not what I first think of when an older dog comes in with vomiting. But a 1- or 2-year-old Lab? Foreign body obstruction is practically a rite of passage."
"But really, any dog can and has gotten into trouble. To dogs the world is edible until proven otherwise."
You’d get no argument on that score from the owner of Honey Bun or from Vetstreet's Dr. Marty Becker, whom ABC News contacted last week to comment on the story.
"Dogs are not known for dietary discretion," Dr. Becker told ABC News.com. "They are scavengers by nature. They just swallow it now and think about it later."
In Honey Bun’s case, the diamonds worked their way out of his system naturally, but the dogs who wind up in Dr. Johnson's care are often not so lucky: Whatever they've eaten has gotten stuck, and surgery may be necessary to save the dog’s life.
"If a dog vomits once on a Friday night and again on a Saturday morning, that’s probably not a problem," says Dr. Johnson."But vomiting through the night? That dog needs to go to the ER."
Once the dog is at the hospital, Dr. Johnson says, the owners are hoping for something simple to end the vomiting. But if a foreign body obstruction is suspected, the dog usually needs diagnostics to start with, X-rays and blood work.
"People have the idea that X-rays provide an answer, every time. But the problem is that they just aren’t that definitive in many cases,” says Dr. Johnson. "The dog eats a rock, and, yes, you’ll see the rock. But many softer items don’t show up, and what you’re looking for on the X-rays are abnormalities, pockets of gas."
If there areenough indicators, the veterinarian may decide that there may be something inside the animal that needs to be located. And in many cases that is exactly what happens. The dog is operated on, an offending item is found and removed, and the dog begins healing. But not always.
Dr. Johnson says it’s frustrating when surgery turns up nothing — which happens about a third of the time. “Those people are very unhappy,” he notes, even when the pet owners have been prepared for the possibility of such an outcome. It’s no joy for the veterinarian, either, who still has to figure out what’s going on with a sick dog.
Unfortunately, a wait-and-see approach to a vomiting dog isn’t a good option, Johnson says. “Without surgery to remove a blockage, the intestine starts to die. You get septic peritonitis, and only about 40 percent of those dogs survive. That’s why it’s important to catch these things early. The recovery rate before things become that advanced is about 90 percent.”
Perhaps that’s why veterinarians find it much more fun to talk about “the dog ate what?!” cases that were obvious— and easily, albeit surgically, resolved. Dr. Johnson has his favorite such story.
“An expensive lady’s watch,” he says. “Chrome, just beautiful. I scoped it out of a big dog, and it was still working just fine. Cleaned it off, handed it back to her.”
This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.
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