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Dogs, like toddlers, seem to have a knack for testing the boundaries of safety and good sense by getting themselves into less-than-ideal situations. We can safely rely on children to eventually outgrow shoving random items up their noses. Dogs, however, are often well into their adult or even senior years as they continue refining their palates on a variety of ridiculous household items for no apparent reason beyond boredom or the pleasantly full-bodied taste of sweaty, polyester running socks. So what should you do if your dog eats a sock? Or a toy? Or swallows a whole bone? The answer is one to be prepared to address as the results vary from “yuck” to full-blown surgical emergency.
We’ve seen a wide variety of strange objects in dogs: whole walnuts, multiple garments at the same time, rocks, partial bars of soap, etc. This is a problem that is more common that you might think! Dogs are wonderful and weird. We love them.
It’s true that pups will sometimes pass or vomit the thing that they swallowed naturally, but you still need to plug in and evaluate the situation. A foreign object, even a sock, can turn deadly if an obstruction occurs. Veterinarians sometimes opt to induce vomiting if the incident just happened, rather than risk waiting for the object to pass through the intestines.
All foreign objects in the gut have the ability to be life-threatening, but some are particularly scary, like hard objects or cooked bones which can easily splinter and pierce the intestines. Also, don’t assume that fabric will simply break down in the stomach. The majority of fabrics now are essentially plastics (polyester, nylon, etc.) that aren’t going anywhere, and even cotton and wool aren’t likely to break down well, if at all. To evaluate the safety of waiting to see if the object will pass, definitely call your veterinarian for advice. Generally, it takes 10-24 hours for food to pass through the entire digestive tract.
Whether you saw the incident and know what’s going on or have no idea at all that your dog gulped down something it shouldn’t have, there are certain signs that she/he is in distress.
It’s not uncommon for dogs to vomit up the offending item, but when the vomiting is unproductive, especially if it’s been going on for a long time, definitely call your vet. This can be a sign of an obstruction and needs to be evaluated promptly.
If a foreign body is suspected, your vet will need to perform an abdominal xray of your pup to try to confirm and locate the object. They might also want to run blood tests to see if your dog’s health has been impacted and/or to determine if there might be another reason for the vomiting or pain.
If a foreign object is confirmed, or still suspected after xray, an exploratory surgery is needed to remove it. At this point, dogs are often in serious pain, probably more than they actually show you, and declining. Surgery is a life-saving measure. Obstructions can cause irreparable damage to intestines if they cut off blood supply.
Fortunately, most dogs recover well from abdominal surgery!
If dogs ingest known toxic items, like chocolate, products containing xylitol, or certain flowers or houseplants, call your veterinarian immediately. This is not the same emergency as waiting for an object to pass, and timing could be critical.