VET’S DIARY: A very foreign body

IN farm animal practice we commonly see sequences of similar cases of illness, writes Stuart Morris.

The link between the seasons and the farming year means that animals are often at similar points in the management cycle and consequently, in many animals, similar diseases arise at similar times.

In small animal practice this connection between the seasons and particular diseases is not as strong so this phenomenon is less common. Sometimes however, a sequence of cases will arise with no particular explanation, just coincidence. Our small animal vets at Belvedere Terrace in Alnwick are in the midst of just such a sequence now.

Everyone would recognise that some dogs will eat just about anything, whether it resembles food or not. This can be a result of a voracious appetite or sometimes just curiosity. This has been the cause of the illness in the dogs that feature in our interesting cases. Four dogs have recently been seen, all puppies, after eating unusual items that have become foreign bodies.

Foreign body is a general term used to mean any plant or mineral material that finds its way into organs or tissues in the body. In this context we use foreign body to mean an item that has become lodged in the gut.

Firstly, it is important to realise that although dogs will often eat non-food items, these items don’t commonly cause symptoms. Many of the stones eaten by dogs for example will pass straight through the gut and cause no problems. It is when material becomes lodged that symptoms appear. A foreign body in the stomach will usually cause vomiting. he vomiting may be frequent or sometimes intermittent. This is distressing but rarely life threatening.

Lower down the intestine there is more potential for the foreign body to obstruct the gut. This is a much more serious scenario. As well as repeated vomiting the dog will usually show pain of the belly or abdomen. The dog will often become quite ill. If the wall of the gut becomes damaged the intestine may perforate with life threatening consequences. Intensive treatment is needed, including surgery.

The range of items that can form a foreign body is startling! The first of our four puppies had symptoms as a result of eating not one but both of a pair of nylon pop-socks. These were vomited back up so this first pup avoided surgery.

The second puppy had eaten some kind of rubber ball. Unfortunately this became lodged in the intestine. Surgery was needed and the ball was removed uneventfully.

Our third puppy had eaten some string which the owner had found hanging from its bottom. String can cause severe damage to the gut if the intestine concertinas around it. Once again this pup narrowly avoided the need for an operation.

The final puppy in our sequence of cases had certainly consumed the most interesting range of items. This puppy had eaten a combination of hair bobbles and pipe cleaners. The x-ray of this puppy was intriguing as only the metal parts of the foreign bodies show up clearly which left us speculating on the identity of the items. The hair bobbles had the short metal sections clearly visible, while the twisted wire down the centre of the pipe cleaners looked like segments of a chain. His puppy had the foreign bodies removed during an operation.

Happily, all four of the pups have made a good recovery. Unfortunately, the likelihood is that none of them will have learned their lesson and we can only hope that as they become a bit more`grown up they will lose their inclination to eat anything and everything.

One thing is for certain, I doubt that any of these foreign bodies constituted a satisfying meal!