BehaviorEmergency SituationsForeign BodyForeign Body IngestionPet OwnershipRadiographs

Dogs Eat The Darndest Things

By November 30, 2022 December 16th, 2022 No Comments

Our Pet of the Month for November is Delicious. She is a lovely young Bernese Mountain Dog who loves tennis balls. As many other dogs have done, she has chewed up her fair share of tennis balls without incident. However, one morning earlier this month Deli had been playing with the ball, started chewing it and the ball cracked apart. For unknown reasons, Delicious decided that she was not going to give it up and proceeded to swallow the ball right in front of her owner. Fortunately for Delicious, her mom was present and recognized that this was going to be a problem and promptly took her to one of our local emergency hospitals.

Radiographs confirmed the presence of a full tennis ball, albeit in several pieces, in the stomach. With Delicious under anesthesia, the doctors initially tried to retrieve the portions with an endoscope. Unfortunately, the wall of the ball proved to be too large to grasp securely, so she underwent an abdominal surgery to open the stomach (gastrotomy) and remove the tennis ball. Deli’s young age helped her recover quickly from the exploratory surgery and we are happy to report she is back doing well.

This story is important as many of you who have pets, know that they can and often do, choose to eat things that they should not.  Sometimes the ingested item is disgusting to us, like dogs eating goose poop or kitty litter. Sometimes it is just plain fun like pulling all the stuffing out of a plush toy. Cats tend to be more discriminating, but even they are known to eat non-food items.

The question is why? Really, who knows? It certainly is hard to understand the Labrador who eats 30 golf balls, or the 3-year-old Great Dane who ate 43-1/2 socks, or the kitten who ate a plastic toy figure. Obviously, some things which have residual food on them, or perspiration like socks, might be appealing because they are mistaken for actual food. Eating 5 pounds of rocks, or eating a light bulb, or several dozen hair ties; these items are harder to understand.

Maybe the animal is playing with the item and inadvertently swallows it; or maybe it had the shape of food and swallowed it whole before they realized it wasn’t actually food. And, in some cases, just like telling a young child not to touch the cookie jar, and the kid goes right over to the jar and lifts the lid, I think some pets swallow items when it becomes a game. If you have ever tried to grab something out of their mouth, or scolded your dog for picking up an item when you tell them ‘no’, I think it triggers a response from them – swallow it quick and the evidence is gone, so I didn’t do anything!

So, what should we as pet owners do? As smart as we think our pets are, we forget that most of them are not thinking about the consequences of their actions. They don’t care about muddy feet on the sofa, and they are not thinking that counter surfing or getting into the garbage is a bad thing. Cats are curious as are birds, reptiles and other pets who share our houses. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of how our pets are playing with or destroying their toys; do we monitor and put away small items in a house with kids; does our pet like to eat rocks on the beach or get into plants? Have we provided appropriate toys and do we supervise our pets? Do we provide enough mental and physical stimulation to keep our pets from creating their own kind of fun because they are anxious or bored?

Knowing your pet is essential. Pay attention to the items they have access to in the house or yard. Do we know which items could pose a danger and do we remember to put certain items like medications up and completely out of reach? For some of our pets, dogs especially, who are very food or mouth oriented, it can be extremely helpful to teach them cues such as ‘drop’ or ‘give’ so that they might relinquish an item they have in their mouth before it is swallowed.

For the non-believers, here is a video of a trainer teaching a dog to give up a hot dog for a small bit of chicken scattered on the floor. Pretty amazing and something to aspire to. [There is no audio, but YouTube has some written dialogue below the video that explains the trainer’s techniques].

How to Teach Your Dog to ‘Drop’ on Command:

Taking the time to teach our dogs, or any pet for that matter, to make good choices, can be fun, and definitely can help keep them safer. If, however, your pet happens to eat something like Delicious did, know that we have a great network of veterinary professionals in the Seattle area here to help. We are glad that Delicious has made a full recovery, and hope that her tennis ball chewing days are behind her.

Wacky Things Pets Have Eaten & Some Helpful Resources:


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