It’s said that you only realise how edible the world is when you own a dog. I recently retrieved a bubblegum pink Bluetooth ear piece from the stomach of a five month old golden retriever. The owner had found them missing and suspected the pup may have had something to do with its disappearance. It’s not a one-off case. Ear pieces, AirPods have become common foreign objects that pets have been swallowing since the pandemic as most people are working from home. Even masks are topping this list. In fact, I know a dog, Max Gupta, who swallows a mask almost every week; I am now tempted to rechristen him ‘Mask’ Gupta.
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Puppies, especially, are notorious for chewing and swallowing all kinds of small objects, while they are teething. And as pet adoption has increased in the last year, we see many pups undergoing endoscopy procedures to retrieve these foreign objects.
Dogs have a tendency to eat things they are not supposed to, this predicament is termed Pica. Pica can occur for a number of reasons. Nutritional deficiencies, behavioural problems, boredom, separation anxiety or certain disease causing increase in appetite can push your dogs to consume non edible objects. Certain medicines also stimulate them to eat like there is no tomorrow.
Even with edibles, there are certain things that need to be kept away from pets. For instance, mango kernels. These are the most common foreign bodies encountered by vets every summer and monsoon. Pets consume mango kernels not because of any of the above mentioned reasons but simply because they like the taste of the fruit. Discarded kernels can be picked up from the streets while they are being walked.
Due to its size, the kernels can cause an obstruction within the gastrointestinal tract leading to complicated surgeries. One of my patients, Jack, a Labrador, loved mangoes so much that he underwent three surgeries over three summers to remove the kernels from his intestines. Finally, the family had to stop getting mangoes at home.
While most dog breeds are afflicted with Pica, labradors and beagles are particularly susceptible to it. Labradors have a gene combination that does not allow them to realise when their stomach is full. As a result, they keep have an enormous appetite. Beagles, on the other hand, have high energy, and since they can spend the energy living in apartments, they end up eating whatever comes their way. Parents of these breeds must be careful with where they place smaller objects.
If you are lucky enough to be present while your pet has eaten something they shouldn’t have, you can make your pet vomit it out. However, this is recommended only for soft smooth things such as socks, cloth, mango kernels, etc. If the object is tiny, it may even pass out of the stool. But that is a call that a vet needs to take. For sharper and corrosive objects like batteries, coins, pins and needles, or any other metal, the pet will have to undergo endoscopy or surgery immediately.
But what if you r pet consumes something on the sly? A missing object is generally the first clue. If what your pet has swallowed obstructs their gastrointestinal tract, you will see them displaying signs such as vomiting, difficulty in passing stools or constipation, reluctance to eat, play and exhibiting pain when the belly is touched. These indicate that it’s time to visit the vet.
But Pica is not restricted to canines alone. Even cats are prone to it. Although fussy about what they eat, bone getting stuck in the throat is an extremely common in cats. Another hot favourite is a sewing thread with the needle. I have lost count of the he number of threaded needles we have surgically removed. It is wise to keep cats away from the sewing kits. Cats also show great affinity for broomsticks; I have had to remove a whole ball of broomsticks from a cat’s tummy once. Among birds, jewellery seems to be their soft spot.
It is scary when you see your pet eat something they shouldn’t. Fortunately, good medical facilities are available now that are equipped to retrieve these objects. However, it’s wise to immediately address the issue if you pet does swallow something it shouldn’t.
Dr Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai, who loves to play the piano in her free time and is ruled by her whimsical cat, Catbury, at home.
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