By Keith Schopp
Content warning: This post includes detailed descriptions of foreign object removal.
I was washing the truck while the five dogs played in our fenced yard, glancing over occasionally to ensure all was in order. That’s when I noticed Stella, my dominant one-year-old German shorthaired pointer, chewing on the collar of Emma, my three-year-old Labrador retriever.
My first reaction was that it was kind of cute. I decided to break it up, and upon closer inspection, Stella was chewing on Emma’s flea and tick collar! In fact, she clearly had chewed off a good chunk. I called the other dogs over and noticed that the flea collar on Lena, my nine-year-old German shorthaired pointer, was completely GONE!
Surely it fell off or is somewhere in the yard. Surely, Stella did NOT eat Lena’s entire flea and tick collar!
The first veterinarian took an X-ray and said, “No problem. Nothing but food in Stella’s stomach.”
About 10 p.m. that night, Stella began vomiting pieces of Lena’s flea and tick collar. We took her to our regular veterinarian, who had not been available for our first-round diagnosis, and she said the first veterinarian had misread the X-ray. There were lots of flea and tick collar pieces in the stomach, including a big piece blocking the intestine. Surgery was scheduled for the following morning.
Welcome to my world! A world in which my dogs eat everything from pillows to pinecones to safety pins.
I’m not alone. One of my friends had a Labrador that ate a pair of pantyhose. “You must be pulling my leg,” the veterinarian reportedly said over the phone, pun intended. Ultimately, the veterinarian removed it.
Sometimes the danger is not just blockage from objects getting stuck, but what the dog actually ate. We were at one of those group pheasant hunts in South Dakota, riding back to the lodge in a bus when I noticed one of the guide’s Labradors with a mouthful of green pellets. The guide was driving the bus.
“Hey, your dog is eating something. It’s green. Is it candy?” The guide slammed on the brakes. “It’s rat poison!” the guide said with a tone of disgust. “I told those guys not to put it in here until after this weekend when we park the bus in storage.” Everybody piled out of the bus. We found some peroxide in a first-aid kit and forced it down the dog’s throat. It took a couple minutes, but it worked thankfully. The dog had ingested enough rat poison that it probably would have ended badly.
I asked Purina Veterinarian RuthAnn Lobos, DVM, CCRT, why dogs eat the things they do. “It could be nutritional motivation, or it could be behavioral,” Dr.Lobos suggested. On the behavioral front, boredom and lack of exercise can play a part. “A tired dog is a well-behaved dog, just like a child. Dogs need physical and mental exercise. They may still be curious about an object, but mentally and physically exhausted and too tired to chew!”
Dr. Lobos also says that attention-seeking activity can occur if something has recently changed in the household, such as a newborn child, a new puppy or pet, or a new house or apartment. “Some dogs suffer from anxiety or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and chewing or eating things may be the way they express those behavioral issues. In this case, you should consult with a veterinary behaviorist,” she suggests.
Dr. Lobos shared that even the professionals, like her, have to deal with what the sporting dog ate from time to time.
“Consider the case of the three-year-old yellow Labrador named Finn who swallowed an entire long-sleeved pajama top that belonged to a three-year-old toddler in the house,” Dr. Lobos said. “In fairness to the Labrador, the pajama top had been soaked in milk when the toddler spilled his cereal on himself.”
Dr. Lobos suspected Finn ate the pajama top, but the dog showed no ill effects for a week. She decided a physical exam and radiograph were in order. Sure enough, the pajama top was still in Finn.
“The pajama top was recovered successfully by inducing vomiting. Needless to say, despite the toddler really wanting his shirt back, the owner decided to dispose of it!”
Dr. Lobos offers advice that could help me and other owners of sporting dogs that eat stuff they shouldn’t:
- As a puppy, teach obedience skills, give boundaries, and remove temptation (socks, dish towels, leather shoes, pantyhose, etc.) to set you and the puppy up for success. Don’t use toys that look like things you wouldn’t want them to eat, such as a chew toy that looks like a shoe or stuffed animals that are similar to your child’s collection.
- Until the pup can truly understand the boundaries, keep him or her in a kennel where the pup has a sense of safety and security. Most dogs view their kennel as their “own room” and quite enjoy the time spent resting there. (Kennels are always a good idea. Remember the Labrador that ate rat poison on the hunting bus? Unless they put rat poison in the kennel, the Labrador probably stays out of harm’s way.)
- If undesired behaviors keep happening, consult with a veterinarian to investigate any potential medical reasons for the actions. Also, it may be appropriate to consult with a veterinary behaviorist.
- Consider a refresher course in obedience.
- Exercise! This can make a big difference if the issue is boredom, and mental challenges like food puzzles and feeding toys can engage the active mind.
- Be careful with chew toys – only use these under direct supervision, and even the most experienced chewers can choke. Without anyone to help, it could be a sad and tragic ending.
- If you suspect your dog has ingested something toxic, call the Poison Control Hotline for consultation.
Dr. Lobos says if you must induce vomiting, she recommends peroxide administered by a syringe (like the ones from children’s liquid medication so you can measure it) for accuracy.
“I don’t like giving more than three tablespoons of peroxide for a large dog, as large amounts can have negative effects on the esophagus or throat area,” Dr. Lobos says. “Other considerations include what has been ingested and how it will actually come out (is it abrasive, caustic or rigid?) The esophagus scars easily and can lose its pliability and function.”
“The other factor is ‘when’ – after two to three hours, there’s a high likelihood that the object or substance has moved on from the stomach. At that point, the pup would be better served by going to the veterinarian and having some activated charcoal to absorb the toxins, or radiographs to see where the object is.”
This article is not intended to take the place of consulting with your veterinarian. Please contact your local pet hospital with any concerns about non-food objects that your dog has ingested.