Nov. 10, 2010 -- Breakfast may be Fido's favorite meal of the day, but don't think his eating habits are limited to food. The assortment of non-food objects ingested by family pets is astounding.
In my 25-year career as a veterinarian, I've seen some pretty incredible things including: an entire set of Happy Meal Toy Story figurines removed from the stomach of a vomiting dog; a large (and I mean large) kitchen knife accidentally lodged in a dog's esophagus as a result of his wolfing down an entire chocolate cake that was left on the kitchen counter; and the critically ill dog who really liked Billy Joel's "The Stranger," on cassette tape.
It is easy to see how a dog might eat the first two on this list, since they both were associated with food. But I still can't understand how -- or why -- these items were appealing to the dog.
I recently talked to some of my colleagues at The Animal Medical Center (AMC) to find out what other unusual items had been discovered inside their patients. My unscientific survey of the AMC staff proved dogs are not fussy when it comes to what they will eat. The list will boggle your mind and you too will have to wonder what these pets were thinking as they munched away.
AMC veterinarians reported underwear as a repeating theme in the realm of dog foreign object ingestion. No family member's undies were exempt from consumption. AMC veterinarians described removing a bra and panty set, panty hose, boxers, briefs and even a diaper or two. Socks were the runner-up clothing items on our list.
Sometimes, the story of a dog eating something strange became a bigger problem than simply extracting the object. Take for example an engagement ring consumed by a dog who was brought into the AMC more than ten years ago. The AMC veterinarian carefully explained that an x-ray would identify the setting, but the diamond would be invisible since diamonds do not show up on x-rays. To the bride-to-be's relief, the ER doctors were able to identify the ring on the x-rays of the dog's stomach. Much to the groom-to-be's chagrin, we also diagnosed cubic zirconium.
Some commonly ingested items -- peach pits, corn cobs and string -- are very difficult to identify because they do not show up on x-rays. This is a major concern for veterinarians. On one occasion at AMC, a day or so following Thanksgiving, we examined a vomiting puppy. The owners swore no toys were missing and no people-food had been fed to the dog, but AMC veterinarians could feel a disk in the intestine (about 3/8 inch in diameter). And because it didn't show on x-ray, AMC veterinarians determined it was plastic. The AMC surgeons removed the piece of plastic. It was a yellow disk attached to a piece of turkey-flavored string – and the word "Butterball" was printed on the disk.
Cats Have Affinity for Eating Hair Ties
Dogs don't corner the market on ingesting non-food items. Cats have a particular affinity for eating hair ties -- and typically, not just one hair tie. A friend of mine had a cat that had eaten so many that they formed a wad large enough to block the passage of food through the intestine. AMC surgeons had to surgically remove the wad of hair ties. A needle and thread commonly get stuck in cats. In one particular case, I saw that the needle actually penetrated the esophagus and lodged in the spinal cord, causing paralysis. Deft removal by a surgeon resolved the problem. Finally, birds explore their environment with their beaks. We had one such explorer bird who investigated his owner's ancient Greek coin collection a little too vigorously, landing him in AMC's Exotic Department's ER to have the coins removed from his crop.
Don't forget to keep a watchful eye on your pets because you just never know what might interest them enough to ingest.
The Animal Medical Center, celebrating its centennial anniversary this year, has been a national leader in animal health care and known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The Animal Medical Center is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. For more information, visit www.amcny.org.