Sept. 8, 2009— -- Sometimes, it seems that getting into scrapes is what pets do best. Getting out of them, however, can be another matter and may require medical care.
This year, the Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI) invited people to vote on the most outrageous pet health insurance claims filed over the past year and the winner will be given the first Hambone Award, which the VPI says will be an annual prize.
"In every pet's lifetime they're going to have one crazy, bizarre accident happen to them which you can't predict or prevent," said Corie Gross, field veterinarian for VPI. "So it's good to have pet insurance."
The claims -- one pet per month over 12 months were nominated for the award -- included a bulldog that ate 15 pacifiers, a Siamese cat that swallowed a needle, and a border collie that accidentally tipped a cow by running into it headlong.
But funny, surprising and tragic stories like these can walk into a veterinarian's office every day.
"I think every vet has a story like that they could tell," said Marty Becker, veterinarian and co-founder of Petconnection.com. "You really never know what every day is going to bring -- from the miraculous to the mundane."
Gross said that, although there are more pet cats in the United States than pet dogs -- 88.3 million cats compared to 74.8 million dogs, according to the Humane Society of the United States -- the preponderance of dog tales on the list may be related, in part, to dog owners being more likely to buy pet insurance.
But canine nature might also predispose them for trouble.
"Dogs are inquisitive by nature and they explore the world with their mouths," Becker said. "Cats are more in the background, looking and watching. Dogs will go headfirst into something."
Appropriate first aid can help. Becker pointed out that pet injuries can be time sensitive, so calling a veterinarian first and asking what to do if an animal is bleeding or having an allergic reaction can be crucial.
"Pet owners need to be ready to provide emergency care and also be able to afford the care," Becker said.
The following is a list of the 12 pets in the running for the VPI's Hambone Award, all of whom have made successful recoveries. Voting ends Sept. 14.
Ginger Reynolds said Sugar, her Jack Russell terrier, loves to chase any of the various wild animals that wander into her backyard from the surrounding area of Ocean Springs, Miss.
"Sugar was out one morning a little later than I expected her to be, happily looking up at the sky with a big dark thing in her mouth," Reynolds said. "I caught her red-pawed eating a turtle."
Sugar had, indeed, chomped up a small turtle, shell and all. Unfortunately, a piece of turtle shell had become lodged deep in Sugar's nasal cavity, restricting her breathing for weeks.
X-rays and other tests had missed the small piece of shell and Sugar's quality of life had deteriorated to the point where Reynolds was considering euthanasia.
"For two nights straight she was gasping for air through her mouth and I really thought I was about to lose Sugar," Reynolds said.
Doctors finally discovered and removed the piece of shell during surgery and Sugar was able to breathe normally. Reynolds now keeps the piece of turtle shell in a glass tube in her jewelry case.
More common dog tales might involve exploratory jaunts into the refrigerator, not the lingerie drawer. But Crawford, a Brittany spaniel, made a snack out of the gel bra inserts of one of his owner's bras.
"A lot of this stuff, there's really nothing an owner can do to prevent it," Gross said. "Know where your local emergency vet clinic is."
Tara Claxton, the owner, took Crawford to his veterinarian for gastrointestinal issues.
A special diet ensured that the gel bra inserts passed from Crawford with little difficulty.
Often, a dog will chase an animal with the focus of a heat-seeking missile. But a wheelbarrow planter was not part of Belgian sheepdog Rider's focus.
Rider collided with the wheelbarrow while the squirrel escaped up a cedar tree in Joyce Biethan's backyard.
"He's kind of an all-or-nothing dog and he went into 'all,'" Biethan said. "He chased after that squirrel with total disregard of what might be in front of him."
His collision left Rider with a broken scapula, a broken rib and a punctured lung.
"He was in so much pain that I think he just tried to lay low," Biethan said. "He prescribed himself bedrest."
Biethan said Rider did not need surgery and made a full recovery.
Sometimes, once is not enough. For Becca, a Labrador retriever, that meant her favorite sock deserved to be made into two courses.
"It's not unusual to do an X-ray and find a lot of socks" in a dog," Gross said.
But Becca was unique for eating the same sock twice. Kevin Koritza, Becca's owner, said his father first noticed that Becca threw up a sock in the backyard while he was painting the house. Later in the day, that sock was gone.
Koritza told VPI that he suspected Becca may have eaten the sock again when she started vomiting. An ultrasound confirmed that Becca had eaten the sock and required surgery to correct intestinal blocking.
Initially, veterinarians thought the lump on French bulldog Jean Pierre's side was a bee sting or, worse, a cancerous growth.
But as the lump got bigger over several months, owner Denise Uphus agreed to surgery that showed the lump was the result of a corndog stick.
The stick had gone through Jean Pierre's stomach lining and was putting pressure on his body cavity.
Uphus was baffled until she recalled that her daughter had fed Jean Pierre part of her corndog one day and that Jean Pierre may have chewed up some of the stick.
"You really can't turn your back on them," Uphus told VPI. "Kids or pets."
After noticing several of her daughters pacifiers had gone missing, Jennifer Zwart found that her English bulldog Lulu had a private stash -- in her stomach.
Zwart told VPI she noticed Lulu liked eating pacifiers after catching her eat one when it fell to the floor. Concerned, she took Lulu to the veterinarian where 15 pacifiers, a bottle cap and a piece of a basketball were removed from Lulu's stomach.
"We were all shocked, especially since Lulu never had any symptoms and I had no idea all of those pacifiers had gone missing," Zwart said to VPI.
Lulu may have binged on her rubbery treats, but her behavior is common for dogs.
"This is really a typical thing dogs do," Gross said. "With something you like, you eat as many of those as you can find around the house."
The spiny surface of several sea urchins didn't stop Marley, a Labrador retriever, from chasing after them as his owner, Judi Dunn, tossed the round sea creatures into the sea to prevent her from stepping on them.
But what Marley thought was a game of catch quickly went wrong as she had an allergic reaction to the poisonous urchins. Soon, she had swollen gums, swollen paws and lesions between her toes.
Dunn told VPI she took Marley to the veterinarian for a shot of antihistamines, saying she didn't realize sea urchins could cause such a reaction.
"Pets get into stuff without us knowing it," said Gross, adding that seeing a doctor as soon as possible was the best course of action. "Don't wait for it to get worse."
The southwest can be a treacherous, with some of the most vicious wildlife in the United States.
But Gregory Hodgins did not think he and his two German shorthaired pointers, Rincon and Catalina, would one day be squaring off against a pack of wild boars.
Hodgins had taken Rincon and Catalina for a hike near his home in Tucson, Ariz., and the dogs had run ahead chasing something. Soon, however, Hodgins heard Rincon yelp in pain and come running back towards him followed by a wild boar, also known as a javelina.
"He was running towards me with this javelina in hot pursuit," Hodgins said.
In fact, it was two javelinas and a litter of babies that came to a halt in front of Hodgins and his dogs. Hodgins was able to scare off the boars and start down the mountain, but Rincon seemed to be in bad shape. He was bleeding from the nose and rump, and appeared to have been gored in the groin area.
"It was clear he couldn't walk," Hodgins said. "I thought he was a dead dog, basically."
But Rincon would be all right. His veterinarian said no organs had been damaged and bleeding was minimal. The most serious wound may have been to Rincon's pride.
"[The vet] said, he's just behaving like a dog whose ego has been shattered," Hodgins recalled.
An ice fishing trip got Quincy, a Labrador retriever, more than he bargained for when he accidentally inhaled a three-pronged fish hook.
"Dogs are always exploring their world nose first," Becker said. "You never know when something crazy is going to happen."
Sara Kelly, Quincy's owner, told VPI that her dog had run over to the bait buckets full of minnows and stuck his nose in, only to encounter the fish hook. Kelly immediately sought treatment for Quincy, but he was so agitated that he had to be tranquilized before a veterinarian could remove the hook.
Becker cautioned that hurt animals, even longtime pets, may become unpredictable when injured.
"You could have the canine equivalent of Mother Teresa and it could still bite you," he said. "Use a blanket or towel to protect your hands when handling [them]."
Dogs are not usually cow-tippers, but Ranger, a border collie, stumbled into this pastime while training to herd cattle.
During a practice session, Jeanne Brown told VPI that Ranger, already an accomplished sheep herder, was so enthusiastic about chasing after cattle that he zoomed into a cow's hind legs at full speed. The impact unbalanced the cow, which fell on Ranger.
"I'm pretty sure he thought the cows would run away from him like the sheep do, but they're not afraid," Brown told VPI.
Ranger limped for a few days, but was soon up and running again.
For Toby, a Spaniel mix, a round roast bone became a bone of contention when it got stuck around his lower jaw.
Dennis Bullaro, Toby's owner, said his family had had a round roast with a round bone in it for dinner one day and had given the bone to Toby to play with.
"He would just have a ball with this bone," Bullaro said. "He played around for over two months with the bone before this happened."
One Sunday, Toby was playing with the bone when it became wedged over his lower jaw. Although Bullaro tried to ease it off, it would not budge. The bone had ended up caught between some of Toby's teeth and Toby had to be taken to the emergency animal clinic in Omaha, Neb., where Bullaro lived.
"The vet said: 'Well, we're going to have to saw it off,'" Bullaro recalled. "How are you going to go about doing that? They put him under and sawed it off with a hack saw."
Scooter, a Siamese cat, ended up in the veterinary clinic with what looked like seizures but were actually the result of a needle poking part of her brain.
"I guess she had swallowed the needle a couple of weeks before after I'd hemmed some pants," said her owner, Margaret Stedt.
Scooter had been playing in Stedt's home on Memorial Day when she began rolling her head back and foaming at the mouth with blood in the foam.
Initially, doctors thought Scooter had developed a seizure disorder, but medications did not work. Scooter was sent to a neurologist in Irvine, Calif., near where Stedt lived in San Clemente and while she was prepped for an MRI, Stedt said the assistant felt the needle in Scooter's mouth.
The needle had pushed through Scooter's throat to contact her brain, which was causing the seizure-like activity. Scooter was anesthetized and the needle was removed with no permanent damage done.
"Another centimeter and she would have died. ... I think we're very fortunate that they caught it when they did," Stedt said. "Stupid things like leaving needle and thread out -- things we have around the the house we don't think about -- could be devastating to any cat."