LOS ANGELES—A toy poodle that was rushed to the vet after swallowing a tube sock. A Great Dane that had to be operated on three times for eating his owner’s shoulder pads.
These are just a couple of examples of the emergency cases Dr. Karen Halligan has seen involving household items that seem harmless until an animal decides to munch on them.
Hundreds of pets undergo surgery every year in America to remove small articles of clothing and other objects from their stomachs and intestines, said Halligan, author, TV consultant and director of veterinary services for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Los Angeles.
“It’s very common in private practice and in large institutions to be removing non-food items out of dogs and cats,” she said.
It also can be very dangerous.
Ingested clothing and fabric items, for instance, won’t show up on X-rays. Within 48 hours, a pet that has consumed a piece of clothing will develop symptoms like vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy, fever and depression.
If caught early, a vet can remove the item from inside the animal and everything will be fine. If not, the pet’s intestines will start to die because blood can’t get through, Halligan said. Removing the intestine is an option if the obstruction is eventually found.
If left untreated, the problem can be fatal because of dehydration or bacteria leaking into the stomach, causing peritonitis.
“We had one Great Dane. Three times we had to cut him (open) for his mother’s shoulder pads. He loved his mother’s shoulders pads,” Halligan said.
And surgeries to remove or dislodge things that pets swallow are not cheap.
“We are talking $2,500 to $5,000 at the least,” Halligan said.
Socks are probably the most popular pet-pilfered pieces of clothing across the country. They’re especially irresistible to pets after they’ve been worn. “It’s the scent that attracts them,” Halligan said.
One of Halligan’s older clients came in with his toy poodle and said the dog ate one of his tube socks.
“I was skeptical. I X-rayed, and it didn’t show up. But he was absolutely certain. He was adamant,” she said.
Halligan said she made the dog vomit and “sure enough, we pulled a foot-long tube sock out of this miniature apricot poodle, and the dog was fine.”
X-rays quite clearly show many other things pets swallow.
In March, Tim Kelleher’s 13-year-old Jack Russell terrier got sick and he rushed him to the vet. X-rays showed the dog had eaten a pile of pennies.
Dr. Amy Zalcman at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in New York used a camera attached to a net to fish 111 pennies out of Jack’s stomach. Scooping up five at a time, it took a couple of hours.
Letting the coins pass could have killed Jack because pennies made after 1982 contain toxic zinc.
Zalcman didn’t check the dates on the pennies, “but many were corroded, suggesting that they were being digested,” she said.
Jack goes jogging daily and eats the best holistic food on the market, but he’s got a voracious appetite and is always licking things off the floor, Kelleher said.
The day the long-legged, broken-coat terrier ate the pennies, Kelleher had left a sack with a few bagel crumbs on his desk. While going after it, Jack knocked over a jar of pennies. As Jack licked the crumbs off the floor, he slurped up the pennies too.
Kelleher thought he had “Jackproofed” his apartment. But just a few days ago, the dog ate a whole bag of hamburger rolls after pulling it off a kitchen counter.
While some human foods are fine for pets, others, like chocolate, can be deadly to dogs and cats.
For those who keep flower bouquets in the house, eating just one lily can kill a cat. Preservative packets for the water in the vase also can make animals sick if they drink it.
In seven years of emergency veterinary medicine, Zalcman has removed a variety of items from pets, including jewelry, condoms and a new No. 2 pencil with an eraser. Some of her colleagues have retrieved forks and blades, she said.
In Halligan’s 24 years as a vet, the most unusual object she had to retrieve from a dog’s stomach was a Mickey Mouse hat.
“You could see the plastic parts on the X-ray,” Halligan said.