Foreign Body

If you’ve ever found a lost sock while scooping the backyard, then this week’s blog is for you. Whether your pet likes to ‘dumpster dive’ in your trash can when they're home alone, or just can’t resist a delicious dirty sock, read this blog on intestinal foreign bodies for everything you need to know when the object doesn’t pass on its own:

Humans may never truly understand the appeal of eating a pair of socks, but eating inedible objects is a popular bad habit among pets, especially dogs. Some of the most common objects wrongfully ingested by pets include:

  • Socks

  • Underwear

  • Pieces of shoes, particularly shoe laces and rubber

  • Rocks

  • Mulch/sticks

  • Toys, particularly string, stuffing, or rubber

  • Leashes/collars

  • Jewelry

  • Coins

  • Hair ties

  • Sewing needles/fish hooks

  • Plastic bags

  • Bones and other old food from the trash can

Why do pets eat things they shouldn’t?

The answer to this question in most cases is, because they want to. There is a medical condition called pica, a craving for unnatural articles of food, that can influence a pet to eat things they shouldn’t; alternatively, pets that suffer from anxiety may resort to chewing or other destructive behaviors to cope with their stress, which can result in the accidental ingestion of foreign material. Medical conditions like pica are often behavioral, but can also be caused by malnutrition or intestinal parasites. Keeping up with your pet’s annual lab work and intestinal parasite check can help rule out a physiological component to pica.


What is considered a foreign body, and what is an intestinal blockage?


A foreign body is any inedible object that is orally ingested by your pet. Whether it’s chicken bones from the trash, rocks from the yard, or a single string from their favorite toy, a foreign body is unable to be digested by your pet and poses risk for a gastric or intestinal blockage. While some foreign bodies can pass on their own, a gastric or intestinal blockage occurs when the object is unable to pass and is lodged somewhere in the GI tract and will not move.

In addition to interrupting normal digestive processes, the stuck object can cause irreparable damage to the intestines. Foreign objects can cause bruising, tissue death, and may even tear the intestines, which can lead to infection and complications. Cloth material, nylon leashes, shoe strings, and string toys are especially dangerous and cause a linear foreign body. Linear foreign bodies are dangerous because any string-like foreign body can cause the intestines to bunch up when trying to move the object along, causing the intestines to fold in on themselves.


What should I do if I know or suspect that my pet has ingested a foreign object?


If you know your pet has ingested a foreign object, call your vet immediately. When dealing with ingested objects, acting quickly is key. The more time that passes after the object is ingested, the trickier the removal of that object may be. Depending on the object ingested and how much time has passed, your vet may be able to induce vomiting. We do not recommend inducing vomiting at home unless instructed to do so by your vet.


If you suspect your pet may have eaten an object but aren’t sure, watch closely for the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting

  • Lethargy

  • Drooling

  • Loss of Appetite

  • Abdominal pain

  • Difficulty Defecating/Constipation

If your pet begins to demonstrate any of these symptoms, call your vet immediately. An exam and radiographs may be performed to identify blockage. Sometimes, the object itself may be visible on the radiographs; however, things like socks, string, and other soft materials can be difficult to distinguish on x-rays. Luckily, radiographs can show whether or not there is an obstructive pattern in the bowel, which helps your vet determine if surgical removal of the object is required.


The radiographs confirmed that my pet has a foreign body. Do I have our vet perform surgery or wait to see if the object will pass on its own?


The answer to this question is entirely dependent on your vet’s recommendation. In some cases, surgery is the only option and waiting for the object to pass on its own is not an option. Surgery should be performed as soon as possible to remove the object and assess the damage to your pet’s intestines. If too much time has passed and the damage to parts of the intestine are significant, your vet may need to remove parts of your pet’s intestine.

In other cases, the foreign object may be visible but is not currently causing an obstruction. Your vet may give you the option to have your pet closely monitored while allowing your pet the chance to pass the object naturally. Hospitalization will often be recommended during this time. Pets with foreign bodies often show signs of vomiting or loss of appetite, and hospitalization will allow your pet to receive IV fluids to rehydrate (and help move things along) and IV medications to help with nausea and discomfort. Helping your pet’s appetite return is key, as your vet will recommend frequent feedings of a high-fiber food to help the object pass. Your vet may recommend repeat radiographs until the object has passed to ensure that the object hasn’t moved to an obstructive position.


Will my pet still try to eat foreign objects after their surgery?


Unfortunately, there is no way for a pet to make the association between their unhealthy eating habits and an expensive surgery. While ingesting a foreign object may be a one-time thing for some pets, many pets who eat foreign objects tend to be ‘serial eaters’ and may require close supervision. If your pet is known to ingest objects they find around the house when you aren’t home, crate training is strongly recommended.

When crating your pet, do not leave toys or other bedding that your pet tends to chew on in the crate. Avoid leaving down any bedding made of fabric that your pet likes to chew on or shred with their teeth. Replace any towels or blankets that are being chewed on, have frayed edges, or are made up of stringy fibers.

If your pet tends to get into the trash cans when you aren’t looking, child-proof locks can be used to ensure the lids stay closed. Child-proof devices can also be used if your too-smart-for-their-own-good pet is capable of getting into cabinets and drawers.


Pets who can’t resist eating mulch, sticks, and rocks in the backyard may not be able to venture outside alone. If rocks are an essential part of your landscape, use larger rocks (rather than small pebbles or pea gravel) that are difficult to chew or ingest. Alternatively, limit their yard time and let them experience the great outdoors on a supervised walk instead!


Arguably, items such as socks, underwear, and shoes can be the hardest to keep pets away from – especially in households with children. Using laundry hampers, keeping the doors to the kid’s rooms shut, and keeping shoes in a designated closet or out-of-reach place can help limit the number of stray socks left behind on the floor for your pet to eat.

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