By Michael M. Pavletic DVM, DACVS
Director of Surgery, Angell
What to look out for:
As pet owners fire up the outdoor grill for the family barbeque, many are unaware of the underlying dangers to their pets. Simple, discarded food items can cause serious gastrointestinal problems, and in some cases, death. Objects attached to flavorful food products also become tempting morsels for consumption.
Corn cobs and peach pits top the list of intestinal foreign bodies during the summer. Corn cobs flavored with butter or meat juices are especially tempting and dangerous to the family dog. In the stomach, cylindrical cob segments are not digested and eventually pass into the small intestine. The intestine cannot dilate or stretch sufficiently to facilitate their passage, resulting in a small bowel obstruction. Both dogs and cats are at risk for swallowing the casually discarded peach pit, resulting in the same life-threatening condition. Chicken, beef, and pork bones are readily swallowed by wandering pets. Although less common, chunks of bone can become lodged in the esophagus or intestinal tract. Esophageal obstruction with subsequent ulceration can result in a life-threatening infection within the thoracic cavity.
Foil, plastic wrap, and the cotton string used to bind a roast can become hazardous objects of consumption. Grease and meat drippings that spill onto the ground may flavor wood or gravel. Dogs may lick and swallow these foreign objects, occasionally in large numbers. In one case I removed a small bucket of gravel from the stomach of a German shepherd.
Obstruction of the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine is often followed by variable amounts of vomiting or gagging, depending on the location of the obstruction. Continuous vomiting can lead to dehydration, depletion of the patient’s electrolytes, as well as other serious metabolic derangements. With perforation of the gastrointestinal tract, fatal infections can occur without prompt diagnosis, medical support, and surgical intervention. Veterinary costs increase with the severity of the patient’s condition.
Perhaps the most insidious foreign bodies related to food consumption are the wooden or bamboo skewers used for shish kabobs or teriyaki dishes. Dogs in particular tend to chew and swallow these pointed skewers. Unfortunately, they often punch a hole through the wall of the esophagus, stomach or small intestine where they will migrate throughout the body of the unfortunate pet. I have removed whole and partial skewers from a variety of locations in the thorax and abdomen of dogs. Fortunately, many of the pets survived after these miniature migrating “arrows” were located and removed.
Prevention is simple: dispose of all these items in a secure garbage can. Keep the garbage bag in the can until disposal. If food products contact the ground, a few blasts from a garden hose can disperse the flavored residue. In so doing, your pet can enjoy the festivities and avoid a trip to the veterinarian.