Sometimes, dogs and cats just don’t care about the difference between “interesting” and “delicious.” From plastic toys and water bottle caps to washcloths, coins, corn cobs, and socks, from time to time Fido and Fluffy can’t help but help themselves to a serving of non-food contraband. The same goes for ferrets, birds, and any other animal you thought was domesticated enough to be left alone with a bar of soap for three minutes.
Foreign objects in the gastrointestinal areas can cause plenty of problems in a hurry, from vomiting and diarrhea to scrapes and tears in the intestines, abdominal blockages, infections, and rupture.
If you think (or know) your pet has eaten something that definitely isn’t food, contact your animal hospital immediately. Don’t try to get your pet to vomit unless your animal surgeon says to, since vomiting may cause more problems than it solves. Never put your hands in your pet’s mouth, even if they don’t typically bite. Do start withholding food until you can see your animal hospital doctor. Expect vomiting and diarrhea, since these are normal symptoms after an animal has ingested a foreign body.
Because foreign bodies in the gastrointestinal tract may create the same symptoms as many other medical issues, your vet will likely run a series of tests including blood work, X-rays, and a fecal examination to narrow down possibilities. Some pets may be sent home with basic treatment, but others will require surgery or hospitalization to recover. Surgery can remove both the foreign object and any damaged tissue.
To avoid emergencies and lots of unnecessary stress, keep an eye on your pet and avoid leaving tempting morsels within easy reach. Store small toys and other objects in areas your pet can’t chomp down on them, and don’t feed them rib or chicken bones, which are common choking hazards and also easily swallowed. If your animal can’t resist eating things they shouldn’t, consider crate training, enlisting the help of a professional trainer who can teach you both commands for a more peaceful life, or spraying objects with pet repellent designed to make non-chewables taste bad.