An X-ray of a dog shows the stomach packed with rocks and others going into the colon.
At our hospital, we perform a wide range of specialized abdominal procedures.
To understand the nature of most abdominal procedures, one has to envision the abdomen as a busy but finely tuned processing center.
The stomach serves as the loading dock, and the rest of the digestive and urinary organs are the sorters. The stomach opens the packages by dissolving them into smaller pieces before they flow to the small intestine. There, digestive enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the liver are added, further dissolving food material.
The small intestine absorbs small molecules of nutrients, which then flow to the liver for further processing and distribution. Water also is absorbed along the way, and excess water and wastes are handled by the kidneys, and excreted in the urine. Unusable items, like fiber, are passed through the intestine and eliminated. This system depends upon everything “going with the flow.” If any part of this flow is blocked, the whole system breaks down.
Thus, the majority of abdominal procedures are to re-establish normal flow to some aspect of the system. Many times the flow is interrupted by something that has developed from within. For example, a gallstone blocking the flow of bile, or a kidney stone blocking the flow of urine.
The surgical procedures to remedy these conditions vary in complexity and difficulty, and the prognoses are variable as well. These conditions developed through no fault of the owner or the patient. These cases of intrinsic origin are generally related to age, metabolism or genetics, but not to anything in the behavior of the owner, or the patient.
The most common reason for an abdominal obstructive disorder, however, occurs in patients who are otherwise perfectly healthy. It’s the foreign body, and the patients are to blame for these episodes. Patients suddenly find themselves in a life-threatening medical situation yet they have no obvious metabolic-, genetic- or age-related problems. Or do they?
Sometimes it seems that the term “puppy” could be a medical diagnosis. A combination of curiosity, playfulness, teething behavior and foolishness leads to puppies swallowing all manner of objects. So one symptom of being a puppy is that they are over-represented in foreign body surgeries. So maybe it is an age-related issue.
While most foreign-body patients are healthy, it also turns out that some ingest foreign material as a result of metabolic issues. Adrenal, thyroid disease, diabetes, vitamin deficiencies and parasites can all lead to foreign body ingestion, but these factors are relatively uncommon causes.
What about genetics? Results vary, but certain breeds seem to make almost every list. These include Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and beagles. I must add that in South Carolina, the Boykin is not only one of the most commonly affected but also one of the most likely to be a repeat offender.
So, maybe even these incidents have intrinsic origins. It came as no surprise when I (Henri Bianucci) was presented with a beagle named Nelea, who had been vomiting for a few days, and now was seriously ill.
The X-rays amazed even me. I expected them to show something suggestive of an obstruction, but they actually screamed it. The stomach was packed with rocks. Some had made it to the colon, but the ones in the stomach were not moving, and their only way out was going to be through an incision.
Nelea’s surgery was a success, and we removed a bowlful of rocks. Her prognosis is excellent for recovery, but the question beyond how she could have possibly eaten that many rocks is why would she do it at all? Unless this could be answered and addressed, the odds of this happening again were high.
The answer turned out to be simple and the cause preventable. It turns out that the family had a cookout, during which some flavorful grease was spilled on the gravel. Although she may generally prefer her grease straight up, this time she had it on the rocks. This pointed out that, though unintentional, there is also an element of owner responsibility to these events.
Dogs generally will not distinguish an item from the scent it is impregnated with. They are one and the same to them. So the rag, plastic wrap, foil, etc. will likely prove too tempting to resist. They will simply take it all in, and the results can be life-threatening and expensive.
Although some ages and breeds may be more likely to partake, virtually all dogs are at risk, and prevention is the best medicine. As this case demonstrates, it’s not just the garbage or your kids socks that present a problem. Anything they can swallow that has an appealing texture or taste may be a problem.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.