Can you believe what your pet will eat? They aren’t picky eaters, that’s for sure! In fact, it’s common for pets to eat toys, string, articles of clothing, and even sticks or rocks. This dietary indiscretion can be more than just strange and annoying, though. If objects can’t pass through the digestive tract, they can cause obstruction, perforation, and even death.

A foreign body surgery is an emergency procedure to remove an object that’s obstructing normal digestive function. Luckily, The Pets Place Animal Hospital is here with tips on what to do if your pet samples something they shouldn’t.

Offending Objects

What kinds of objects are typically seen in foreign body surgery? In dogs, rawhides, corn cobs, clothing, and dog toys such as squeakers and rope are common. In cats, eating thread and string are potentially dangerous but strangely common habits.

Signs and Symptoms

Indications of a foreign body can vary based on where the offending object is stuck. Items tend to take 10-24 hours to pass through your pet’s system. If you notice any of the following signs, call your veterinarian right away:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Salivating, gagging
  • Abdominal pain, hunching
  • Lack of appetite
  • Straining to defecate, constipation
  • Behavioral changes, such as biting or growling when touched

Diagnosis 101

How is a foreign body diagnosed? In some cases, your veterinarian may be able to feel the object in the intestines. In most cases, however, a diagnosis is reached through radiographs (x-rays) of your dog’s intestinal tract or by ultrasound of the abdomen.

Some objects will be easily seen with x-rays, but others may not. In these instances, your veterinarian may order a contrast study, which requires your pet swallow barium to highlight the object in their digestive tract. Your veterinarian may also recommend blood and urine tests to determine if other health conditions are present, such as pancreatitis.

Foreign Body Surgery

If you know your pet ate something they shouldn’t have or if they display troubling signs of foreign body ingestion, your veterinarian may recommend an exploratory surgery to locate the object and remove it. In most cases, time is of the essence. Foreign bodies in the stomach and intestine can block blood supply to the organs, causing perforation and necrosis, both of which can be life threatening.

Depending on where the object is located, your veterinarian will anesthetize your pet and open the stomach/intestine to retrieve the foreign body. It’s an invasive procedure involving incisions to the abdomen, chest, or digestive tract. Although there are some risks, a foreign body obstruction can be fatal without emergency surgery. Your veterinarian will provide you with a detailed treatment plan and prognosis.


The outcome for these types of surgeries is generally very good but depends on several factors:

  • Your pet’s general health before surgery
  • The location of the object
  • The physical makeup of the object
  • The duration of obstruction

Preventing Foreign Body Surgery

The best way to prevent a foreign body surgery is to limit access to items that will tempt your pet. Remove small, chewable items from the floor and yard. Keep rubber bands and string out of reach. When it comes to dog toys, make sure they’re the right size and are made of materials that don’t easily break into smaller, more dangerous pieces.

If you’re not sure about your pet’s toys or if you suspect your pet may have ingested something unsafe, please contact us to make an appointment. We’re always happy to answer any questions!