Most pet owners aren’t too concerned when their pets gobble down some grass, try to eat a bone or even grab the wrapper from a candy bar.  But, when their tastes turn to gravel and rocks or even plastic toys, you might have a serious problem! Every year, we do exploratory surgeries to remove a wide variety of foreign bodies. Why do our pets try to eat such weird stuff?

Every year, a leading veterinary trade magazine has a contest reviewing the weird things pets across the country have eaten.  And, every year, thousands of veterinarians submit their x-rays to Veterinary Practice News wondering if their patient will win the grand prize honor of having swallowed the most unusual object!

Entries to this contest range from mundane objects like rocks to dangerous items including knives, needles or fish hooks.  And, it’s not unusual to see more bizarre things.  In recent contests, submissions have included a dog that ate a $25,000 diamond ring, a snake that swallowed two light bulbs and a Samoyed who had everything from eight batteries and rocks to broken light bulbs, toys and machine parts in his stomach!

Thankfully, alert owners and skilled veterinarians are often able to retrieve these objects before any lasting harm is done.  But, the bigger question is this:  Why do our pets eat these weird things in the first place?

Some items can be obvious, for example, pieces of glass from a broken spaghetti sauce jar could easily end up in the abdomen of a dog hurrying to finish off the tasty treat. One can also understand why dogs are attracted to fishing lures, fish hooks and even knives.  Other objects, such as sticks and rocks are less obvious as to why they were eaten.  Even more curious is how many of these dogs swallow items without damaging themselves and why they continue the habit. 

Veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Valarie Tynes says that there is no easy answer to these questions.  “Certainly, young dogs have a strong exploratory drive and putting things in their mouth is how they learn about the world,” says Tynes, “but dogs who repeatedly eat items like rocks or other unusual things are a different and difficult case.”  Dr Tynes encourages owners of these pets to see their veterinarian for a physical exam, bloodwork and a review of dietary history.  This could help find metabolic disease or some sort of nutritional issue.

Keeping the voracious dog from eating all manner of things can be a challenge in itself as well.  To keep your pet from making an emergency trip to the animal hospital, veterinarians recommend the following:

  • Keep all garbage behind a secure door or cabinet.
  • Use baby gates or closed doors to create “off-limits” areas for your dog.
  • Monitor your dog while walking.  Many pets will find irresistible treats, such as corn cobs and walnuts, while enjoying the day in the park.
  • Being proactive and picking up leftover food, utensils, and other items after eating can help to curb the dog’s desire as well. 

What about our cats?  As it turns out, they may be just as guilty as our canine friends for having an appetite for unusual objects.  String-like items, such as a needle and thread, are almost irresistible to cats.  On websites and forums that focus on cats, many cat owners report their felines have a strange desire for chewing on plastic.  Rubber bands, Christmas tinsel, bread ties or any object that can be batted around is at risk for being swallowed. And such “string foreign bodies” can be very dangerous in cats.

It might be fun to look at those x-rays and imagine what could have lead to the pet eating the weird object, but we should remember that not all cases like these have a happy ending. 

All of these pets underwent difficult surgeries and were likely separated from their families for a few days.  In addition, the owners worried about their pets and likely suffered an unexpected financial burden.  Exploratory surgeries or endoscopic procedures to remove foreign objects often cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. Sadly, some pets may not survive the surgery.

The important thing to remember is that you can help prevent many of these situations by following the advice outlined above.  Seek veterinary care immediately if you note your pet vomiting constantly, retching or if he has diarrhea.  Waiting to see if the situation resolves itself often leads to higher veterinary bills and more distress for your pet. 

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