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Danville Express

Living - January 16, 2009

The Pet Vet says... Dog owners: Here's something to chew on

by Dr. Franklin Utchen

Some dogs seem to chew on everything: shoes, wood, stairs - you name it. This is one of the normal ways dogs investigate their environment, keep their jaw muscles strong, and to some degree help remove dental tartar.

However, every year we seen numerous dogs (and cats) who have swallowed something indigestible and life-threatening, so I encourage you to monitor your pets' chewing behavior carefully.

Just a few of the problems we see each year:

* Bones. Although most dogs love to chew on bones, there are two main problems I see from this. First, as expected, some dogs will get a bone stuck in their throat or elsewhere in their digestive tract. A bone stuck in the throat or the intestines is excruciatingly painful and constitutes an emergency. A bone caught in a dog's throat can often be easily removed after a dog is placed under general anesthesia. But a bone lodged in the intestines requires major abdominal surgery to remove and is life-threatening and can cost several thousand dollars, depending on the severity of damage to the intestines and other complications.

Second, every year I see dogs who have cracked and broken teeth from chewing on bones. These dogs always have abscesses in the jaw bone surrounding the roots of the broken tooth. The only way to get rid of the infection is to either extract these teeth or perform a root canal on them. Either one involves general anesthesia and significant expense. Consequently, I do not recommend dogs be given hard bones to chew on.

* Squeaky toys. Although rubber toys that squeak when a dog bites them are generally safe, I have seen two dogs in the past few years who chewed up the toy completely and swallowed the metal squeaker inside, which subsequently became lodged in the intestines and required surgery to remove. One of these dogs had to have a section of severely damaged intestine removed.

* String, ribbon, etc. Sadly, I have seen several dogs die from having swallowed string, ribbon, dental floss, etc. These are collectively referred to as "linear foreign bodies." Once a dog begins chewing on something like this and swallows the beginning of a long strand, it can be impossible for them to spit it out. As a result, they keep swallowing and swallowing until the entire ribbon-like object has been swallowed. This can become tangled in the intestines, causing severe damage over a long length of the intestinal tract, which can be fatal even when surgery is performed to remove it. I have seen this happen with videotape, leather belts, loose strands of fibers from rugs, shoelaces, panty hose, plastic "grass" used for filling Easter baskets, and virtually any other long, linear material.

* Corn cobs. Recently we saw a severely ill dog who was continually vomiting as a result of having a piece of corncob stuck in the intestines, requiring emergency surgery to remove. Sadly, I have also seen pieces of corncobs cause such severe intestinal damage that post-operative healing was impaired, with resultant rupture of the intestines and death occurring a few days after surgery.

* Gorilla Glue. This is a particularly strong and expansile glue that some dogs find tasty. After chewing on the bottle and swallowing some glue, it expands to fill the entirety of their stomach and then hardens. The surgery is very much like removing a bowling ball from their stomach.

It seems that anything small enough to swallow, will be swallowed. Two of the stranger cases I've seen involved the large diamond ring one of our yellow Labrador patients decided to swallow. Fortunately in that case the X-rays showed the location of the ring and we were able to avoid surgery by removing it using our endoscope.

Another example occurred when one of our clients was practicing his "short game" by knocking golf balls around in his back yard. When he finished he failed to retrieve all the balls, but his faithful Labrador, acting as his caddy, collected three of them for him. Unfortunately, it took major surgery to remove the balls from the dog's stomach and return them to the rightful owner.

Even otherwise edible things can cause severe problems. Dogs that consume a meal high in fat (chicken or turkey skins, bacon, sausage or trimmings from ham, etc.) are at risk for developing "pancreatitis." This is a serious inflammatory problem of the pancreas, causing abdominal pain and vomiting, which usually requires a hospital stay of several days. The damage to the pancreas, where insulin is produced, can be so bad that diabetes can result, requiring life-long twice-daily insulin injections for a dog. Severe cases are fatal. It is critically important for dogs to avoid meals with high fat content.

Virtually anything can become a problem if swallowed (e.g., socks, rocks, peach pits, gardening gloves, stuffing from pillows, coins, buttons). Although every year I am amazed at some of the stories clients tell me about their dogs and the things they have swallowed that were eventually passed without complication, like the dog that chewed up and swallowed a complete terra cotta planter pot and managed to pass it (with some difficulty).

But I recommend you do not take chances. Monitor your dog's activity closely. Offer rubber or digestible treats. And when in doubt about giving your dog something to chew on, err on the side of caution.

--Dr. Franklin Utchen, shown with his dog Tory, has been practicing veterinary medicine in the San Ramon Valley since 1989 and currently co-owns Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center & Urgent Care. For questions or comments e-mail bishopranchvets@yahoo.com.

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