Wednesday, December 3, 2008

You Are What You Eat

I get calls daily about pets (particularly dogs) eating things they shouldn't. Toys, trash, wrappers, chocolate, bottle caps, squirrels, undergarments, even feces...the list goes on. Amazingly, for all of the things that dogs eat, most of them do just fine. I even had a dog that ate a lightbulb without any untoward affects. Granted, it was a 150 lbs Mastiff and the lightbulb came out of a nightlight, but it was still strangely entertaining to watch it via radiographs as it progressed through the GI tract over the course of about 3 days.

Oftentimes, we aren't sure if a dog ate something they shouldn't have. They just start showing signs of vomiting and/or diarrhea and - depending on circumstances - a foreign object is always somewhere on the rule out list.

Now, it is very politically incorrect to race profile these days for a variety of reasons. However, this practice is used daily in the veterinary field, but we call it by a different name: breed profiling. When it comes to certain problems, the breed of the dog has a huge impact on how likely a given scenario is. This is especially apparent when it comes to the issue of foreign objects swallowed by dogs. If you call me and tell me you have a vomiting Lab or Golden Retreiver, they have swallowed something they shouldn't have until proven otherwise.

Case in point: Bouncy is a 6 year old female Golden. Sweet, affectionate, and utterly untirable, Bouncy is everything typical about her breed (except, strangely, she is not overweight!) Bouncy's owners have been calling the clinic fairly regularly over the last 3 months because Bouncy has been vomiting. Over the course of this period of time, they have spoken to all 4 of the vets that are at the practice and each of us had encouraged them to bring Bouncy in to be evaluated. However, they hesitated...Bouncy's symptoms were somewhat nonspecific and very unpredictible. She would go streches of 4 days at a time with no problems. Then she would have a day where she would vomit everything up. Sometimes she would vomit up only water, keeping all her food down. Sometimes it was the other way around. Through the course of all of this, she never "acted sick" and hadn't lost any weight.

Finally, Bouncy's owners got sick of cleaning up vomit and brought her in. Unfortunately, in cases such as these - even if we are fairly certain there must be some sort of foreign body in the GI tract - sometimes we don't see a whole lot on the radiographs. Fortunately, Bouncy's radiographs gave us an immediate answer. For those not used to reading radiographs, a quick lesson on orientation. Bouncy is lying on her right side, her head going off to your left and her tail to your right. And, as you can likely notice, there are eight very round objects in her stomach that just don't look like they belong.

In surgery, we pulled out 8 golfballs. Yeah, golfballs.....apparently she liked to chase golfballs that her owner hit in the backyard, and he hadn't been keeping track of them all. The balls were too large to leave the stomach in either direction, so there they had sat for months. Oddly, it is not terribly uncommon for a dog to swallow something like this and not show any clinical signs. Only if something happens to block the entrance or the exit to the stomach will you actually see vomiting.

Fortunately, Bouncy is doing just fine now. Her owners refer to her as the most expensive golfball can they've ever owned. And she doesn't get to chase golfballs anymore.

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