St Patrick’s Day Post: Not So Good Luck Charms – Foreign Body Ingestions

St Patrick’s Day Post: Not So Good Luck Charms – Foreign Body Ingestions

Whoever “coined” the proverb, “see a penny pick it up – all the day you will have good luck” certainly had not considered the repercussions that occur when our pets do just that and swallow coins.  What appears as an innocent act can have fatal consequences.  The acids in a dog’s stomach can actually dissolve pennies releasing zinc (any penny minted after 1983) leading to a toxicity that results in destruction of red blood cells resulting in anemia and organ failure.  Zinc is not just limited to coins, but found in many other “charms” (nuts and bolts, board game pieces, zippers, jewelry, lozenges and some lotions).  We have even had a recent case where a dog presented to the Pet Emergency Center for swallowing a bullet with brass casing (brass is an alloy of zinc and copper).

The list of objects (foreign body ingestion) our pets have swallowed is extensive and ever expanding; there are even annual contests to determine the “winner” of They Ate What?  Needless to say, it is a challenge to find a novel case of foreign body ingestion.   Along with these novel cases, there are still the common cases of dogs swallowing toys, clothing, and bones; even the discerning palate of the cat has a hard time passing up string, rubber band, or even a handful of hair bands (our record was somewhere around 50 hair bands found in a cat’s stomach!).

The key to prevention really hinges upon knowing the habits of your particular pet, choosing appropriate toys, removal of all the tempting tidbits from their environment, as well as a frequent inventory of their toys for damage or an unaccounted loss.  Short of a “bullet proof” plan (sorry, promise no more puns), it is important to know the signs of potential foreign body ingestions which include:

  • Vomiting (several episode, not just the occasional bout)
  • Not eating
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive drooling
  • Tense and/or tender belly
  • Straining to defecate
  • Lethargy
  • Unusual behavior (restless, biting when being picked up)

The prognosis for a case of foreign body ingestion varies.  However, the earlier the diagnosis is made, the better the outcome.    If you witness your pet ingest a foreign body, contact your veterinarian immediately as there may be options other than surgery to retrieve the object.   Inducing vomiting is sometimes possible (depending on the type of foreign body and how long it has been since ingestion).  Endoscopy and retrieval is also sometimes an option if the foreign body is still within the stomach and amendable to retrieval.    While there are objects that can pass on their own, the recommendation is to check with your veterinarian so they can guide you in the best course of action.