It's not something any dog owner expects to happen, but it's a fairly common occurrence nonetheless: your dog got ahold of something inedible, and managed to eat it anyway. While dogs are known for getting into things they shouldn't, which can sometimes include the occasional sock, pebble, or piece of garbage, accidental swallowing of foreign items should be taken seriously in case of obstruction or internal infection, either of which can lead to serious complications. That said, not every incident involving a dog who swallowed something he shouldn't have is destined to end in disaster, but it's best to consult a medical professional to keep your dog healthy and happy.
What to do if your dog swallows an object they shouldn't have
It's usually fairly easy to determine whether your dog has swallowed something they shouldn't have as most will display common symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, and straining to use the bathroom, says VCA Hospitals. If you see your dog exhibiting any of these or other worrying symptoms and you think he may have swallowed something foreign, it is extremely important that you call your veterinarian right away. Even if the object your dog swallowed is small or your dog is running around as if all is well and good, internal tears and obstructions can occur and cause damage within a matter of hours, so it's always better to be safe than sorry with a quick phone call to a medical professional who can recommend the next best steps.
Additionally, if it's at all possible to identify the item your dog got ahold of, like if not notice small pieces of toy parts lying around, or bits of shredded sock around the house, be sure to let your vet know about it — treatment will depend on what your dog swallowed and how big or small it was, and any information you can share with your vet will help your dog get a speedy diagnosis and on his way to recovery.
After an initial consult and exam of your dog,your veterinarian will likely take X-rays of your dog to determine how big the object that she swallowed is, the shape of it, and where it's currently located in her body. Treating the ingestion of something foreign will then depend on the item, its size, and your dog's overall health. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, small, smooth objects will pass through your dog's gastrointestinal tract on their own within about 48 hours, through her stool or by vomiting, and no real intervention is needed. In this case, be sure to offer your dog plenty of water to help keep things moving through her digestive system with ease, or ask your veterinarian if stool softeners or induced vomiting is recommended.
For larger items, surgery may be required if the object is too large to move through her GI tract to remove itself on its own. Objects that are often too large or oddly-shaped to pass on their own include rocks, pieces of plastic, and large bones. Foreign items trapped somewhere in a dog's intestine or stomach can prevent blood from flowing through and reaching other vital organs, which can cause a dog to go into shock. In most cases, a surgical retrieval of a foreign object has a high success and survival rate, especially if the issue was caught early and no infection has built up internally.
How to prevent accidental swallowing
The holidays are a time of year when the risk of your dog accidentally ingesting foreign bodies is especially high, but with a little planning, these scary situations can be avoided. Corn cobs and meat bones are some of the most commonly swallowed items and are usually pulled from the trash, so if you have a dog who digs, be sure to keep your trash can out of reach. You can do this by hiding it inside of a closet, placing the can on top of a tall table or countertop, or tossing everything outside as soon as it gets scraped off the plate. Additionally, do your best to monitor your dog at all times, or enlist the help of an extra set of eyes if you're busy preparing or serving a big meal this holiday season.
Some dogs find things outside of the home to sniff and swallow, which can be prevented by keeping your four-legged friend on a short leash and taking care to watch where she sticks her nose (and mouth.) If your dog has some tried and true favorites that she likes to munch on, like loose socks, balls, string, or bits of plastic toys, try offering her a dog-safe toy to keep her occupied, like a Kong filled with peanut butter, and be sure to keep more dangerous objects out of reach. If your dog tends to snoop and seek out things to swallow while you're away, a common occurrence among puppies, especially, look into crate training or confining her to one, clutter-free room, which can keep her safe when she's unsupervised.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.