Dogs and cats are often their own worst enemies. This is especially true when it comes to chewing and ingesting items they're not supposed to be eating. In most cases, these foreign objects will simply pass through your pet without an issue — but when they don't, these objects could get stuck in your pet's throat or lodge in their gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
In the case of the latter, this could eventually lead to dangerous blockages or other problems that could require expensive surgery. Foreign body ingestion claims are, in fact, one of the most common ones filed with pet insurance providers.
Signs that your pet has ingested a foreign object
If your pet is exhibiting any of these symptoms, he or she may have a foreign object or an obstruction in the GI tract:
Loose stools or diarrhea
Loss of appetite
Inability or straining to defecate
Take your pet immediately to the veterinarian if he or she is exhibiting any of these symptoms or if you witness your dog or cat eating something he or she shouldn't have. In the case of a recently ingested item, your vet may try to induce your dog or cat to vomit the object out of her or his system.
If your veterinarian suspects that your dog or cat has a blockage in the GI tract, the vet will perform a thorough examination, which should include palpating your pet's abdomen to check for pain and/or masses. Your veterinarian is also likely to recommend that X-rays or other imaging scans be taken, so she or he can locate any blockages and get a general idea of what type of item(s) may be causing the obstruction. Your vet may also conduct blood, urine, and stool tests to determine if your pet is healthy enough to go under anesthesia.
If the object your pet has swallowed is in the upper digestive tract, your vet may be able to remove it by endoscopic retrieval. For objects that cannot be removed with endoscopy or have traveled further into your pet's GI tract, surgery may be the only option.
Linear obstructions occur when one end of a long thin object, such as a string or yarn, gets caught in a part of your pet's body, such as on the base of the tongue. The other end of the item then continues to travel through your pet's gastrointestinal tract.
As your pet's body tries to eliminate this object through the GI tract, it could cause the intestines to bunch up. This is the same action that occurs when you pull a drawstring of a waistband tight, causing the material to bunch up. As you can probably imagine, this is an especially dangerous and painful type of foreign body obstruction.
If the object is caught in the mouth, a veterinarian may be able to simply cut and release the item. Most linear obstruction cases, however, will require surgery.
Cost of surgery to remove a foreign object from a dog or cat
Unfortunately for pet owners, the average cost of surgery for a pet who has ingested a foreign object is not cheap. Typically, you can expect to pay between $2,000 and $5,000. As for endoscopy, the typical cost is between $800 and $2,000.
Does pet insurance cover swallowing foreign objects?
In most cases, pet insurance will cover all or at least some of the cost of surgery to remove a foreign object from your pet. Because insurance policies differ, it's important that you check your policy carefully to understand exactly what it will cover; the amount of a deductible, if any; as well as the method by which you will be reimbursed.
Pets chew on objects for a variety of reasons. Puppies and kittens, for example, will gnaw on items when they're teething. Older pets may chew on toys when they're bored. Problems arise, though, when pets decide to swallow the items they've been chewing. Another issue? Some items that owners give their pets to chew on — such as rawhides — can lead to dangerous obstructions in a pet's GI tract.
The following are a few steps you can take to keep your pet from having to undergo foreign object surgery:
Keep all non-edible items out of your pet’s reach.
Throw out any damaged toys or balls.
Avoid giving your dog hard-to-digest consumables, such as rawhides, corn cobs, and bones. All can collect in the GI tract and form obstructions.
If you believe your dog or cat has ingested a foreign body or may have an obstruction, take her or him immediately to a veterinarian. Time is often of the essence when it comes to treating this painful and dangerous condition.
Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.