Visiting Vet: Just passing through

What to do when dogs ingest more than kibble.

Eight-month old Luke swallowed three $20 bills. — Michelle Jansy

I was having trouble picking a topic. “What should I write about?” I asked my assistant, Ashleigh. 

“Remember that story I told you about what Luke ate?” she said. Yes. Great story, but not enough for a whole column. I needed other stories about other dogs eating other things they shouldn’t. “How about the corn cob dog?” Ashleigh suggested.

Actually there were two corn cob dogs. The first was a late-night telephone call from some visitors whose young boxer, Tyrus, had eaten a corn cob. They weren’t sure how big a piece or whether he had chewed it up, so they called their veterinarian off-Island. He recommended inducing vomiting by dosing Ty with hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide works by irritating the stomach, so it is important not to give too much or it can actually cause gastric ulcers, or even perforation. And you should never ever give peroxide to cats, as they have a much higher risk of these complications. But back to our story. The family wanted to double-check that I agreed. 

Well, yes and no. When deciding whether to make Ty barf, we must consider whether the item that went down could potentially do more harm coming back up. That’s why I almost never advise inducing vomiting when dogs eat bones. A sharp bone being forcefully propelled out of the stomach could tear the esophagus. Corn cobs aren’t sharp like bones, but occasionally they can get stuck halfway, lodging in the esophagus instead of coming all the way back up. On the other hand, if we didn’t get Ty to throw up the cob, pieces going the other way out could lodge in his intestines, resulting in bowel obstruction requiring surgery. 

I discussed the pros and cons with the callers and agreed they should give Tyrus the peroxide. “Start with just two tablespoons,” I said, figuring the dose based on his weight. “Try mixing it with milk. Some dogs will lap that right up. If he doesn’t vomit in 15 minutes, repeat it once, but no more after that.” They were heading home the next day, and would consult their regular veterinarian if needed. Several days later, I called them again, curious about the outcome. All was well. Ty had vomited several chunks of corn cob that first night, and now was passing smaller pieces in his stool. And feeling fine. 

“Now are you going to write about Luke?” Ashleigh asked. 

“First the other corn cob dog,” I replied. This owner called my office late on a Friday afternoon. Her dog, Ruth, had been caught chewing on a corn cob the night before. It was unclear how much, if any, she had ingested, but today Ruth was not eating, and becoming increasingly lethargic. Worried that a corn cob might have already gotten lodged somewhere, causing an obstruction, I encouraged her to bring the dog right down. On physical exam, Ruth was very subdued, but had no abdominal pain, and had not been vomiting, as one would have expected with a gastrointestinal foreign body. She did, however, have a fever of 105.9. We took radiographs just to make sure, but soon determined that Ruth hadn’t eaten a corn cob at all. Ruth had Rocky Mountain spotted fever. We prescribed doxycycline, and Ruth was soon feeling better.

“Now are you going to write about Luke?” Ashleigh asked. 

“Soon, soon,” I said. But this would be a good time to tell about Energizer, the little Jack Russell terrier, who came in because he had been vomiting for a few days. Although otherwise, Energizer was feeling great, his owners were particularly worried because previously the pup had been playing with a battery-powered “light-up” toy, and now one of the batteries was missing. Dogs swallow or chew on batteries fairly frequently, putting themselves at risk of severe tissue damage in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract. Lithium button batteries are the worst, as they can cause massive damage in as little as 15 minutes, but all types of batteries are dangerous if ingested, and warrant immediate veterinary attention. Because of the corrosive nature of batteries, this is one of those times when it may not be good to induce vomiting. However, the battery needs to come out ASAP. Referral to a specialty emergency practice that can retrieve it using a fiberoptic endoscope is the ideal solution, followed by medication to help the gastrointestinal tract to heal. 

In Energizer’s case, no one had actually seen him in contact with any battery. He was not a dog who typically liked to eat his toys, like some dogs do. There were no sores or chemical burns in his mouth, like we sometimes see with battery ingestion. He looked completely normal except he was vomiting once or twice a day. As I looked him over, his owners rattled off all the other things he might have eaten, ranging from intentional dog treats to unintentional other stuff. “He sometimes gets into the birdseed and chicken food,” they said. Cracked corn. Layer pellets. Oyster shells. I grabbed an exam glove and smiled. I had seen this before. A quick internal exam revealed Energizer’s poop was full of undigested corn and seeds. Not batteries. Birdseed. “No wonder he’s vomiting,” I said, sending them home with a prescription to make the chicken coop and bird feeders off-limits.

“Now will you write about what Luke ate?” Ashleigh asked patiently. Yup. Not corn cobs. Not batteries. Not birdseed. No, Luke ate three $20 bills belonging to Ashleigh’s mom. Why a dog would steal money off the counter and eat it, I don’t know. Perhaps it was his commentary on Andrew Jackson. In any case, Mom understandably wanted her money back. Ashleigh walked Luke day after day, carefully collecting the fragments of the bills as they passed. She then cleaned them thoroughly, taped them back together, and took them to the bank, where she collected three crisp new twenties to repay her mother. Now that’s a good story.