Obsession With Ingestion – The Secret Lives Of Dogs Who Just Can’t Say No | Review of northern beaches
Intestinal foreign bodies are a common cause of fatal illness in dogs.
Worse yet, a number of the dogs I treat for intestinal foreign bodies are serial offenders.
An article published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior (Masson et al., 2021) suggests that this may be because pica (ingestion of non-food items like fabrics, plastics, rubber, stone, metal, or wood) may be a sign of a behavioral disorder underlying.
The researchers noted that pica also occurs in humans and may have links with certain psychiatric conditions, and so they are exploring whether there may be similar issues contributing to behavior in dogs.
The study looked for evidence of potential behavioral causes in dogs requiring foreign body removal.
Intestinal foreign bodies are a problem because they can cause obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract, preventing food from passing through.
They cause pain, nausea and vomiting.
They are associated with dangerous loss of body fluids, damage and even perforation of the intestinal wall, especially if they are sharp or linear.
Diagnosis can be difficult.
Treatment usually requires removal of the foreign body, either endoscopically or surgery, and repair of secondary damage to the intestine.
Some dogs require multiple surgeries and an extended hospital stay. In this study, five percent of dogs that had surgery to remove a foreign body by a specialist died, despite all attempts to help them.
That’s a death rate of 1 in 20.
When selecting dogs for the study, the researchers excluded puppies under six months of age, when accidental ingestion of non-food items is common.
They also excluded dogs that had ingested material such as stone fruit pits or hooks, as these can occur when dogs are simply trying to eat what can be covered, and what looks and feels like them. tastes like food.
This does not indicate a behavioral disorder, but it does remind us to be extra careful when disposing of “junk” that can be tempting for a dog to eat.
For me, one of the most interesting findings from this study was the number of foreign bodies found inside the affected dogs.
Most (52%) had eaten between one and five items; 19 percent ate between six and ten items; 24 percent ate between 11 and 50 items and five percent ate more 50 objects.
How can a dog eat more than 50 items?
Usually these items are small.
I have seen dogs swallow small pebbles or hair ties which on their own may not cause drama. But in droves, they are too much for the digestive system.
What we don’t know, and what can be very difficult to say as a vet who surgically retrieves these items, is over what period of time they were eaten.
But chances are, for at least some of these dogs, pica is a habit.
Which brings me back to behavior.
Researchers found evidence of a behavioral disorder in 88 percent of dogs with foreign bodies.
Behavioral disorders included hyperactivity, impulsivity, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and attachment disorders.
Dogs who shredded the objects they eventually ingested were more likely to have hyperactivity-impulsivity disorder.
What Does This Mean For Dogs Who Eat Foreign Objects?
If we don’t take care of the underlying behavioral disorder, it can happen again.
If your dog repeatedly eats non-food items, ask your vet for a referral to a behavioral vet.
When it comes to foreign objects, prevention is better than cure for your dog.
MASSON, S., GUITAUT, N., MEDAM, T. & BÃATA, C. 2021. Link between ingestion of foreign bodies and behavioral disorders in dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 45, 25-32.
Dr Anne Quain BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal welfare), Dip ECAWBM (AWSEL) is a senior lecturer at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science and a practicing veterinarian.