Medical Information Cards N°16. The digestive foreign bodies

The ingestion of foreign bodies by pets is relatively frequent. It most often concerns young animals (often more players than adults) and is common in dogs and ferrets (a little less in cats).

These swallowed bodies sometimes have no effect on the animal's health (especially if they are vomited shortly after ingestion or if they are able to pass naturally all along the digestive tract), but they can also , When they are responsible for occlusion or perforation, have very serious consequences and even lead to the death of the animal.


Foreign objects can be swallowed by accident during a game:

The young puppies love to explore their environment by wearing any new object met in the mouth.
Cats love to play with all kinds of long objects (string, ball of wool, curtains of threads ...). These games can lead to the absorption of a linear foreign body.
A rabbit released will have access to various types of materials such as carpet or carpet fibers, pieces of paper, cardboard ...
Ferret behavior increases the risk of swallowing foreign bodies: ferrets spend a considerable amount of time nibbling, shredding anything left within reach, including non-edible objects (string, cloth, mop, rugs, Plastic, rubber seals, etc.). Moreover, these animals are not able to digest the plants and the diameter of their intestines is very reduced. Any element more than one centimeter in diameter (including food) is likely to cause an occlusion in them (dog croquettes, hazelnut pieces, cherry kernel, peanut ...)
A large amount of hair present in the digestive tract of an animal can also behave like a foreign body. This phenomenon can be encountered:

In animals with a very marked grooming behavior: Cats or rabbits particularly attentive to their toilet can absorb a very large amount of hairs by licking themselves. These hair "balls" can cause transit problems. These digestive disorders are accentuated in rodents who drink little and receive a diet low in cellulose and fresh greenery: the transit is then slowed and the balls of hair contained in the stomach dehydrate giving birth to very compact clumps called trichobezoards.
In parasitized animals (presence of scabies, fleas, cheyletiellosis ...) which pluck the hair by scratching and swallowing a large amount.
Finally, certain behavioral disorders may favor the absorption of foreign bodies. This is particularly the case for hyperactive animals who spend their time chewing all kinds of objects and animals suffering from depression of involution (elderly dogs in which reappear infantile behaviors like oral exploration: these old animals begin to wear again To the mouth and to eat non-edible objects)



In some cases, the object absorbed by accident will be vomited or transit through the whole digestive tract (unusual objects found in the stool of the animal)
Unfortunately, it can also remain blocked in an area of ​​the digestive tract and lead to various disorders. These will vary depending on the type of swallowed object and the area of ​​the digestive tract in which it is located:

The foreign bodies blocked in the mouth or the pharynx are often easily highlighted. They are accompanied by an embarrassment to feed and an important salivation.
The foreign bodies in the stomach are sometimes relatively well tolerated, at least at the beginning of evolution. In carnivores, the disorders associated with their presence are those of chronic gastritis (chronic inflammation of the stomach): the animal eats less well, vomits regularly ... In rodents (rabbit, chinchilla, guinea pig, hamster ...) Gastric stasis (slowing digestive transit and food accumulation in the stomach) may follow the absorption of hairballs, cardboard, litter or carpet fragments. The animal then makes small very hard and dry droppings or even more droppings at all; It becomes less vivid and gradually loses the appetite.
When a foreign body is lodged in the intestines, the disorders generally appear much more brutally. The symptoms are all the more important when the object is at the "beginning" of the intestines: the animals in occlusion will dehydrate very quickly, and their general state will degrade abruptly. They often refuse any food and often have incoercible vomiting. The animal complains when it is palpated and placed in positions revealing abdominal pain: it remains prostrate, folded on itself and seems to suffer when one wants to advance it or it is placed in the Position "of the prior" (it lies on the anterior limbs but keeps the posteriors raised). Occlusions accompanied by a stop of transit, but the animal can still nevertheless emit stools in the form of bloody diarrhea. If no treatment is instituted, the animal will suffer from a very important dehydration associated with very serious hydroelectrolytic disorders resulting in serious consequences for the organism. Moreover, these foreign bodies remaining in the digestive tract can cause the death of intestinal tissues or intestinal perforations followed by peritonitis.
Some points to remember ...

Vomiting is very common when absorbing foreign bodies but they are not systematic. The anatomy of some species does not allow them to vomit, as is the case for the rabbit and many other rodents. It is useless, therefore, in these animals to seek this symptom.
An occlusion is accompanied by a stopping of the digestive transit but not necessarily of a total absence of stools. Sometimes small amounts of stools are still emitted in the form of bloody diarrhea.
Finally, some kinds of swallowed objects can cause much more severe symptoms. This is the case for linear foreign bodies:

These foreign bodies (fishing line, garland yarn, garbage bag link, thread of a thread curtain ...) are sometimes swallowed by cats during a game session. A part of the body of the thread clings to the base of the tongue while both ends are swallowed. The thread will therefore continue its progression in the digestive tract while being stuck, for a part, at the base of the tongue. The symptoms associated with the presence of this foreign body are initially much less important than those of an intestinal occlusion (the transit is not interrupted immediately) but the consequences of the presence of the wire will be equally serious for In fact, the intestines will continue to contract on this "taut thread" and will either gather around the thread (causing the same symptoms as an occlusion) or be sheared by it (triggering an intestinal perforation , Peritonitis ...).

During occlusion, all the symptoms revealing the affection are not always necessarily present. It is therefore advisable to consult a veterinarian during any sudden tiredness of your animal associated with signs of abdominal pain (especially since it is a young animal and player).


A precise description of the disturbances you may have seen in your pet (changes in behavior, apathy, refusal to eat, vomiting, constipation, refusal to lie down ...) may help the veterinarian to suspect the absorption of a foreign body .
Abdominal palpation will very often reveal significant abdominal pain but the diagnosis of certainty requires the use of various medical imaging methods:
- The presence of certain foreign bodies can be suspected or even directly revealed by a simple radiography: stomach dilatation and the presence of air on an abdominal x-ray of rabbit will very strongly suspect the presence of trichobezoards while metal objects or Bones will be directly visible on the X-ray photograph of a dog's abdomen.

In green: foreign body in the abdomen of a dog (it was a piece of rubber)

(The radiograph also reveals the presence of calculations in the bladder)

- Endoscopy can be used to identify foreign bodies located in the esophagus or stomach.
- Non-radio-opaque objects (toilet gloves, balloon, socks ...) can be researched by radiography after absorption by the animal of a contrast product or by ultrasound.


In some specific cases, medical treatment may be attempted. Especially:

- for small, non-injuring objects located in the esophagus or stomach.
(Vomiting will then be induced in the animal to try to make him return the objects or the veterinarian will try to remove them by endoscopy)

- for foreign bodies located towards the end of the digestive tract or to combat the presence of hairballs which do not affect the general condition of the animal.
(In this case, an increase in transit is sought in order to eliminate them through natural routes: lubrication of the digestive walls, increase of the transit through medicinal treatment, increase in the amount of fiber in the food ration thanks to With leeks, courgettes, endives ..)

But most foreign bodies must, after rehydration and stabilization of the general condition of the animal, be removed surgically:

- By opening the stomach for foreign bodies in the stomach (gastrostomy)
- by opening the intestines for intestinal foreign bodies (enterotomy).
- Sometimes a part of the intestine must also be removed if the wall is very damaged (enteritomy)

The ingestion of an object is not a rare phenomenon in our pets and it is important to quickly suspect the absorption of a foreign body because the consequences that result can be catastrophic in the absence of treatment.
Some measures may limit the risk of occlusion such as:
- Twice-daily brushing of long-haired animals to minimize hair ingestion
- The regular distribution of a veterinary specialty helping to migrate these hairs in animals which vomit regularly (paraffin oil in gel, ésérine ...)
- Increased surveillance of young animals or very "playful" species such as the ferret
- The fact of preventing any play with linear objects (links of garbage bags, curtain of wires ...)