Giving gifts of joy - toys, treats, and foreign bodies...

This time of year we associate gift giving and the Christmas spirit not only with each other, but with our pets.  New toys, treats, and chews can fill our pet's hearts with glee.  Goober (my parent's dog) seems to know that he has Christmas gifts waiting for him, he knows where the are hidden, and has been known to open his gifts early if he can reach them!  Early Christmas morning he runs to the tree, looks for his gift, runs to the hiding space, and rolls over while flapping his front legs begging to have it.

Goober loves squeaky toys.  With an uncanny, surgical-like accuracy he makes a small incision on the side of the new stuffed animal, rips all the stuffing out to find the squeaker, and proceeds to chew off the end that squeaks.  That's it!  In about 3 minutes, depending on the size of his prize, he completely destroys his present.  Although the mess can appear daunting, he doesn't swallow any of the pieces of the toy.  I haven't had to worry about a foreign body obstruction based on HOW he chews on his toy.

Treats and Toys... what should I get, what should I avoid?

I am presented with this question quite often and I know of many in the veterinary profession that have adamant issues with certain types of gifts we might give to our dogs.  Frankly speaking, it depends on what you are concerned about, and more importantly it depends on HOW your dog plays with the treat or toy.

If I were a Veterinary Dentist I might tell you to avoid hard types of chews/toys like Nylabones.  The rule of thumb is if you are willing to hit it against a glass table or window (knowing it will not break the glass) then it is safe for their teeth.  However, hard types of chews, that will potentially break glass, can cause damage to their teeth, the enamel, and lead to fractures of teeth.  This rule of thumb is very true, especially if your dog takes a chew and tries to bite through it to break off pieces.  Very aggressive chewers will fracture teeth readily; however, those who just allow a hard chew to grind against the teeth may never run into a problem.

Dental, rawhide or rawhide-like chews are very popular for entertainment and their cleaning capabilities.  We recommend these products as an adjunct therapy to teeth brushing and hard, dry food for home dental care.  Their primary purpose, in many of our patients, is for channeling their chewing energy to something positive and for entertainment and distraction (in cases of separation anxiety).  A dog who properly enjoys these chews will slobber and soften the chews while gnawing at them until small pieces, no bigger than kibble, are torn off and swallowed.  Aggressive chewers will tear off large pieces or flat out ingest the entire chew whole.  This behavior can lead to a foreign body obstruction, trauma to the esophagus/stomach/intestines, or GI upset (vomiting and diarrhea).

Stuffed animals and plus toys are very popular, and like Goober, are much more enticing when there are squeaky insides. If Goober were to be interested in ingesting any part of the stuffed animal, we take it for granted that a foreign body obstruction is possible. However, it may not be common knowledge that stuffing, just like too much toilet paper, can cause an obstruction process.  In small quantities, many objects, can work their way through the digestive tract with minimal trauma.  Filling (from blankets, pillows, etc), foam (from couches and other furniture items), and stuffed animals can turn into a major foreign body obstruction...

This dog decided that gloves, used for cutting meat, was good enough to eat; however, the glove folded itself into a ball and obstructed the small intestines. Below will be several pictures taken during surgery of linear foreign bodies (which fold the intestines like an accordion), a ball shaped object, and a triangular shaped object.

We wanted to write this article for a particular case.  We had a mastiff puppy, around 8 months old, who was happy, healthy, and normal until last week.  He was given a bone (cow femur) for Christmas which he seemed to enjoy very much.  Being a big dog, with a big mouth, he started chewing away and gnawing at it as he should.  On Thursday he broke off a large piece (just shy of fist size) of the end on the bone and managed to swallow it prior to the owner being able to get it out of his mouth.  He acted rather lethargic for the next couple of days, but didn't seem overly bothered by the ingestion.  On Monday he started vomiting every time he would take a drink or a bite of food.  Our first thought was a foreign body so x-rays were taken and it didn't show an obstruction process.  We gave him a contrast agent to highlight his bowel and again no foreign body was discovered.  Within about 12 hours he progressed from being lethargic and depressed to being unresponsive with distressed breathing.  He passed away despite our supportive care.  This is what we found on his autopsy...

This is the esophagus of the poor mastiff.  The openings are perforations from ulcers and the last 2-3 times he was getting sick he was vomiting into his chest cavity.  He passed away from a acute (very quick) septic shock.  The pink tissue is somewhat normal tissue and the linear gray striations are damaged/necrotic tissue.  As the bone was working its way down the esophagus it was stretching the lining so much it damaged the blood supply to those areas and the tissue was dying.  The severe ulcerations hurt him very much (like severe heartburn) and triggered an almost instant vomiting reflex when food and water would hit the damaged tissue.  All of the gray areas would have, within another day or two, opened up with the same appearance as the holes above.

The point of the story and all of the images is to highlight how VERY IMPORTANT it is to monitor your pet as they chew on their treats and toys.  Please remember it isn't the type of treat, chew, or toy that determines whether or not it can be a foreign body (ALL of them can be a foreign body), it is HOW THEY CHEW IT that matters.  Please do not leave your pets unattended (unless you can 100% trust their behavior) while chewing on their Christmas present.  Please pay attention to their behavior and don't hesitate to call or ask us or your regular veterinarian if it is safe.  Puppies especially will get into everything they can!  Keep your garbage and dump piles secure from their presence.

We want everyone, two and four legged alike, to have a very safe and Merry Christmas!!! 

If you have a question or pet-related topic for Dr. Schenck to discuss in an upcoming article, email it to 


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