Gastrointestinal foreign bodies occur when a pet ingests an object that cannot pass through the gastrointestinal tract, subsequently getting lodged in the esophagus, stomach, or small or large intestine. While this type of accident certainly does occur in cats, due to the more natural tendency to feel out their environment with their mouths (especially in the puppy years), a substantially higher percentage of gastrointestinal foreign body cases are young dogs.
Gastrointestinal foreign bodies are a veterinary emergency, having the potential to make the canine or feline patient very sick, cause severe pain and discomfort, and ultimately cause death left untreated.
Clinical signs of gastrointestinal foreign body obstruction include: not eating, drooling, vomiting, lack of ability to hold down any food or water, lack of feces production, distended/painful abdomen, lethargy, and depression. In the cases of sharp foreign bodies that can puncture the gastrointestinal tract, a very dangerous condition can ensue due to leakage of the bacteria ridden gastrointestinal material into the sterile intra-abdominal environment, called peritonitis. Peritonitis can quickly lead to shock, septis (bloodborne infection), and death.
As previously stated, gastrointestinal foreign body obstruction is an emergency that necessitates immediate veterinary attention. Time is often of the essence in these cases, so be certain not to hesitate in seeking veterinary attention for your pet if gastrointestinal foreign body obstruction is suspected.
Gastrointestinal foreign body obstructions are diagnosed by a combination of history, physical examination, x-rays, and a special x-ray imaging technique called a barium series (when a foreign body is not readily evident on simple x-ray). If foreign bodies in the upper gastrointestinal (esophagus, stomach, upper small intestine) are small enough, they can sometimes be retrieved non-surgically with an endoscope. However, larger and more distal foreign bodies must be surgically removed.
Prognosis following gastrointestinal foreign body surgery depends on how stable the patient was at the time of surgery, how compromised the gut is at the time of surgery, and whether or not there was any leakage gastrointestinal tract material into the abdomen. Post-op care includes aggressive IV fluids, antibiotics, gastrointestinal protectants, and narcotic pain management.