Description

Bone fragments, twigs or pieces of toys, or other objects may get lodged at the opening of the stomach and block the esophagus.

Urgency

Urgency level 4

Danger

Danger level 4

Course

Once the object is stuck inside the esophagus, and can no longer be transported any further by the esophageal muscle, painful muscle cramping around the foreign body ensues. Affected animals are restless, irritated and refuse further food. In most cases, excessive salivation is visible, and the animal can be seen attempting to loosen the foreign body by retching repeatedly. If eating is still possible, vomiting invariably ensues. Sharp or pointed objects are dangerous as they may injure the esophagus. In that case blood will appear in the animal's vomit or flem. If the foriegn body stuck inside the esophagus remains unnoticed, animals lose weight and may develop fever. If full blockage of the esophagus occurs, the dog's condition worsens rapidly. Excessive salivation will lead to dehydration and eventually shock. Objects stuck close to the heart may cause coughing and breathing difficulties. However, this is a different condition, which is sometimes mistaken for a foreign body inside the esophagus or airways.

Cause

Foreign bodies commonly enter the mouth and become lodged in the esophagus. Most often bones or bone fragments swallowed hastily become stuck inside the esophagus. Objects lodged in less flexible parts of the esophagus can block the passage of food from fully entering into the digestive system. This is especially common when objects are entering the thorax close to the heart. Blockages may be partial or complete.

Therapy

Metal objects or bone fragments may be seen on x-rays. Plastic or wooden objects can only be found by performing an endoscopy. Some foreign bodies may loosen by themselves before long. If not, a vet will have to retrieve the object either by using specialized tweezers to remove the object, or by inserting a stomach tube and pushing the object into the stomach. If both of these methods fail, surgery may be necessary to remove the blockage. Patients will have to be stabilized with intravenous fluids before retrieving a foreign body. After successful removal, the esophagus has to be examined for possible injury or inflammation, which will have to be treated medically. If a foreign body remains unnoticed for a longer period of time, permanent damage to the esophagus may occur, which requires partial resection (removal) of the organ.

Emergency measures

If symptoms persist for more than 1 hour, consult a veterinary clinic immediately. Do not attempt remove the foreign body by yourself or induce vomiting. After succesful removal of a foreign body, small portions of soft or blended food should be fed. Once the esophagus has settled after appx. 1 week, the dog may resume his previous diet. As a precaution, puppies that are prone to swallow objects should always be monitored closely. Also, toys that are small enough for your dog to swallow should be avoided.