What to do if your dog has swallowed a foreign object

Posted by Dr Dog. July 26th 2014.

Dogs, especially puppies, explore objects with their mouths and will often swallow inappropriate things due to their taste or texture. Sometimes the excitement of having the object, or the threat of having it removed, will make them swallow, rather than give it up.

Often dog owners encourage this act by throwing sticks, balls or inappropriately small objects for the dog to retrieve. When a dog swallows the wrong thing, problems can occur due to the size, shape and structure of the object.

Sometimes the object will be vomited up, or will pass through, but sometimes it won’t and these can cause serious problems.

A dog plays fetch with its owner

What are the most common foreign objects that a dog can swallow?

Your dog can swallow pretty much anything depending on the size, but below is a list of commonly swallowed objects:

  • Golf balls or rubber balls
  • Stones
  • Bones
  • Peach stones
  • Plastic toys
  • String, thread or tights
  • Needles
  • Socks and gloves and other small items of clothing
  • Babies dummies and teats from bottles

The diameter of the digestive tract differs depending on the size of dog.  The oesophagus can allow the passage of quite large objects, whereas parts of the lower intestine can be narrow, but foreign objects can lodge anywhere.

Signs to look out for when your dog has swallowed a foreign object

The signs to look out for will depend on where in the digestive tract they become stuck and cause a blockage and if the blockage is partial or complete. For example:

  • If the obstruction is in the oesophagus, signs can develop soon after swallowing, the dog will repeatedly regurgitate food and there may be blood on it.  The dog can also salivate a lot, gulp and retch.
  • If the item is in the stomach, the dog may vomit, either intermittently or continuously.
  • If the object is in the intestines, the dog will vomit repeatedly, but may initially seem bright and keen to eat.  He may not defecate as much as usual, if at all.

If any dog vomits repeatedly, you must contact a vet for further advice, especially if you suspect a foreign body has been swallowed. If an object is lodged in the oesophagus or intestines then the pressure on the tissues can cause a lot of damage, and delay in removing it may eventually puncture the gut wall, which is life threatening.


What should you do if your dog has swallowed a foreign object?

If you know your dog has swallowed a foreign object, or they have been vomiting repeatedly, you must consult a vet as soon as possible.


What diagnostic methods will be used on your dog?

A vet may be able to feel the object in the abdomen. If not and a foreign body is suspected, several different diagnostic methods may be used including an X-ray, Barium Study, Endoscopy or an exploratory laparotomy. Firstly, an X-ray will be done, however, plastic or rubber items may not show up, in which case a Barium study may be offered. This involves your dog swallowing a special liquid that coats the object and will allow it to be seen on X-rays.

Another method of investigating is an endoscopy, especially if the foreign body is in the oesophagus or stomach. A small camera is passed down your dog’s throat and into the digestive tract.

If an object is found or the suspicion is strong then an exploratory laparotomy will be offered to examine the digestive tract and remove the foreign body. The dog stands a good chance of making a full recovery after the operation, as long as the problem has been caught early and there is no damage to the gut wall, or dehydration is not too severe.

If you know your dog has swallowed a foreign object, or they have been vomiting repeatedly, you must consult a vet as soon as possible.

Rotweiler chewing on a large bone


Why do dogs swallow foreign objects?

You may find that if a dog isn’t getting enough exercise or is being left alone too often, they will chew more, and they will chew anything they can get their paws on to occupy their mind.

Chewing is a natural way for a dog to relieve boredom and stress so asking a vet what safe things your dog can chew will help prevent them finding other unsuitable items to chew and ultimately swallow a foreign object.

How can you prevent your dog from swallowing objects?

The first step to preventing your dog from swallowing foreign objects is to restrict his access to these items; especially if he or she is a known chewer!

  • Keep playtimes under supervision and keep as many small items away.
  • Make sure rubbish bins are kept out of reach from your dog, or are made secure.
  • Do not feed your dog cooked or small bones, and always take larger bones off your dog once the meaty/sinewy bits have been chewed off.
  • Do not throw sticks or encourage the dog to pick up sticks.
  • Always throw balls that are too large to be swallowed.
  • Make sure any play toys or chew items are the correct type and size for your dog and discard them if they become damaged.

Also, keeping your dog entertained, mentally and physically, may help with reducing the need to find things to do through boredom and coming into contact with foreign objects. By simply spending five minutes with some mental stimulation will help your dog start to feel satisfied and calm. Calm play under supervision or a short training session will help keep the dog mentally stimulated.

Finally, teach your dog from a young age the command ‘drop/give/release’ something from the mouth as this may help prevent that quick ‘you’re not having it’ swallow that dogs tend to do!


For more information about caring for your dog, head over to our We Talk Pet blog where you can find out more about dog health, grooming and behaviour.

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