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Even though it is true that tinsel is not an actual poison, it can still cause a serious injury or death in your dog if eaten. The tinsel can get stuck to your dog’s tongue, teeth, or stomach, which means it does not pass through the intestines the way it should. The harm this does to your dog’s intestines can be excruciating, causing incisions in the tissue of the intestines during every contraction. If the tinsel does not get stuck in a linear fashion, it may bunch up in the stomach or intestines, causing a blockage, which may result in a rupture. At the very least, it will mean a very expensive and painful abdominal surgery for your dog.
Although tinsel is not poisonous, it is still very dangerous if your dog eats any. The tinsel acts as what is called a linear foreign body, which means that the tinsel can wrap itself around your dog’s tongue or get stuck in the stomach so it cannot get through the intestines to be expelled through the bowels. In this case, the tinsel would cut through your dog’s intestines every time they contract, which causes serious (and sometimes fatal) damage to the intestinal tract. This damage can cause a major irreversible injury to the intestine. The intestines may even rupture, causing extreme pain and a life-threatening emergency leading to a painful death if not treated immediately.
The damage from your dog eating tinsel can range from non-existent to extremely serious, and the symptoms your dog may show. For example, if the tinsel gets trapped in your dog’s stomach or around his tongue, the damage will be extremely serious and life-threatening within a few days. However, if the tinsel does manage to make it past the tongue, it may ball up and get trapped in your dog’s stomach or intestines. This may cause a blockage or even a rupture, causing immediate symptoms and a life-threatening emergency. Some of the symptoms most commonly reported are:
The cause of intestinal damage or rupture from tinsel ingestion is eating or licking tinsel. It is best not to use tinsel on your Christmas tree or anywhere else in your home if you have a dog or other small animal. Injury of a very serious nature can result as the tinsel forms into a mass or causes abrasions and cuts.
Your dog will need to be taken to the veterinarian right away for a complete diagnostic work up, which includes a physical examination. The physical examination will consist of an abdominal palpation, weight, body temperature, reflexes, heart rate, breath sounds, blood pressure, respirations, oxygen level, and an oral examination to look for visible signs of tinsel trapped in the teeth or around the tongue. The veterinarian will ask you for all the information you can remember and symptoms you have seen. You will also be expected to provide your dog’s medical history, vaccination records, any illnesses or injuries you have noticed in the last few months, and changes in appetite or behavior.
Once the physical examination is done, the veterinarian will perform some laboratory tests which will include a urine analysis, blood chemical profile, complete blood count (CBC), fecal examination, and possibly a barium swallow test. The barium test is actually a group of radiographs (x-rays) or CT scan images taken over several hours after your dog has been fed a food or liquid with barium in it. Barium is a metallic liquid that coats your dog’s intestines and stomach so the veterinarian can see each part of the intestines as the barium moves through. The veterinarian may give your dog several doses of barium and take several rounds of images to be absolutely positive there is no intestinal blockage. If there is a blockage, the barium will stop at the site of the blockage so your veterinarian will know where it is and if more tests are needed. If these tests are inconclusive, your veterinarian may decide to do an ultrasound or MRI to get a better look at the intestinal area. A gastric endoscopy may be done with an endoscope, which is a long thin tube with a lighted camera at one end to let your veterinarian see down into your dog’s stomach and the small intestines. There are tools on the endoscope that can be used to remove a small blockage if possible, or it will show the veterinarian where the tinsel is trapped so it can be removed with surgery.
Treatment will be abdominal surgery to remove the tinsel and repair any damage that it has caused. The entire intestinal tract and stomach will be examined to be sure there are no more traces of tinsel or injuries to repair. After surgery, your dog will be kept for about 24 hours for observation. The veterinarian will continue to monitor your dog’s vital signs and will make sure he is able to eat before sending him home.
After surgery, you will have to keep your dog from becoming too excited or agitated, jumping, running, or rough play. Watch for redness, swelling, or discharge at the incision site. If your veterinarian prescribes pain medication and antibiotics for your dog, be sure to follow all the instructions and call the veterinarian if there are any problems.
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