What is Ingested Foreign Body Removal?

An ingested foreign body can cause a number of symptoms and complications in dogs, from simple nausea to a dangerous internal injury or intestinal obstruction. In cases which an object or foreign body is not passed or expelled naturally, it may be necessary to have a veterinarian remove the object manually to prevent serious illness, injury, toxicity, or infection.

The method used to remove a foreign body will depend on the nature and location of the object. In some cases, materials can be removed easily from a dog’s mouth, while a scope or open surgery may be needed in more serious cases when objects have traveled farther down the digestive tract. These procedures are commonly performed by veterinarians in general practice, though a referral to a specialist may be needed for some surgeries and procedures.

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Ingested Foreign Body Removal Procedure in Dogs

The procedure used for foreign body removal in dogs will depend on the nature and location of the obstruction. In most cases, a veterinarian will assess the dog’s condition with X-rays or other imaging scans to determine the safest and most effective approach. Blood, urine, and stool tests may also be conducted to identify related complications or conditions and to determine whether the dog is fit for anesthesia, which is required for many methods of foreign body removal. 

Endoscopic Retrieval

Endoscopic retrieval is a minimally invasive procedure that can be used to retrieve many materials from the upper digestive tract (mouth, esophagus, and stomach). Ideally, the patient should fast for several hours before the procedure, but in emergency cases, the veterinarian may perform a stomach lavage to clear the stomach contents before proceeding.

  • The dog will receive local or general anesthesia and be positioned for the procedure.
  • A flexible endoscope, fitted with a camera and appropriate tools, will be inserted through the mouth and advanced through the esophagus to visualize the trapped item and the condition of the digestive tract. 
  • The foreign body will be grasped and withdrawn using endoscopic instruments.
  • The endoscope will be withdrawn and the dog allowed to recover from anesthesia.

Surgical Removal

Surgical removal is typically required if a foreign object is lodged within the intestines, or if it cannot be safely removed from the esophagus or stomach with endoscopy. Open surgery is invasive and requires general anesthesia in all cases. 

  • The dog will be anesthetized, positioned, shaved, and cleaned for surgery.
  • An incision will be made in the chest or abdomen as required (thoracotomy or laparotomy)
  • The surgeon will access the esophagus, stomach, or intestine as needed via esophagotomy, gastrotomy, or enterotomy 
  • The foreign body will be removed, the site examined for trauma, and surgical repair made as necessary.
  • Incisions will be closed and the patient allowed to recover from anesthesia.

Efficacy of Ingested Foreign Body Removal in Dogs

Foreign body removal is commonly performed on dogs, and both endoscopic and surgical techniques are highly effective at preventing complications that may occur if an indigestible object or material is left within a dog’s gastrointestinal tract. Failure to remove an ingested foreign object can lead to serious and life-threatening complications, making the procedure necessary in cases which a dog will not pass or digest material safely.

Ingested Foreign Body Removal Recovery in Dogs

Recovery from endoscopic retrieval of a foreign body is generally uneventful. Once the effects of anesthesia and discomfort caused by the procedure and the foreign body have subsided, your dog should resume its normal level of activity quickly.

Recovering from open surgery, however, is more complex and may take several weeks. Your dog will require rest and may be prescribed medication to treat pain and prevent infection. A follow-up visit will be needed after about two weeks to remove sutures or staples and to check progress and healing. 

Depending on the presence and severity of internal injuries caused by the foreign body,  your vet may have other specific recommendations for your dog’s activity, diet, or other care to promote complete healing.

Cost of Ingested Foreign Body Removal in Dogs

The cost of foreign body removal in dogs depends largely on the type of anesthesia and procedure needed to provide effective treatment. Endoscopic procedures commonly cost between $800 and $2,000, while open surgery, such as laparotomy, may range from $500 to $2,500.

Dog Ingested Foreign Body Removal Considerations

In general, the benefits of foreign body removal clearly outweigh the costs and, in many cases, the treatment is lifesaving. Concerns that commonly arise include the risk of complications from anesthesia, internal injury from the procedure, and infection at a surgical site. These risks can be mitigated with prompt and thorough screening and treatment, as well as proper aftercare upon returning home with your dog.

Ingested Foreign Body Removal Prevention in Dogs

The ingestion of foreign bodies can be prevented by ensuring your dog has a safe living and play environment, free of objects and materials that could be harmful if chewed or swallowed. Monitor your dog to keep it from chewing on or playing with inappropriate items, such as children’s toys, string, rocks, and even dog toys that break down easily. Be sure to feed your dog a complete diet in appropriate amounts to prevent nutritional deficiencies, and notify your vet if your dog shows signs of pica-- intentionally eating unusual or non-food items-- which could be a sign of an underlying health condition.