If you know or strongly suspect your pet ingested a foreign body that is causing illness, this is considered an “ORANGE” – or urgent case – on our Fast Track Triage system. We recommend having your pet see your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital within the next 12 hours. Please call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you!
Note that a foreign body ingestion with no signs of illness is considered a “YELLOW” – or semi-urgent case – on our Fast Track Triage system. We recommend having your pet evaluated by your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital within 24 hours. Call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you, and if your pet begins to show signs of illness, call the team back to inform them of the status change.
- If you know a foreign body was ingested, but you are not sure which pet ate it, seek veterinary care for both pets.
- If you know or strongly suspect your pet ate a foreign body, do not wait for symptoms to appear. Contact a veterinary care team right away to see how soon you can bring your pet in.
Upon their return home, the hoomans stumbled upon a puzzling predicament in the kitchen. Two corn cobs had vanished – although not entirely without a trace, as a few pieces of their husks remained.
Well, that was obvious! Finn, a 6-year-old black Labrador.
But solving The Mystery of the Missing Corn Cobs was the easy part. Luckily, Finn’s parents were no ordinary pet parents but veterinary professionals. One of them, Dr. Adams, is an emergency veterinarian at Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota. Yup, these incidents happen to vet pros, too! And given the crime, Finn’s hoomans knew they had to act fast.
Although corn is safe for pets, the cob itself isn’t digestible. When pets like Finn swallow large chunks of corn cobs, they can cause a blockage in the stomach or small intestine. The blockage can lead to disrupted blood flow, resulting in systemic inflammation or infection, organ failure, and eventual death.
Common symptoms of a blockage include:
- Decreased to no appetite
- Excessive drooling
- Painful abdomen (seen as stretching/play bow/prayer positioning)
- Abdominal distention
Typically, symptoms occur within 24 hours post-ingestion but that period can vary based on the severity and location of the blockage. Symptoms may appear even sooner if the blockage is in the stomach rather than the distal small intestine.
As an emergency veterinarian, Dr. Adams was aware of these dangers, and Finn was rushed to the animal ER before the onset of symptoms.
Stomach vs. Intestine
Once Finn arrived at our ER, we had an especially important mystery to solve: Were the corn cob pieces still in Finn’s stomach or were they lodged in his intestine?
Finn’s treatment depended entirely on the answer.
If the corn cobs were still in Finn’s stomach, we could induce vomiting.
However, if the cob pieces had moved into the small intestine, inducing vomiting would be dangerous. Inducing vomiting when a foreign body has moved into the small intestine can cause considerable damage to the intestinal lining or even perforate the bowel. Instead, Finn would need aggressive supportive care with IV fluids and anti-nausea medication to move the cob pieces into his colon for exit from his body via defecation. X-rays or an ultrasound would be needed to ensure all the pieces were expelled.
If aggressive supportive care didn’t move the cob pieces, Finn would need emergency surgery to remove them.
Good News for Finn
The cob pieces were still in Finn’s stomach!
Our ER team induced vomiting. It took not one, but TWO doses of the medication before Finn finally relinquished his corn cob feast. (Labradors, amiright?) After several bouts of vomiting cob pieces, Finn went to imaging. X-rays showed little corn cob material left in Finn’s stomach and no pieces in his intestines. Emergency crisis averted!
Finn received fluids to rehydrate and facilitate his GI tract movement. In some cases, anti-nausea medication is also given to counteract the effects of the medication used to induce vomiting.
Later that evening, Finn returned home and slept off his stressful day.
Why Not Use Hydrogen Peroxide at Home?
Some savvy dog parents may wonder why Finn’s parents didn’t give him hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting at home. Simply put, inducing vomiting via hydrogen peroxide is no longer recommended by veterinarians except under extreme circumstances. Administering hydrogen peroxide to dogs orally results in vomiting through the intentional irritation of the stomach lining. Veterinarians now know that the irritation can cause significant ulcers, nausea, and pain and can take up to two weeks to heal.
Another issue with inducing vomiting at home is that pet owners can accidentally administer hydrogen peroxide into the lungs. Or the bubbling action of the liquid can result in hydrogen peroxide getting into the lungs, causing pneumonia.
The best course of action is to take your dog to a veterinarian. They have medications that induce vomiting by affecting nausea centers in the brain – avoiding potential damage to the GI tract!
To prevent pets from eating toxic or hazardous human foods, it’s best to keep pets out of the kitchen when cooking and secure trash cans in a closed pantry or cabinet – preferably with a childproof lock.
If corn cobs or other dangerous foods go missing from your counter or trash and you suspect your pet ate them, seek veterinary care. If you have multiple pets, bring them all in! The veterinary team will use x-rays to identify the culprit before inducing vomiting (if the food item is still in the stomach.)
Update on Finn from Dr. Adams:
Finn continues to be the bestest boy at home. Of course, no more corn cobs are left on the counter. For anyone who has ever owned a Labrador, you know that it is only a matter of time until he’ll eat the next new and unusual thing – despite all efforts to prevent it!
Our “Fur-tunately: Stories of Animal Survival” series features real pets treated by our team at Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota. All images and information have been shared with the owner’s permission.
Case content provided by Rachael Adams, DVM.
- Should I Make My Dog Vomit at Home?
- How to Tell if Your Pet Has Ingested a Foreign Body
- Understanding GI Upset in Pets and When to Go to the ER
- 5 Most Common Pet Surgeries at AERC
- Summer Grilling Tips for Pet Owners