The dog ate it!
Following the catalogue of gobbled items featured in our July issue last year, DR ERICA STEPPAT recalls two classic cases involving chicken and chocolate
There is never a dull moment in emergency. Just when you start to think you have seen everything, something arrives to surprise and test you. On a relatively quiet Thursday night, a dog arrived in acute respiratory distress. Sambo, a 17-year-old Kelpie cross, has been in a special harness for many years after a spinal injury that means he cannot use his back legs. But this does not usually slow Sambo down. He has an incredibly dedicated mum and, with the help of his harness, he does the RSPCA 4km Million Paws Walk each year. But on this night, chicken bones nearly finished him off. Sambo had been given some raw chicken necks. He was so excited, he had no time to chew – he swallowed them whole. For a big dog, that might not have been such a problem, but the bones lodged in the bottom section of Sambo’s oesophagus – the swallowing tube that connects to the stomach.
When this happens to a dog, he suffers severe excessive salivation. In this case, the amount of saliva was so extreme that Sambo was choking, causing him immense distress. On arrival, his gums were beginning to go pale and his heartbeat was weak. Sambo was fading fast. My team of nurses and I worked to clear the airway and place an endotracheal tube into his windpipe. He was also given 100 per cent oxygen. Quite quickly, his gum colour improved and his heart rate and strength improved. We had saved his life.
However, the battle was not over. Sambo was stable while on oxygen, but we still needed to resolve the underlying problem – how to get the chicken bones out! X-rays proved that the bones were lodged in the thoracic (chest) area of the oesophagus, right above the heart. Surgery in this case is extremely difficult. Luckily, in these days of sophisticated equipment, we can try to remove foreign bodies with an endoscopy.
“He was so excited, he had no time to chew –
Attached to the camera are forceps. It can be way harder than it sounds, but ideally we locate the object with the camera, and use forceps to retrieve it through the mouth.
The endoscope we required (and the specialist to use it) was at the main animal hospital across the city. So, our next challenge was to transport Sambo on oxygen and under anaesthetic by pet ambulance to the hospital. Luckily, the trip was uneventful. To cut a long story short, I assisted the medical specialist, who retrieved three intact raw chicken necks from Sambo’s oesophagus. He woke up from anaesthesia and oxygen support, and walked back to his owner’s car the next day wondering what all the fuss was about… And gee, was he a little peckish!
On that same night, I also had the pleasure of treating Marcus, a pug who got a little greedy over the Easter break! He had found some chocolate and decided not to share it with anyone else.
Chocolate can be toxic to dogs – a substance called theobromine in chocolate acts like excessive caffeine, and dogs cannot easily metabolise it. As a result, they become agitated, their heart rate rapidly increases, they become distressed and, in high enough amounts, the symptoms can kill them. So, when we get phone calls to say a dog has ingested chocolate, we advise owners to bring in their dog straight away, so we can induce vomiting.
Marcus happily trotted into the clinic, feeling quietly pleased with himself. We examined him to make sure it was okay to induce him to vomit, and then proceeded with an emetic injection that made him throw up. You can almost see the smile wiped from a dog’s face as he suddenly turns nauseous and begins to be sick.
It is always satisfying to see chocolate-smelling vomit! Sounds bad, I know, but it is far better to treat a dog this way than deal with the consequences of chocolate toxicity, which puts their life at risk.
Once his stomach was empty and no more chocolate was appearing, we gave Marcus another injection of an anti-vomiting drug. Within 10 minutes, he lost his desire to vomit, no longer felt nauseous, and trotted happily out of the door wondering what on earth had just happened!
A story like this one is unfortunately common. Over the Easter period, I have treated up to six dogs in one night for chocolate toxicity! Marcus is not alone.
Meanwhile, foreign bodies – not always just food, but socks, foam and many other weird and wonderful objects – may occasionally pass through a dog unnoticed, but more commonly they will require medical intervention.
It’s a timely reminder to keep certain food items out of reach of hungry doggies, and consider other dental hygiene options than chicken necks for your dog.
he swallowed them whole”
CHOC, HORROR! After an emetic jab, Marcus was instantly nauseous and vomited all the chocolate.
BACK IN HARNESS Sambo survived his encounter with too many chicken necks and has resumed training with owner Debra for the 4km Million Paws walk.