The Holiday season is well under way and if your household is similar to mine there are presents, wrapping, ribbons, chocolates and home baking all around the house.

This is the time where our pets often take advantage of our distraction and try to enjoy some of the holiday cheer for themselves.

Just a reminder that some of the foods we enjoy, such as chocolate, is toxic to our pets. As well, albeit not toxic, too much of anything, such as your dog digging into a box of shortbread, can lead to a nasty bout of diarrhea and a visit to your favourite veterinarian.

Our cats are not immune to such holiday festivities either. While they are unlikely to break into a box of chocolates or eat the left over turkey,  ribbon from a present is a very enticing toy and if swallowed can lead to the ribbon having to be surgically removed.

I do not want to be a voice of gloom and doom but just want to remind all pet owners that during this busy and festive time our pets will find ways to join in the festivities for themselves and to be aware of what they are getting into.

The following are a few visual examples of cases we have seen at Amherst Veterinary Hospital:

Case #1: 11 year old Labrador retriever:

Owners had a party and the dog was fed turkey bones and dough a few days earlier. This combination resulted in a cement-like ball of dough and bones that became lodged in the dog’s colon. Attempts to facilitate passage of this obstruction by hydrating the dog with intravenous fluids and multiple enemas were not effective. Finally the dog was taken into surgery. In surgery we manually attempted to break down the obstruction by massaging the colon over the foreign object but the combination of chewed bone mixed with dough had formed a rock solid mass. Ultimately, we had to incise into the colon and remove the obstruction. As this obstruction had been going on for several days, even after the surgery the dog remained in hospital and was very ill for many days afterwards but he eventually made a full recovery.



Case #2: 1 year old, female cat: 

A family member brought over a present wrapped in long red ribbon. After the present was opened, the cat was noted to be playing with the ribbon. She started vomiting shortly afterwards and the ribbon was nowhere to be found.

The x-rays showed the intestines to be bunched up, typical of the kind of obstruction string will cause:

cat_intestinecat string obstruction

When string is ingested, one end passes out the stomach and into the intestine while the other end remains stuck in the stomach acting as an anchor. Since the string is lodged at one end, as peristalsis continues to occur in the intestines, the intestines start to plicate and accordion. Food cannot pass through and the string may even start to cut into the intestine. We removed about 2 feet of ribbon from this cat’s intestines and she made a full recovery.


Case #3: 1 year old dashshund cross:

Started vomiting chewed up bits of stick and refusing food in the evening; she had been chewing on sticks at the park earlier in the day.

As this was a small, thin dog, a foreign object in the intestines could be felt during the physical exam. Although the foreign object could not be seen on the X rays of the abdomen, it did show the small intestines to be very dilated with gas, which is typical when there is an intestinal obstruction. Fluid and gas cannot get past the obstruction so builds up and causes dilation of the intestines in front of the obstruction.

jilly intestine v distended-dilated

Intestine dilated with gas due to foreign body.


A part of a rubber ball mixed with chewed up wood was removed.


Photo left: obstruction located; photo right: making an incision to remove obstruction.


Photo left: obstruction, rubber ball and wood fragments removed; photo right: intestines sutured.


Because the dog was brought in shortly after she started vomiting and was taken to surgery right away, more serious injury, compromise and infection to the intestine and abdomen was avoided and she was feeling bright and hungry by the next day.

While these foreign body cases can be very interesting, it’s important to remember our pets do not always have the best judgment when it comes to what’s edible and what’s not. Keep a close eye on your furry friend when they are playing with a new toy or enjoying a treat, and always be aware of what things they may pick up on a walk so as to avoid a foreign body.


Dr. Loretta Yuen, D.V.M

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