All dog lovers know dogs are intelligent, curious creatures. They do not have the power of verbal communication (despite what some people argue). They do not have opposable thumbs. The only way dogs have to fully explore their object intrigue is by smell and taste. Too many times they opt for the taste-and-swallow!
I have a 115-pound Anatolian shepherd. A gentle giant — wouldn’t hurt a fly — but she does love to inspect everything in her environment. Last week my poor husband had to phone a client to explain that the FedEx package they sent containing some important documents were, um, “eaten by my dog!”
Not exactly the “dog ate my homework” excuse, but it still brought amusement throughout the office of the client, at my husband’s expense. This was the third such incident of document shredding. The only evidence to the crime was a few red and white bits of confetti on the driveway.
Itzi the Anatolian seems to think anything FedEx delivers contains filet mignon or some equally delicious equivalent. Her tasting intrigue doesn’t end with cardboard envelopes: She once ate the edge from my cocktail table and, worse, she ate the entire corner of a wall from a vacation cottage we rented. THAT was an expensive vacation!
Why do dogs eat such random objects, and what can you do to prevent (or treat) accidental ingestion?
Dogs Are What They Eat
Dogs will eat anything. Don’t delude yourself — as soon as you think there is a “will not” clause, they will prove you wrong. That is one reason crate training is so essential if you keep a dog inside the house. I will repeat: Dogs will eat anything!
We owned a beautiful, sweet, calm, perfect golden retriever a few years ago. She loved to lie on the gravel driveway, just under the back carport, and she never once chewed or destroyed anything. One summer, Peaches grew increasingly lethargic and wouldn’t eat or drink. We were alarmed after a couple of days when she couldn’t get up from her place on the rock bed.
We took Peaches to the veterinarian, and after comprehensive tests and abdominal X-rays we learned she had eaten an enormous quantity of gravel. Her stomach was full of the rock. My husband still has the X-ray as proof of the quantity of gravel her stomach held! Lucky for Peaches (and us), everything came out in the end (no pun intended) but that isn’t always the case.
Don’t Eat the Daisies — Or the Carpet Cleaner!
My Cairn terrier was another perpetually curious creature. I had to constantly monitor drawers, cabinet doors and trash cans to ensure her safety. One evening she vomited on the rug at a friend’s house. Embarrassed and agitated, I grabbed a container of powder carpet cleaner from the cabinet and dumped it on the stain. I ran back to the kitchen for paper towels and by the time I got back, my dog had eaten the entire mess, including the carpet cleaner.
Now I was really in a panic. I phoned the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline at 888-426-4435 (great number to keep at your fingertips), and the nice technician helped me determine that my dog was not at risk of poisoning.
I was again lucky; the active ingredients in the carpet cleaning compound were sodium phosphate and silicone dioxide. My dog was in the clear — this time. Many carpet cleaners contain hydroxacitic acid, butoxyethanol and other bleaches. Those formulas would have caused much greater distress.
Lesson: Post the Poison Control number in a convenient location along with the number of your vet and an emergency animal hospital source. Determine exactly what your dog ate and collect containers with the ingredients listed for evaluation. Bag anything the dog vomits or defecates for evaluation when possible. This could save a life.
Curiosity Nearly Killed the Guest of Honor
So maybe this story is a little gross for the delicate reader, but we are all animal lovers.
My cousin was graduating with her Ph.D. from a prominent university. She invited several friends and relatives to come by her home for a party. Her poodle stayed behind while the guests attended the commencement ceremony. Everyone returned to my cousin’s home for the celebration.
Surprise! Her sweet, delicate, pampered poodle decided to explore the bathroom while home alone. She made something of a celebratory confetti from a trashcan of soiled, feminine hygiene products. She even had an adhesive maxi pad attached to her head when the party crew arrived!
Lesson: Nothing dangerous happened to the dog on this occasion — except my exasperated friend was furious at the canine welcoming committee. Always crate or sequester your dog when you can’t supervise. You never know when curiosity will attack her, or you.
Collectibles and More
Do you remember the Beanie Baby craze? For a time it was the collectibles gold rush of the 1990s. A friend of mine owned an impeccably mannered, disciplined Irish wolfhound. He was enormous and an incredibly handsome animal. The dog’s name was Ronan, and he enjoyed some celebrity appearing in several TV spots for a local car dealership.
Ronan was only a couple of years old when the typically energetic, happy pup became increasingly depressed. He wouldn’t play or eat, drink or perform. My friend was concerned and took him to the vet. Following a lengthy examination, blood work and X-rays, it was determined that poor Ronan had a bowel obstruction. Emergency surgery opened the stomach — and there the surgeon found four completely whole Beanie Babies!
Several days in the hospital and thousands of dollars in vet bills brought Ronan back home. My friend combed the house for anything that may be swallowed by the curious canine. Although Ronan never ate anything he wasn’t supposed to again, my friend worried endlessly that he might do just that.
Lesson: No object is safe — even your Beanie Baby collection — because no dog can resist the right temptation. The problem remains: We humans can never adequately predict what the irresistible trigger will be!
An Ounce of Prevention
Pens, pills, purses, balls, gloves, panty hose, garden gnomes, stuffed animals, remote controls, automobile bumpers… the list of items retrieved from a dog’s stomach seems endless, and it makes for amusing stories. A dog does have the stomach of a wolf, and it can eat a variety of objects and survive. This doesn’t mean it should.
Foreign objects ingested by your pet can create serious health risks and may result in death. Pet insurance companies report that more than $3 million in emergency procedures were performed in 2010 to remove foreign objects from pets. The ASPCA provides an informative information page for preventive and emergency intervention procedures for pets. This organization will send pet owners a free Pet Safety Kit with a new member registration.
Keep your dog safe by pet-proofing your home and yard. Crate train or leave your dog in a safe area when you cannot monitor his activities. Post emergency reference numbers for Poison Control and your veterinarian’s office, as well as the closest emergency animal medical clinic.