Preventing Your Dog From Swallowing Stuff He Shouldn’t

Dogs love to chew, but swallowing anything other than food can land them in deep trouble. Know the danger of foreign bodies and ways to keep your pet safe.

Don't encourage your dog to chew on socks or other clothing. By: _tar0_
Don’t encourage your dog to chew on socks or other clothing. By: _tar0_

Does your dog chew things he shouldn’t?

Dogs love to chew. But aside from destroying property, there is another very real problem with their chewing behavior, and that’s swallowing things that later get stuck in their gut.

Foreign Bodies

An object that gets stuck in the stomach or bowel is a foreign body. This is a common and potentially serious problem. Indeed, some dogs have a habit of chewing — which repeatedly lands them in deep trouble.

As I was preparing to write this article, I jotted down a brief list of dogs I’d operated on recently to remove foreign bodies. Out of the 9 dogs that came to mind, 4 were Labrador Retrievers (and that’s not counting the Lab we X-rayed as a precaution because his favorite ball had gone missing).

Serial Offenders

Even this doesn’t give a true picture because I counted each dog only once, even if they were a serial offender.

  • One of the Labs repeatedly ate golf balls (3 surgeries).
  • A French Bulldog swallowed toys whole (2 surgeries).
  • A Golden Retriever had a sock fetish (2 surgeries).

If your pet has a history of eating foreign bodies, do not relax your guard. The dog doesn’t link surgery (and a large veterinary bill) with eating that yogurt cup, and he’s never going to learn his lesson.

Don’t Miss: The Dog Ate My… [fill in the blank]

What’s the Big Deal?

The first problem: Foreign bodies block the bowel and don’t let food pass. At best, this means the dog slowly starves. But more likely, complications set in.

If the blockage stretches the gut wall, it can cut off the blood circulation. This causes that piece of bowel to die off. And we haven’t even mentioned yet the risk of a sharp object piercing the gut and causing potentially fatal peritonitis.

This video shows why it’s a big deal. A Great Dane made headlines when veterinarians removed 43 and a half socks from his gut:

Symptoms of a Foreign Body

Vomiting is the number 1 sign, whether it’s food or being unable to keep water down. Depending on how complete the blockage is, the dog can become ill very quickly or slowly lose energy and weight.

If you suspect your dog has eaten something he shouldn’t, check with your vet. The sooner a blockage is found, the sooner it can be corrected — let’s hope it’s before serious complications develop.

Finding the Culprit

Sometimes a vet can feel the blockage through the tummy wall. However, it’s typical to have to hunt for it. This is done through imaging:

  • Radiographs: X-rays are great at showing dense foreign bodies such as stones, but they are not so great at less distinct ones such as yogurt cups.
  • Barium X-rays: For those less-clear cases, the vet may give the dog a barium dose and follow the contrast agent as it passes along the gut. The barium should pass specific landmarks at set times, and failure to do this could indicate a foreign body.
  • Ultrasound: In the hands of a skilled operator, ultrasound is arguably the best means of detecting a foreign body. As well as spotting the obstruction, the operator can look for changes in the way the bowel moves that hint at trouble.

Don’t Miss: Why Does My Vet Want an Abdominal Ultrasound?

Surgical Removal

Most foreign bodies are removed by laparotomy, which means an anesthetic and the surgeon opening up the dog’s abdomen.

The surgeon makes a cut in the gut to remove the object and carefully sutures the wound back together. This also allows the surgeon to check the health of the bowel wall and remove any badly damaged sections.

Unfortunately, bowel surgery comes with more complications than other forms of surgery. This is because the bowel is delicate and swells as part of the healing process. This means an increased risk of the sutures pulling through and gut contents leaking out. Although this risk can be reduced with good surgical technique, it never goes away altogether.


  • Get your kids to clear up their toys and put them into a dog-proof toy chest.
  • Supervise your dog with small toys.
  • Throw chewed toys away.
  • Be vigilant with trash. Use trash cans with a locking top so a clever dog can’t help himself to packaging and trash.
  • Some dogs have a bizarre addiction to socks and even underwear, so keep the laundry room out of bounds. (Here’s another important reason to keep pets and kids out of the laundry room.)

Unfortunately, some dogs never learn their lesson and become repeat offenders. For his own protection, the only solution for the Lab who swallowed golf balls was to wear a muzzle on walks because in his case, his eyes were bigger than his belly.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed June 5, 2015.

Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS

View posts by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS
Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, is a veterinarian with nearly 30 years of experience in companion animal practice. Dr. Elliott earned her Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery from the University of Glasgow. She was also designated a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Married with 2 grown-up kids, Dr. Elliott has a naughty puggle called Poggle, 3 cats and a bearded dragon.

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