By Carol McCarthy
As any pet parent knows, dogs do not have discriminating palates (for the most part) and have been known to eat some pretty strange things. Just ask Dr. Mike Pavletic of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Angell Animal Medical Center who says, “the most common scenario we encounter is consumption of materials that dogs mistake for food.” For example, dogs swallow chopsticks, skewers and utensils on which bits of food or cooking smells linger, he said. Because a dog’s eating habits can be harmful to their health, it helps to learn what common non-food items your dog might eat, why they eat them and what to do about it.
Dogs, especially smaller ones, find hair ties fun to play with, and they are attracted by the familiar smell of their pet parents’ scalp oils on the ties, said Dr. Brett Levitzke, medical director of the Veterinary Emergency Referral Group in New York City. Your dog might be able to pass a hair tie or two in his stool uneventfully, but if he eats several, they can get stuck in his gut, causing vomiting, decreased appetite and painful abdomen. “We’ve seen dogs with upwards of 50 hair ties in their stomach,” he said.
If you see your dog swallow a hair tie, call your vet, as an endoscopy (a non-surgical procedure to examine the gastro-intestinal tract and potentially remove swallowed objects) or surgery may be required. For prevention, keep hair ties in closed drawers.
Some types of this gardening staple contain chocolate, an ingredient that is toxic to dogs, Levitzke said. Signs of ingestion include vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, tremors and even death. Hospitalization for ingestion of this type of mulch typically is needed.
Additionally, all mulch contains bits of sticks that can cause gastro-intestinal irritation or an obstruction if eaten, Levitzke said. Fence off areas of your garden where you use mulch to keep your dog safe.
As mentioned, dogs sometimes eat cooking utensils because of the lingering flavors. While vets often induce vomiting or monitor a dog until he or she passes many types of foreign objects, that is not an option in these cases, Pavletic said.
“A skewer could do more damage on the way up and out,” so surgery or endoscopy would be necessary, he said. Keep utensils out of reach to prevent this scenario.
As carnivores, dogs are attracted by the smell of blood on used tampons, and some dogs simply like to play with unused tampons. Because they are absorbent, tampons can expand when ingested, possibly getting stuck in the digestive track and requiring surgery or endoscopy to remove, Levitzke said.
Signs of ingestion include vomiting, a painful abdomen and decreased appetite. Call your vet if you see your dog in the act, and always dispose of tampons in lidded, pet-proof garbage cans.
Dogs chew on shoes not out of spite, but out of boredom, Levitzke said. This habit can cost you more than a new pair of shoes if your dog swallows large pieces of hard-to-digest material. If a piece is stuck in his stomach, he likely will have vomiting and diarrhea.
Your vet might treat symptoms with anti-nausea medication and fluids while the material passes or have to perform surgery or endoscopy to remove it. Protect your shoes and your dog by keeping footwear in a closed closet, and keep him busy with appropriate chew toys.
“One of our most recent and high-profile cases involved a dog who [in 2015] ate three whole wrist watches — grommets, bands, casing and all — and required emergency surgery,” Pavletic said. The owners think the dog might have chomped on the valuables out of anxiety.
If your dog has separation anxiety, be sure anything he could eat or swallow is inaccessible, or consider crating him when you are not home, and of course, seek out treatment for his anxiety. Any condition that makes a dog think that eating wrist watches or other inappropriate objects will make him feel better needs to be addressed.
Cat stool contains partially digested food, which can smell delicious to your dog, Levitzke said. Other than grossing you out and giving your dog bad breath, cat feces should not cause major problems, he said.
Ingesting small amounts of cat litter can upset your dog's stomach, but veterinary treatment typically is not needed. To prevent this practice, place the litter box in an area your dog cannot access or buy a covered litterbox with a top that can be secured in place.
Earwax contains lipids (fats) and proteins that can taste delicious to your dog, Levitzke said. Obstructions from these small grooming tools are unlikely, but they can cause gastro-intestinal irritation that results in vomiting, diarrhea and a decreased appetite, he said. Veterinary treatment is necessary only in severe cases. A lidded garbage can in the bathroom will prevent the problem.
Whether it’s the shiny hue or the scent of human hands on the coins, there doesn’t seem to be a good reason why dogs eat coins, Levitzke noted. The physical irritation of their presence in the stomach or intestines can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and ulcers are possible, he said. Pennies minted after 1982 can also cause zinc toxicity, which can lead to anemia, he added.
In such cases, the coins must be removed by endoscopy or surgery, and if the dog is anemic, he might need a blood transfusion and further treatment. Immediately track down coins that fall on the floor to protect your money-hungry pup.
“Back in 2012 we treated a Bull Mastiff named Bean who swallowed an entire plate of brie AND the cheese knife, which had to be surgically removed,” Pavletic said. The plate had been placed on a coffee table briefly, and the dog pounced.
To prevent this scenario, never leave tempting food and dangerous utensils unattended where your dog can reach them.
Depending on what your dog ingests and how much time has passed since ingestion, veterinary treatment can be simple or complex, Pavletic said. That can mean serious discomfort for your dog and a hefty veterinary bill for you. That’s enough to spoil anyone’s appetite, so do your best to prevent him from eating anything other than his kibble and dog biscuits.