My pittie Sawyer was the type of dog who made poor life choices. He LOVED toys, but he loved to eat toys as much as play with them, so we learned the hard way that he just could not handle having nice things. Way back in 2012, when I still worked at Steinbach Veterinary Hospital, there was a weekend when Sawyer started vomiting. We wracked our brains for what he could have gotten into – did he eat trash, or wild animal poop on a walk, or were there any missing toys?? We couldn’t come up with anything specific, so I brought him with me to work, and took some x-rays. They didn’t show anything obvious, so we started him on nausea medications, and something to help with inflammation, and to cover for diarrhea.
Now of course, as all emergent things tend to go, Saturday rolled into Sunday, and Sawyer continued to vomit. Great. Luckily, I have great veterinary friends like Dr. Jen Heller, who met me at the practice Sunday evening to recheck some x-rays. We took more x-rays and worried that now it did look like there could be something stuck in there. We sent the x-rays to none other than Dr. Kristen Carpenter (when you are friends since vet school, you ask for help and advice even before you work together yet!) – and she also agreed that they looked concerning. So, that Sunday evening at around 8pm, Sawyer headed into surgery.
As any calm doctor would, I sat in the corner and cried my eyes out as we made the final decision that he needed surgery. Luckily we had a few friends and techs who came in to help, so my being a blubbery mess was not a negative as far as safety for Sawyer. I have this fantastic ability of being calm, cool, and collected when it is ANY animal in need, except my own. We have found the hard way (and Jen can definitely attest to this), that when one of my personal pets is injured or ill, I am no help. At all.
I pulled myself together enough to help get his surgery started, and Jen prepped to do an exploratory. Basically what happens when we suspect that an animal has something stuck in their digestive tract is that we go into their abdomen to perform what we call an abdominal exploratory surgery. This means we go into their abdomen and take a look around – examining all of the organs, but most notably the stomach and intestines, looking for something that should not be there, or that is stuck! In Sawyer’s case, we definitely found something that should not be – he had what is called a linear foreign body, and his intestines were bunched up like an accordion with a rope toy spanning from his stomach half way through his intestines – not good! It is fortunate that I have amazing friends who were willing to help me on a Sunday night so we could get it out quickly. The longer an obstruction is in place, the riskier it is to the patient, as they can have areas of the intestines that lose blood supply and tear, causing perforations and peritonitis – or infection spreading into their abdomen!
Jen was able to remove his obstruction with 2 incisions – one in his stomach and one in his intestines. He did amazing through surgery, and recovered very well. He came home with me that night, and I slept on the floor with him huddled in a big bed and he had fluids and pain management running all night. He came back and forth to work with me for the next few days as he recovered, and thankfully he did so well, and recovered without any complications. Foreign body surgeries are scary – you can do everything right, and if there was just too much damage to their intestines they can still have complications and not do well after surgery, and in the worst case scenarios, we can certainly (and have) lose patients in surgery or immediately after.
After this day, Sawyer lost all privileges for rope toys, stuffed toys, or basically anything he could rip apart and eat. It was a sad time in our house with very few toys, but I didn’t want to ever have to go through that nightmare again with him! I’m so glad he did well, and it was definitely a great experience to be on the other side of that scary situation…but one that I am happy to NEVER repeat, ever again. I figured this story was a good one to share to prove that even pets who are owned by veterinarians still make bad choices, and stress us out, despite our best efforts!