Foreign Objects in a Dog's Mouth, Nose, or Throat

Foreign objects in the mouth include bone splinters, slivers of wood, sewing needles and pins, porcupine quills, fish hooks, and plant awns. Sharp objects can penetrate the lips, gums, and tongue. Other objects can get caught between the teeth or wedged across the roof of the mouth. Pieces of string can become wrapped around the teeth and tongue.

A common place for a penetrating foreign body is beneath the tongue. On lifting the tongue, you may see a grapelike swelling or a draining tract. This means the foreign body has been present for some time.

In areas where cockle and sand burrs are prevalent, many small spines can become embedded in the tongue and gums as the dog grooms burrs from her coat and feet.

The signs of a foreign body are pawing at the mouth, rubbing the mouth along the floor, drooling, gagging, licking the lips repeatedly, and holding the mouth open. When a foreign object has been present for a day or longer, the principal signs may be lethargy, bad breath, and refusal to eat.

Treatment: Obtain a good light source and gently examine your dog's mouth, as described earlier in this chapter. A good look may reveal the cause. It is possible to directly remove some foreign bodies. Others will require a general anesthetic, which means a trip to the veterinarian.

A thread attached to a needle should not be pulled out, because it can be used to locate the needle.

Foreign bodies present for a day or longer are difficult to remove and may cause infection. They must be removed, and the dog evaluated, by a veterinarian. After removal, the dog is placed on an antibiotic for one week.

To remove a fish hook from the lip, if the barb is visible, cut the shank next to the barb with wire cutters and remove the hook in two pieces. If the barb is embedded in the lip, determine which direction the barb is pointed and push the hook through until the barb is free. Do not try to pull the barbed end back through the tissue! Then cut the hook and remove it. Treat the puncture wound as described in Wounds.

Do not attempt to remove a fish hook embedded in the mouth or one that has been swallowed with the line attached. Take your dog to the veterinarian at once.

Foreign Body in the Nose

Foreign bodies that may work their way into the nasal cavity include blades of grass, grass seeds, awns, and bone and wood splinters. The principal sign is a sudden bout of violent sneezing, accompanied by pawing at the nose, and occasionally, bleeding from one nostril. The sneezing is first continuous and later intermittent. When a foreign body has been present for hours or days, there is a thick discharge (often bloody) from the involved nostril.

Treatment: A foreign body may be visible close to the opening of the nostril, in which case it can be removed with tweezers. In most cases it will be located farther back. If the foreign body is not removed in a short time, it tends to migrate even deeper into the nasal cavity. Do not poke blindly in your dog's nose, as this causes further injury. Take your dog to the veterinarian. Removal of most foreign bodies requires heavy sedation or general anesthesia.

After the foreign body has been removed, your veterinarian may prescribe an oral antibiotic to treat any secondary bacterial infection.

Foreign Body in the Esophagus

Foreign bodies in the esophagus are common. Bones and bone splinters are seen most often. Other objects that obstruct a dog's esophagus include string, fishhooks, needles, wood splinters, and small toys. Suspect a foreign body in the esophagus when a dog suddenly begins to gag, retch, drool, and regurgitate. A history of regurgitation and difficulty swallowing for several days or longer suggests a partial obstruction.

Sharp foreign bodies are particularly dangerous, because they can perforate the esophagus. A dog with a perforated esophagus exhibits fever, cough, rapid breathing, difficulty swallowing, and a rigid stance.

The diagnosis can usually be made by taking X-rays of the neck and chest. Ingesting a contrast material such as Gastrografin, followed by an X-ray of the esophagus, may be required.

Treatment: An esophageal foreign body is an emergency. Take your dog to a veterinarian at once.

Many foreign bodies can be removed by gastroscopy. The dog is given a general anesthetic, after which an endoscope is passed through the mouth and into the esophagus. The object is located visually and removed with a grasping instrument. If the object cannot be withdrawn, it can often be pushed down into the stomach and removed surgically from the abdomen. Foreign bodies that cannot be dislodged using the endoscope require open esophageal surgery. The same is true for esophageal perforations.

This article is excerpted from “Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.