The gastrointestinal (GI) tract consists of a tube that runs from the mouth to the anus. Its function is to digest food and absorb nutrients into the body. The stomach is a dilated part of the GI tract that produces acid, which helps with the initial breakdown of proteins. The small intestine extends from the stomach to the colon and serves to further breakdown food into absorbable nutrients. The colon is the reservoir for stool, serves as a water absorber, and is the site where certain vitamins are produced by bacteria. The colon has a larger diameter than the small intestine; therefore, foreign bodies located in the colon usually can be passed with bowel movements.
Linear foreign bodies in the GI tract
Linear foreign bodies include string, decorating tinsel, rope, thin long socks, panty hose, thongs and other objects that are long. String, in particular will commonly get caught around the base of the tongue, in the stomach or intestine, and the bowel below will climb up the trailing part of the string. As the intestine works hard to pull the string toward the colon, the string may saw a hole in the intestine. The result can be a life-threatening abdominal infection called peritonitis.
Signs and diagnosis
The primary signs of a GI foreign body include vomiting, anorexia, depression and dehydration (mouth becomes less moist and saliva becomes tacky). Diarrhea is a less common sign of a linear foreign body. Crying, whimpering, unwillingness to lie down, or assumption of a hunched or praying position (down on the forelimbs and up on the hind limbs) may be a sign of abdominal pain.
The diagnosis of a linear gastrointestinal foreign body is generally made with abdominal X-rays. In most cases, the veterinarian will be able to clearly determine that a GI foreign body is present. Yet other cases may not show concrete signs on the X-rays to allow a diagnosis. If the X-rays are not giving us enough support of the diagnosis, the veterinarian may recommend having the X-rays repeated in 6 to 12 hours. Abdominal ultrasound may also be used to confirm a diagnosis of a linear foreign body. Blood work is used to provide supporting evidence of a GI foreign body and to rule out other causes of vomiting such as kidney or liver failure. The veterinarian will tailor a diagnostic plan that will allow for an expedient diagnosis.
Exploratory surgery is a diagnostic test to confirm the diagnosis of a gastrointestinal foreign body. If a foreign body is present, it will be removed at the time of the exploratory surgery.
An incision will be made into the abdomen to allow the surgeon to examine the internal organs. A linear foreign body will cause the intestine to have a corrugated appearance. If no foreign body is found, biopsies are collected from the intestines, liver or other diseased organs and submitted to a pathologist for evaluation.
While in our hospital, your companion will continue to receive intravenous fluids, electrolytes, and in some cases plasma or an artificial plasma product called hetastarch.
Your companion will be carefully monitored in the intensive care and will be given narcotics to ensure a pain-free recovery. Most patients that have abdominal surgery leave our hospital within 24 to 72 hours.
For more information on this subject, speak to the veterinarian who is treating your pet.