Thanksgiving is right around the corner! You can bet that the day after Thanksgiving a veterinary hospital will be filled with cases of gastrointestinal foreign bodies and pancreatitis.

A foreign body is any object that a dog or cat eats that they cannot digest. If the object is too large to pass through the GI tract, it will get stuck. If this happens, your pet will stop eating and will vomit frequently throughout the day. If they do attempt to eat, they will vomit shortly thereafter. Dogs most commonly eat objects (like toys, clothes, rocks, etc.). Cats will often eat linear foreign bodies (like string, rubber bands, hair ties, etc.).

A veterinarian will usually diagnose a foreign body blockage via an X-ray. Sometimes a foreign body is difficult to see with an X-ray (usually when it’s a piece of cloth or string). In those cases, an abdominal ultrasound may be required to make the diagnosis.

If a foreign body blockage is diagnosed, your cat or dog will require surgery to remove it. If the object is still in your pet’s stomach, a gastrotemy will be performed to remove it. If the object is caught in the intestine, the procedure is called an enterotomy.

The worst cases of foreign body ingestions are sharp objects that have perforated through the GI tract, or an object that has been stuck for several days and the associated piece of intestine has ruptured. In these cases, your pet is likely to have peritonitis (inflammation/infection of the abdominal cavity). This usually requires surgical removal of the affected intestine and hospitalization of your pet on IV fluids, antibiotics and pain control. Intestinal perforation with peritonitis is very serious and can be life-threatening.

During Thanksgiving we often see dogs that have eaten bones or entire turkeys. Cats will often eat the string ties that are around the turkey legs. Even if your pet does not get a full blockage, they may get pancreatitis.

The pancreas is an organ that lives along the part of the intestine called the duodenum. The pancreas has quite a few important functions, but one is to produce and release enzymes to help in digestion. In cases where a cat or dog eats a very fatty meal, the pancreas produces an abundance of digestive enzymes and becomes inflamed. An inflamed pancreas is quite painful and can lead to a loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea. If the pancreatitis is severe, it can lead to secondary infection and possibly death.

The diagnosis of pancreatitis is generally accomplished via bloodwork. The blood test is called a Spec cPLI (for dogs) or a Spec fPLI (for cats). An abdominal ultrasound can also be performed to visualize the pancreas and look for inflammation/swelling.

The mainstays of pancreatitis treatment are fluids (to help flush out the pancreas), antibiotics (to help prevent secondary infection), gastric protectants (to reduce nausea), and pain medication. If the pancreatitis is mild, outpatient care is often used (giving pills at home). If the pancreatitis is severe, a pet will need to be hospitalized to receive the fluids and medications intravenously over several days.

The delicious food we share is one of the highlights of Thanksgiving. Often turkey, stuffing and gravy lay unattended on tables and counters. Be aware that your cat or dog may be lurking and waiting for the perfect time to steal a bite to eat. Make sure a foreign body or case of pancreatitis are not a part of your holiday celebration.

Dr. Brandon Wilson is a Pacifica resident. He is a 2009 graduate of University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. He has been a full-time veterinarian at Linda Mar Veterinary Hospital for the last nine years.

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