This is my beloved dog Rufus. If he looks guilty in this photo, it is because he should. You see, Rufus has a problem - an addiction, really. He is what is known in the veterinary world as an “indiscrete eater”. That means that he eats things he shouldn’t. Lots of things. Over the course of our 11 years together Rufus has consumed inappropriate items that range from relatively benign and typical (my underwear, an entire case of balance bars. . . twice), to strange (a ShamWow, a tank top), to toxic (chocolate, homemade play doh, coffee grounds). At this point he is downright legendary at our local emergency vet and justifiably unpopular with our pet insurance company.
Since we’ve dealt with ingestion of foreign items and toxins more times than we’d like to admit, Rufus and I have become experts at dealing with this issue and we have some “advanced” tips to share with you. Every year, there are thousands of cases of pet poisoning in the US, and a lot of the time, it’s caused by things you may not expect. Here’s a quick refresher on some major groups of poisons to keep out of reach of your fur kids.
Put your local emergency veterinarian in your contacts
Murphy’s (or Rufus’) law dictates that these things are more likely to happen on a holiday weekend than a normal Wednesday afternoon. Rufus ate the tank top over Labor Day weekend, the chocolate over Memorial Day, the homemade play doh (sodium toxicity) on a Sunday night, and the coffee (caffeine toxicity) on a Friday night. I know, my dog is talented with an impeccable sense of comedic timing. It is always a good idea to know your nearest 24 hour emergency vet practice. Put the address and phone number in your contacts now! Seriously, just do it. The last thing you want to be wasting time on in an emergency is figuring out which clinic is open and where they are located.
Talk to your vet about induced vomiting
If you suspect your pet has eaten something other than their kibble, call your veterinarian right away. In some cases it may be safe to wait and watch in hopes that your pet will “process” the offending item without help. However, if that is not advisable your veterinarian’s first line of defense may be to induce vomiting. This helps prevent your pet’s body from absorbing the full impact of any toxins they have consumed; or removes foreign objects before they can make it to the intestines and potentially cause a blockage. The catch is that induced vomiting is only effective within a few hours of ingestion, so consult with your veterinarian as soon as you realize something is wrong.
Induced vomiting saved the day during the TWO (yes, two!) times that Rufus consumed an entire case of balance bars. We’re talking outer cardboard, all 12 bars, all 12 wrappers - the works. While the bars themselves could have been fine to pass by normal means, the wrappers were not and a quick trip to the vet had them up and out in a flash, and for a lot less cash than surgery.
And lest you think I’m a terrible pet owner who doesn’t learn from experience, the second time Rufus ate a case of balance bars he was at his grandparents house for a visit. Apparently my dog REALLY likes peanut butter flavored balance bars. In fact, I don’t even buy them anymore so as not to tempt him. Fortunately for Rufus, while grandma and grandpa had underestimated his counter surfing skills they did know about induced vomiting. After a quick visit to their regular vet, Rufus was relieved of 12 balance bars + wrappers and already thinking about his next meal.
Pet proof like a maniac
I had hoped that Rufus would outgrow the underwear stealing and other antics as he matured. Sigh. Not so much. Once I realized this was a long term issue, we began a journey of pet proofing that continues to this day. First up, we figured out which hampers and garbage cans would keep him out. Then, we calibrated the radius of his counter surfing abilities. Turns out he resembles a goat in his belief that everything is edible and also in his climbing skills. Since he can get to almost anything almost anywhere, food and anything else “interesting” have to be put away at all times. If you don’t want to clear your coffee tables and countertops, you can crate your dog when they are not supervised. Just be sure to do appropriate crate training and never crate your dog for more than 8 hours at a time.
Keep in mind that pet proofing is an ongoing activity. Every time you move you will need to look for new dangers, and you will need to warn other caregivers of your pet’s odd eating habits. Three of Rufus’ incidents, including the one that required surgery, occurred when he was in someone else’s care. Now I know that I need to fully brief family/friends and pet sitters before Rufus visits, and bring along a crate to set everyone up for success.
Insure your pet
As an awesome pet owner I’m sure you plan for routine expenses like vaccines, and annual check ups. Good for you! Unfortunately emergency care is unpredictable and costly. Treatment for toxin ingestion often requires admission to the veterinary hospital, IV fluids, and diagnostics. Even worse, an intestinal blockage from a foreign object can require surgery. According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, gastrointestinal foreign bodies are the most common surgical emergencies in veterinary medicine.
I will admit that I did not initially insure Rufus because I felt that the pet insurance premiums were expensive. The short sightedness of that thinking became apparent when he ate a tank top while with a dog sitter and I spent $8,000 on surgery to remove it from his intestines. Oops! Rufus has been insured ever since. Now when we head to the emergency vet I can confidently tell them to do whatever is needed and not worry about having to choose between Rufus and my rent. It’s a good thing too, because his sodium toxicity required warm water enemas and special dextrose IV fluids and the caffeine toxicity required cardiology and neurology consults. If your pet is not yet insured, handle that right now!
While dietary indiscretion or “garbage gut” is relatively common in dogs, especially youngsters, Rufus has a severe issue. Fortunately for us, he has a cast iron constitution and with great care from our excellent veterinary team he has always bounced back from his shenanigans. In fact, we can even laugh a little once it is all over and he’s back to full health. I mean chocolate and balance bars I get, but what on earth is tasty about a tank top? Or a ShamWow? There is a reason why his nickname is Rufus the Doofus. . . .