Since joining the veterinary industry only a short time ago, I have witnessed four exploratory abdominal surgeries. The surgeons removed hair elastics, a needle and thread, foam nerf balls and chunks of a rubber toy from the stomach and intestines of one cat and three dogs respectively.
While one of my Border Collies is a counter-grazer, he tends not to consume non-food items such as toys and balls. Still, I occasionally worry that he will get into something that will lodge in his intestines and ultimately put us in the same position as the above owner and pet.
How do I safeguard my home and yard in the hopes of reducing the chances of the dogs swallowing a potentially harmful object?
1. I always assume that if they can do it, they will. As much as I anthropomorphize my dogs, I also recognize that they are animals, with strange animal minds and complicated animal decision-making processes.
2. With this in mind, when the pack is left alone in the house, I restrict their access and freedom to the majority of the house. All the dogs are crate-trained from pups. Although only my female is still crated when left alone (she is now ten years old and is prone to self-destructive behaviour due to extreme anxiety and sound sensitivities), the pack is restricted to a hallway, the laundry room and the dog room when I leave the house. Crating not only protects your pet from getting into naughty situations and your home from damage due to peeing and chewing, but it also gives your pet the opportunity to learn an off-switch when you are not home. In my house, crate-time equals downtime. When I close the crate door or the door to the dog room, the pack settles.
3. When I am home, and the pack has free reign, I make sure the house and yard are pet-proofed. All food items are put away in cupboards and drawers, the garbage is locked under the sink, dog toys are put away unless we are playing, any plants (such as poinsettias) that are poisonous are out of reach, glassware is off the low coffee table, lawn fertilizers are locked in the garden shed, etc. I guess it is kind of like child-proofing your home. This sounds like I am a bit of a control freak, and I guess I am. But when it comes to potential hazards for my furry family, I don’t mess around.
4. I teach my dogs two key commands: one is OFF and the other is DROP IT. If I drop something on the floor while I am cooking, it might be tasty to me but hazardous to my dogs. Commanding OFF, lets the dogs know that the tidbit on the floor is a no-go unless I say okay. DROP IT is particularly handy when the dogs are off-leash in the woods. My female will eat just about any rotting yuck laying on the floor of the forest. If I am lucky enough to catch her in the act, I command DROP IT! (usually at the top of my lungs) And she PLAH! Spits it out. I was thankful I trained this when, after rolling in a rotting salmon carcass, my female dog proceeded to eat the decaying fish. Instead of taking an emergency trip to the hospital, we took an emergency trip to the dog wash.
5. Finally, I monitor the wear and tear on the dog toys. If they are old, damaged, cracked, torn or in any way compromised, I get rid of them. This can get pricey with three dogs that like to play and chew, but I invest in proven quality toys. I avoid the dollar store variety and purchase toys with from the Kong brand. Flying Squirrels, orange rubber chuck-it balls, rubber frisbees and Kong Wubbas seem to last the longest. I never let the dogs fetch sticks. Besides the damage fetching sticks can cause to teeth, the potential for a sliver or the entire stick to get wedged in their throat is too high. There has been many a time I have run up the trail after my dog yelling at a stranger to, “don’t throw the stick” that Jimmy has just carefully laid at their feet. Sometimes I think I must look and sound like a crazy person!
Planning for a disaster is always a good idea, but plans are never fail-safe when it comes to controlling the minds and will of your pet. My old dog Kona could locate and retrieve chocolate from the safest most locked down places. I swear if she were human she would have made a brilliant cat burglar. Thankfully, Kona had a cast iron stomach and was always okay after her crafty chocolate binges. Hopefully, these few tips might help prevent your pet from ending up in the emergency room.
Written by Rachel Joyce