Poisonous substance or foreign body ingestion: do you think behaviour problem? - Veterinary Practice
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Poisonous substance or foreign body ingestion: do you think behaviour problem?

FRANCESCA RICCOMINI warns that pets which ingest things they shouldn’t will often do it over and over again!

THE Daily Telegraph of 8th March reported that a canine belonging to the girlfriend of one of Her Majesty’s grandsons had eaten a present the Prince went to considerable trouble to procure for her birthday.

Apparently, the pooch, now dubbed within her family as “the dog with the pearl earrings”, is a cocker spaniel that gained access to and consumed his prize when he found the jewels on her bedside table. One is tempted to say, “Well he would, wouldn’t he?”

Both our principal companion species have survived by investigating their environments. Noting small changes, reacting appropriately and making the most of any opportunity that presents has made them successful wherever they have pitched up, semi-Royal household or uninhabited island. But this incident serves to remind us how many pets from less illustrious homes are presented to us annually for the ingestion of something they shouldn’t have eaten.

Some items merely create a moment of panic as owners wonder if insurers will swallow their reason for claiming significant financial reimbursement if nothing is later retrieved as nature takes its course.

Some become anecdotes trotted out at dinner parties; particularly, it seems, if one guest is a hapless veterinarian. Others, of course, being potentially or actually life-threatening, are no laughing matter at all.

Dealing with the emergency is not enough

So what do we do? Well naturally we deal with the situation, emergency or less acute crisis, as best we can. Hopefully the patient, be it a dog with a dish cloth in its intestine or cat with a needle lodged somewhere else, makes an uneventful recovery. If it’s a very exciting foreign body, particularly slow news day or a publicity hungry veterinary practice, the local paper may get hold of the story.

If treated at a charity clinic, a subsequent issue of its fund-raising magazine may carry an account of Bruno, Fluffy or Spike’s miraculous dice with death. But sadly, too often veterinary intervention seems to end when sutures are removed or with the final check-up.

But frankly it shouldn’t, because what we don’t seem to be quite so good at is preventing the same thing happening all over again. In fact, the sad thing is that some owners almost wear repeat performances as a badge of pride. “Guess how many times my dog’s eaten x, y or z?” or “How much money we (or our insurers) have spent getting a, b or c out of our dog!” they gleefully say, as if it’s something to boast about. The reality is they should be covered in embarrassment that their management is so lacking and their dog’s welfare so questionable.

Undoubtedly we all make mistakes. Who hasn’t left a door to a possibly hazardous room open without meaning to, or just put something they shouldn’t have down within easy reach of their inquisitive and/or momentarily bored pet only to breathe a sigh of relief when realising the potential for mishap that they have just “got away with”.

No one is born knowing the dangers inherent in every situation so anyone can be forgiven for the odd slipup, and some owners and pets are just plain unlucky.

What is not acceptable, however, are the cases where owners make little or no attempt to prevent the same or a similar thing happening all over again when their pet has put itself in harm’s way by showing far too much interest in an object that could kill it, unless the gods are smiling at that particular

We should always ask why?

But clients are not the only ones we should hold to account in circumstances where an animal undergoes multiple interventions as a result of ingesting troublesome items. We have a responsibility too. An essential aspect of managing these cases is seeking information that helps us understand why the situation happened in the first place.

Then we need to take active steps to ensure that nothing similar occurs in future, because, sadly, far too often animals that ingest potentially deathdealing substances when they raid cupboards, handbags or worktops, pick up discarded take-away rubbish that nearly kills them when outside the home or swallow gravel or stones in their owners’ garden, will do it again.

Nothing in their world has changed…

Why would they not? Nothing in their world has changed. They are subject to exactly the same environmental conditions that led to the risky behaviour in the first place. Just as fabric sucking and electric cable chewing cats will happily continue chomping away unless someone with interest, time and the relevant knowledge takes a comprehensive look at their lifestyle and management.

And relevant knowledge in this context is behavioural. On the whole, animals that do stupid things have owners who need help. They simply don’t know they do, so it’s up to us to point it out. It may seem excessive to suggest a behavioural consultation when a bright, young dog or cat, now restored to perfect health is “signed off”. Actually, unless this really is just “one of those one-off, out of character, unfortunate things”, it isn’t.

After all it can’t be in any pet’s best interests to be put at risk in this way once, let alone on multiple occasions, and surely even the most tolerant insurers may start to jib at a third or fourth claim for the same preventable syndrome?

Besides, let us remember that in these recessionary times hobbies are back in fashion. With hobbies come a range of potentially fatal equipment that is just so attractive to pets, especially when they don’t live in a satisfactory environment or have enough to do.

It’s not just pearl earrings that glitter, so do pins, needles and all sorts of other shiny, potentially lethal objects!

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