Gastrointestinal foreign bodies that don’t like to show up on imaging can be the most dangerous.
Did you watch the Needle in a Haystack House MD episode? A toothpick almost killed a perfectly healthy teenage boy. Not visible on imaging but punching holes through nearby organs.
A teenage boy becomes gravely ill and a cause cannot be found. He bleeds in his lungs, then his liver, than his bladder, then his spleen ruptures … Nothing adds up. When they finally discover a cause it turns out to be a swallowed toothpick, wreaking all that havoc.
Dangerous foreign bodies
The danger that toothpicks pose is multifold. They are hard, sharp, and invisible to x-rays. Unlike other foreign bodies, toothpicks can make themselves invisible. All you see is the problem but not the cause.
Cody was a 5-year-old Dachshund. He was an indoor dog with history of good health. One day, Cody got diarrhea that would come and go. Sometime his belly would be painful and sometimes he’d throw up as well.
Cody had good days and bad days but the problem continued for two months.
Cody’s parents did take him to a veterinarian. Routine exam and laboratory tests provided no clues. The veterinarian was concerned and ordered further diagnostics.
The main concerns were pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease or worse, cancer. But all tests kept coming back with nothing abnormal.
An ultrasound found inflammation and fluid in the abdomen. The fluid tests are positive for inflammatory cells and bacteria. What was causing it though?
Fortunately for Cody, his veterinarian was determined to get to the bottom of things. Perhaps if they drained the fluid, something the fluid was obscuring might show up.
They drained the fluid and repeated the ultrasound.
Thanks to the veterinarian’s determination, there it was. Cody had a toothpick stuck in his spleen!
Where the heck did such thing come from?
Then his parents remembered a celebration which took place just before Cody’s tummy issues started. Cody was included in the event as always. And so were hor d’oeuvres. Yummy smelling food bits held together by toothpicks.
Nobody saw Cody stealing anything but whether he helped himself to goodies of a plate or simply picked up a dropped toothpick, there it was, in his belly.
Beware of toothpicks
Pointy foreign bodies are uniquely suited for travel. A toothpick can perforate the stomach and take a scenic tour until it finds a fun place to stay. Such renegade foreign bodies can be tricky to diagnose.
Particularly wood and plant material which likes to hide from imaging.
Cody was lucky. Once the culprit was found and the toothpick surgically removed, the fluid drained, he bounced right back.
How often such a foreign body eludes a diagnosis though?
If you use toothpicks or skewers for your party goodies, watch them like a hawk. Put them somewhere your dog cannot get to them. Be also careful how you dispose of them after because they will still smell yummy.
If your dog is sick with no good diagnosis, keep digging until one is found. And think back. You might remember what the culprit could be.
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