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Foreign Objects Stuck in the Throat in Dogs

What Is Esophageal Obstruction or Esophagus Blockage in Dogs?

Esophageal obstruction or esophagus blockage in dogs occurs when foreign objects become stuck in the narrow, muscular tube connecting the mouth and the stomach, through which food passes. Dogs may ingest items that are too large or have irregular shapes, leading to potential blockages.

If you suspect your dog has something lodged in its throat, it’s crucial to seek immediate veterinary attention. Signs of distress, weakness, blue-gray gums, or difficulty breathing warrant urgent evaluation.

Initially, a dog with an object stuck in its esophagus may exhibit discomfort but still breathe normally since the esophagus isn’t involved in breathing. However, objects lodged near the mouth or upper esophagus can exert pressure on the windpipe, leading to respiratory problems.

Esophageal obstructions, if left untreated, can result in various complications. Without prompt treatment, lodged objects may cause perforations in the esophagus, potentially allowing air or fluid to accumulate around the lungs, leading to breathing difficulties.

Full or Partial Esophageal Obstruction

Esophageal obstructions can manifest as either full or partial blockages.  A full obstruction arises when food or water cannot bypass the object to reach the stomach. Signs of a complete blockage are typically more apparent compared to partial obstructions.

In contrast, a partial obstruction occurs when a smaller object becomes lodged in the esophagus, allowing some food and water to pass around it and reach the stomach. Identifying partial obstructions can be challenging as symptoms may not be as pronounced as those of full obstructions.

Dogs experiencing a full obstruction may regurgitate food or water, although this might not happen until several hours after ingestion. Common culprits for esophageal blockages include bones, nylabones, rawhide, dental chews, sharp objects like fishing hooks or sewing needles, or even large food pieces.

Symptoms

Symptoms of obstruction include:

  • Persistent gulping or repeated attempts to swallow
  • Gagging, retching, or coughing
  • Repeated efforts to vomit without expelling anything
  • Reduced interest in eating and/or drinking
  • Lip smacking or licking
  • Drooling (with or without blood present)
  • Pawing at the mouth or face
  • Vomiting or regurgitation (possibly delayed several hours after eating)
  • Restlessness or pacing
  • Lethargy
  • Pain during movement, particularly when moving the head and neck

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of esophageal obstruction typically involves obtaining x-rays of the entire chest and neck area to locate the object lodged in the throat. While some objects are easily visible on x-rays, others may be more challenging to detect. If the veterinarian suspects an obstruction but cannot visualize it on x-ray, they may:

  • Suggest using contrast dye and repeating x-rays
  • Insert an endoscope down the esophagus
  • Conduct a CT scan of the neck and chest to assess the esophagus

These diagnostic tests help determine the object’s precise location and assess any damage to the surrounding esophageal tissue. They also aid in identifying any esophageal defects that could lead to the accumulation of air, fluid, and/or infection in nearby tissues or leakage into the lung space. Additionally, the veterinarian may recommend further diagnostics such as bloodwork to assess the overall health of the dog.

Treatment

Treatment of esophageal obstructions in dogs depends on factors such as the type and location of the object, as well as how long it has been lodged. General anesthesia is typically necessary for any treatment method.

For most cases of esophageal obstruction, veterinarians prefer endoscopy. This involves using a long, slender tube with a camera and specialized tools to manipulate the foreign object. Endoscopy is particularly effective for removing sharp objects like fish hooks that can cause damage to soft tissues. The camera helps the vet assess any damage and plan further treatment.

In some instances, a vet may attempt blind retrieval, using long forceps to grasp and remove the object through the mouth. If this isn’t feasible, gentle pushing of the object through the esophagus to the stomach may be tried. Once in the stomach, the object may pass naturally and eventually be excreted in the pet’s stool.

If there’s concern that the object may not pass through the digestive tract safely, or if it shouldn’t pass on its own, surgery may be necessary to extract it from the stomach (gastrotomy). This procedure is generally less complex than surgery on the esophagus. Esophagostomy might be recommended if the object cannot be pushed to the stomach or if significant esophageal damage is suspected. This surgery involves accessing the object through the neck and making an incision in the esophagus to remove it.

Even after the object is removed, the esophagus may require time and treatment to heal, as damage can lead to inflammation (esophagitis). Prolonged obstruction increases the risk of esophagitis. Mild cases may be treated with antacids, gastrointestinal protectants, pain medication, and a soft diet for a few weeks.

In severe cases, scar tissue may form, causing a stricture or narrowing of the esophagus. Strictures can lead to swallowing difficulties and potentially to megaesophagus. To prevent complications, dogs with suspected severe damage may receive additional medications to reduce stomach acid production, improve gastrointestinal protection, pain relief, and antibiotics. In some instances, a feeding tube may be necessary for a few weeks.

Living and Management

Following the removal of the object, many dogs experience esophagitis, characterized by inflammation of the esophagus. This condition is typically managed with medications such as omeprazole to reduce stomach acid production. Gastrointestinal protectants like sucralfate may also be prescribed to safeguard damaged esophageal tissue. Metoclopramide is commonly administered to decrease the risk of stomach acid refluxing into the esophagus.

Additional medications may include pain relievers, anti-nausea drugs, appetite stimulants, and antibiotics. Moreover, veterinarians may recommend a canned, soft, or moistened diet for a period of two to three weeks to facilitate tissue healing. Meals are often provided in smaller, more frequent portions.

In cases of significant esophageal damage, a feeding tube may be inserted for two to three weeks to allow the esophagus adequate time to heal. Veterinarians may suggest a special liquid diet and demonstrate proper feeding tube care if required.

Most dogs recover fully from esophageal obstruction. However, in some instances, dogs may develop esophageal strictures, leading to difficulties in food passage. Long-term feeding strategies and dietary adjustments may be advised to manage complications such as megaesophagus, characterized by an enlarged esophagus impeding food movement.

Foreign Objects Stuck in the Throat in Dogs FAQs

How can you tell if something is lodged in a dog’s esophagus?

Identifying if something is stuck in your dog’s esophagus can be challenging, but the following signs warrant immediate veterinary attention:

  • Sudden restlessness, agitation, or anxiety
  • Persistent swallowing, gagging, or coughing
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Excessive drooling, possibly tinged with blood
  • Discomfort while moving the head or neck

How long can a foreign object remain in a dog’s system?

The timeliness of treatment significantly impacts a dog’s recovery from esophageal foreign bodies. Dogs have better outcomes if foreign objects are removed within 24 hours.

What measures can prevent throat obstruction in dogs?

To minimize the risk of throat obstruction, avoid allowing your dog to chew on bones, as they are a common cause of esophageal blockages. Monitor how your dog handles chew-inducing treats like dental chews, observing if they tend to break off large pieces and swallow them whole. If your dog attempts to swallow the last bits of these treats without proper chewing, it’s best to remove the treat to prevent potential obstruction.

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