LOS ANGELES — Hundreds of pets undergo surgery every year to remove small articles of clothing and other objects from their stomachs and intestines, said Dr. Karen Halligan, author, TV consultant and director of veterinary services for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Los Angeles. "It's very common in private practice and in large institutions to be removing nonfood items out of dogs and cats," she said.
It also can be very dangerous.
Ingested clothing and fabric items, for instance, won't show up on X-rays. Within 48 hours, a pet that has consumed a piece of clothing will develop symptoms like vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy, fever and depression.
If caught early, a vet can remove the item from inside the animal and everything will be fine. If not, the pet's intestines will start to die because blood can't get through, Halligan said. Removing the intestine is an option if the obstruction is eventually found.
If left untreated, the problem can be fatal because of dehydration or bacteria leaking into the stomach, causing peritonitis. "We had one Great Dane. Three times we had to cut him (open) for his mother's shoulder pads. He loved his mother's shoulder pads," Halligan said.
Surgeries to remove or dislodge things that pets swallow are not cheap. "We are talking $2,500 to $5,000 at the least," Halligan said.
Socks are probably the most popular pet-pilfered pieces of clothing across the country. They're especially irresistible to pets after they've been worn. "It's the scent that attracts them," Halligan said.
X-rays quite clearly show many other things pets swallow. In March, Tim Kelleher's 13-year-old Jack Russell terrier got sick and he rushed him to the vet. X-rays showed the dog had eaten a pile of pennies.
Dr. Amy Zalcman at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in New York used a camera attached to a net to fish 111 pennies out of Jack's stomach. Scooping up five at a time, it took a couple of hours.
Letting the coins pass could have killed Jack because pennies made after 1982 contain toxic zinc.
Other common items include human food (chocolate can be lethal to dogs and cats), bouquets of flowers (one lily can kill a cat), jewelry, condoms, a pencil with eraser, and, in one case, a Mickey House hat.