He ate what?! This Laguna Niguel dog was a tough act to swallow

LAGUNA NIGUEL – Olive, a 7-month-old labradoodle, ate what?

The answer to that question recently won the puppy and her Laguna Niguel veterinarian an honorable mention in an annual national contest highlighting the strange and wacky things animals eat and veterinarians pull out.

Olive’s owners took the puppy into Laguna Grove Veterinary Hospital with symptoms she had once before as a 5-month-old when she chomped down a sock. She was listless with no appetite, was vomiting and had diarrhea. Laurence Wahl, her veterinarian, asked if she had gotten into something again. But her owners assured him that wasn’t the case.

A radiograph showed something different. Wahl found a hard, dense object wedged in the junction between her stomach and small intestine. An endoscopy and a few thousand dollars later, he pulled a plastic T. rex child’s toy out of her.

“I had to laugh, as the picture was so clear and unusual, and it fit perfectly with the story of the environment with kids and the dog’s history of eating things,” Wahl said.

In his 33 years treating pets in south Orange County, Wahl has recovered many things from animals’ insides, including batteries, lingerie, rocks, balls, socks, ties and pacifiers.

Wahl submitted the image of the T. rex in the 2015 They Ate What? X-ray contest held by Irvine-based Veterinary Practice News. The contest has been held for a decade, and each year veterinarians across the country send in their most eye-popping radiographs, with cash prizes going to the top three.

His practice was the only one in California recognized.

First place went to a veterinarian who handled Zeus, a Ohio doberman, who loved fetching his owner’s golf balls. The problem: 26 of them ended up in his gut. Second place went to a Tulsa, Okla., veterinarian who sent in a radiograph showing a 10-week-old stray Labrador retriever that had choked down the end of a fishing pole. It was removed after light sedation, and the puppy fully recovered. Third place went to a veterinarian in North Carolina who found a door hinge in a 6-month-old Lab.

Trupanion, a Seattle pet insurance company that sponsored the contest, says foreign-body ingestion is its second most common claim for dogs and third most common claim for cats. The company says it paid over $3 million toward foreign-body ingestion claims in 2014.

The average cost to treat these ingestions increases significantly as the object moves through the body, and skyrockets if a pet goes into septic shock, said Kathryn Clappison, a spokeswoman for Trupanion.

“It is obviously better for the pet to have the least invasive procedures done and for the owner’s pocketbook,” Wahl said. “Early intervention is always the best policy.”

Liz Stelow, a veterinarian behaviorist at UC Davis Veterinary School, says there are a few reasons dogs just can’t stop themselves.

First, hunger can lead dogs to consume things that they might consider food but people wouldn’t; this can include paper products, especially if they smell like food, as well as food waste and wood. It’s as if a dog is just trying to fill a void, she said.

Second, some dogs with either an acute or a chronic gastrointestinal problem have a higher incidence of eating things that surprise us, Stelow said.

Third, anxious dogs are more likely to eat things they shouldn’t, she said.

There are also dogs that over-groom, eat their own hair and create a blockage. Some dogs ingest things almost accidentally; they destroy their stuffed toys and the fluff gets stuck to their tongues and they aren’t able to spit it out, Stelow said.

So what’s an owner to do?

Stelow says put things away and out of reach of the dog. Garbage cans should go in cabinets; shoes and toys need to be put away. If the dog eats rocks, it can’t be near rocks unattended. This means no dog doors or backyard free time for those dogs.

Contact the writer: 714-796-2254 or eritchie@ocregister.com Twitter:@lagunaini

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