Pets eat the strangest things. From the chocolate Labrador who has a taste for treats that match her name, to the Bulldog who never met a shoe he didn’t snack on, our pets' bizarre eating habits can leave us confounded and annoyed ― and leave them feeling ruff!

The trouble is that a potential mistake ― or a missed steak, for that matter! ― can make pets very ill indeed, ranging from an upset stomach to the need for emergency surgery.

As a responsible pet parent, it is wise to be furr-miliar with some of the common food and non-food items that a mischievous pet might sniff out and snack on. As a pet parent, part of your job is protecting furry friends from danger ― from bowel blockages to poisoning ― so to learn what hazards lurk in and around your home, read on!

intro to foreign body ingestions

Despite their name, foreign bodies have nothing to do with an alien invasion – they’re things our furry friends choose to eat that can potentially cause an obstruction and damage their gastrointestinal tract. This can be anything ― from chewed-up pieces of toy and discarded socks to trash-picked trimmings from your Thanksgiving feast ― that leaves you exclaiming, “My dog swallowed something!”

It’s a more common problem than you might imagine ― or perhaps you have a “terrifying tail” of your own! In fact, in 2013, foreign body ingestion was Petplan’s #10 most claimed-for condition. This is nothing to be sniffed at, especially when you consider the average cost of a claim was $1,394.

a bitter pill to swallow

Even more concerning than the damage done to your family budget is the risk to your pet’s health. Foreign bodies can lodge in the stomach or intestine, and the consequences can be very serious indeed. An object lodged in the stomach acts like a plug and stops food passing into the small intestine. A stomach blockage in dogs can lead to lethargy, repeated vomiting (since food cannot pass) and higher risk of dehydration.

Every bit as troublesome is a smaller foreign body that makes it through the stomach, but lodges in the intestine. This causes a physical blockage ― much like a blocked drain, foul substances and toxins build up, which can leak into the blood stream and lead to sepsis. Untreated, the dog’s intestinal blockage may also damage the bowel's blood supply and wall, and cause the latter to leak with possibly fatal consequences.

While cats are more discerning when it comes to eating willy-nilly, they are not immune to temptation. Cats are particularly prone to linear foreign bodies, in the form of a piece of string, yarn or tinsel that can wrap around the base of the kitty’s tongue or be swallowed, potentially damaging the stomach or intestines. This painful problem requires urgent attention to prevent the string tearing through the intestinal wall.

Even an uncomplicated foreign body may require emergency surgery to retrieve it, so let’s get snack-savvy on some common temptations.

foreign but familiar

Most cases of bowel obstruction in dogs are caused by something familiar to the pet parent, such as a dog's favorite toy or bones put out in the trash. And just like some of our favorite treats are seasonal, veterinarians report that certain foreign bodies are more common at different times of the year than others.

A purr-fect example is corncobs. According to Petplan claims data, a dog is 94% more likely to visit the vet for a corncob foreign body ingestion in the summer than at any other time of the year. This is something Rudy's pet parents now know, after their dog's scrap with this dangerous snack cost $5,000 to put right:

terrifying tail a-maize-ingly dangerous

Rudy's corny adventure started when he woofed down a corncob that fell from the table. Rudy, a 7-year-old mixed-breed dog, was just doing his bit to keep the floor tidy, when his housekeeping efforts landed him in the emergency room.

Rudy was lucky because his pet parents knew corncobs are hazardous to dogs, and rushed him to their veterinarian. The concern was that if the corncob passed out of the stomach and down into the intestine, the blockage would either damage the blood supply to the gut or cause the bowel wall to rupture.

After discussing the options with their veterinarian, Rudy's concerned pet parents agreed surgery was his best option. After a month of rest and recovery (and lots of TLC) Rudy was back to his usual self, and has stayed far away from corncobs ever since!

Corncobs are only one example of the extraordinary objects that pets feel compelled to consume. Remember, not all potential foreign body ingestions are so easy to spot, since almost anything can become one if your pet chooses to eat it! Beware of these strange snacks Petplan has seen feline friends and canine companions chow down on:

  • wooden checkers
  • hairbrush
  • metal skewer
  • carpeting
  • razor blades
  • needle
  • socks
  • rocks
  • string
  • hair ties
  • staples
  • tennis ball
  • plastic hanger
  • underwear
  • diapers
  • most of a loveseat
  • pacifier
  • tea lights
  • insulation
  • toothpick
  • dimes
  • copper wire
  • wedding ring
  • balloons
  • battery
  • rubber mat

my dog ate WHAT?

It may seem understandable that your dog is drawn to sweet treats like chocolate, or that your cat can’t resist that strand of string. But sometimes what our pets choose to eat is downright puzzling. Let’s look at the reasons why some furry friends develop odd tastes:

  • digging in the dirt

    For some dogs, eating soil might be caused by a condition called pica, characterized by an unusual appetite for non-food items, akin to a craving. Dogs with pica may eat clay, dirt, soap or rocks (you read that right!), possibly to attempt to correct a nutritional deficiency, such as a need for extra vitamins or minerals, or because he has an illness that increases his need for calories or protein. If your pet has recently changed his eating habits, especially if he has lost weight, now is a good time to get him checked out by your veterinarian.

  • an un-poop-ular habit!

    It seems some dogs can't help themselves when it comes to eating other pets’ (or their own!) feces, an unpleasant habit called coprophagia. It often starts in puppyhood ― some experts suggest it’s a way to hide house-training accidents ― and then often becomes an unappetizing addiction. However, some dogs engage in this behavior because they have a medical problem. A lack of pancreatic digestive juices may drive your canine pal to seek supplementation elsewhere. If your dog has difficulty keeping weight on, produces very loose stool or continually craves other dogs' droppings, then have a chat with your vet.

  • mmmm, shoes

    When it comes to chewing up household items or your favorite slippers, boredom or anxiety are often at play. Believe it or not, chewing up your favorite pair of shoes could actually be a canine compliment. The potent scents your feet wear into the shoe leather add an extra piquancy for your dog, because comforting scents help her feel more secure. Whatever the reason, prevention is better than cure. Always "pet-proof" your home before leaving those new sneakers within reach of a pet in need of amusement.

terrifying tail gone fishing

Dylan’s mom Karenna ended up with a reel-life example of foreign body ingestion when her 7-year old Golden Retriever snapped up the bait ― literally, hook, line, and sinker!

As Karenna’s family prepared for a fun fishing day, little did they realize that their day would take an unexpected turn. Karenna’s father baited the fishhooks and then stepped away quickly to answer the phone. When he returned, he found his fishing rod knocked over, the line broken and the bait and hook gone ― and Dylan.

Although Dylan seemed none the worse for his opportunistic snack, his mom decided not to take any risks, and drove an hour and a half to the nearest emergency vet hospital. There, an X-ray showed the hook was lodged in Dylan's stomach wall. An emergency operation and nearly $1,500 later, Karenna was with a healthy ― and hook-free! ― Dylan.