Back in March 2012 we treated a 5 year Springer Spaniel called Zac. He was admitted with a short history of vomiting and being quieter than usual. We took xrays of his abdomen which showed a stone in his small intestine. We removed this, along with a section of damaged gut. Three weeks later, Zac was back, vomiting and off colour again. We were concerned about post-operative complications so took x-rays, which showed another stone in his intestines which definitely hadn’t been present at the time of his first surgery. We operated again, removed the stone and Zac made a good recovery.
Over the next few years we saw Zac occasionally for boosters, lameness, and an ear infection. Recently, he started vomiting again. Given his history we were concerned that he may have another intestinal foreign body. Our initial x-rays didn’t show any abnormality but when Zac continued to vomit after our medical treatment, we took more x-rays with barium. Barium is a liquid which we feed to our patients when we need more information about whether they have a blockage in their digestive tract. It shows up white on x-ray, and when we take a series of x-rays over a couple of hours we can monitor its movement through the guts. In Zac’s case, this demonstrated that there was a blockage.
The older an animal gets, the higher the risk of anaesthesia and surgery. Zac is now 8, which isn’t elderly for a Springer, but his previous surgeries meant it was very likely that there would be scarring and adhesions in his abdomen which would make the surgery more complicated. With some trepidation, but knowing this was Zac’s only chance, we operated again. There was scar tissue around the sites of his previous surgery, but fortunately his intestines were in good condition and we were able to remove the offending blockage – a conker this time!
Zac had another night in our ward on fluids and went home the next day to continue his recovery. He is doing well. He will be closely monitored in future, and will have to wear a basket muzzle if he shows any inclination to eat things he shouldn’t!
Metallic objects, bones, stones, and contrast media like barium, show up well on x-rays and can easily be identified in the guts. Unfortunately other things that dogs like to eat, like socks and conkers, don’t show up so well. Sometimes we see a pattern of gas around the object which raises our suspicions, but in other cases, like Zac’s, we have to do a little more detective work to find the cause of the problem.
Without surgery, an intestinal blockage will be fatal, so Zac has been lucky three times over. Fortunately, he is insured, so although they have been very worried about Zac, his owners haven’t needed to worry about how they will pay for his treatment.