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What Pets Eat When No One is Looking

What Pets Eat When No One is Looking

Story at-a-glance -

  • Last year saw an astonishing increase over 2010 in the number of pet health insurance claims for ingestion of foreign objects.
  • The 2011 list of weird objects eaten by pets includes a dental retainer, the corner of a bed, and a dead porcupine.
  • Tips for keeping non-food items out of your pet’s mouth include pet proofing your home, monitoring your dog’s or cat’s activities, keeping your pet physically and mentally active, and feeding a species-appropriate diet.

By Dr. Becker

For 2010, Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI) reported they received not quite 2,000 veterinary care reimbursement claims for pets who ingested foreign objects.

From January through November 2011, that number jumped to over 6,500 claims – an increase of over 325 percent! 

Either a whole lot of pets are suddenly swallowing weird stuff, or many more pet owners are submitting insurance claims when they do.

In 2010, the cost to pet owners for their dog's or cat's indiscriminate eating was almost $3 million.

For the 11 reported months in 2011, that figure jumped to $5.2 million.

What Your Pet Could Be Eating While You're Not Watching

Early last year, we published a list of some of the stranger items dogs and cats ate during 2010, including jellyfish, a tent door, jumper cables and a TV remote control.

The 2011 list is every bit as jaw-dropping:

100 rocks Box of razor blades
Foot-long metal hanger Cholla cactus
130 fish oil capsules Chopsticks
14 hair bands Cinnamon scented pine cone
15 vanilla candles Clothing + rat poison
2 baby bottle nipples Deer antlers
2 plastic baggies + bottle cap Dental floss
3 sewing needles Entire tube of dog toothpaste
5 lbs of trash + scrub brush Artificial finger nails
62 vitamin D soft gels Glass ornament
5-inch skewer A golf ball skin
Battery Glue
Cell phone case G.I. Joe doll
A cork Hot chili peppers
A dirty diaper Human feces
Fish hook and line Jellyfish
Lobster shell Mothballs
Makeup sponge Dental retainer
Marijuana cookie Pennies + thumb tacks
Package of fluorescent light bulbs Pepper spray
Pillowcase Poison ivy
A dead porcupine Ribbons + wrapping paper
Burrito wrapped in foil Hemorrhoid suppositories
Wires Soap
A tent stake Staples
Wedding ring A rat (swallowed whole)
Aluminum can Sweatshirt
Rosebush The corner of a bed
Head of stuffed toy 2 plastic eyeballs + broccoli stems

Signs your pet may have ingested a foreign object include refusing to eat or drink, vomiting, diarrhea, and depression.

If you know or suspect your dog or cat has eaten something that could harm him, call your veterinarian immediately or get your pet to an emergency animal hospital right away.

Fortunately, the pets who swallowed the items in the above list all recovered, but not every animal is so fortunate.

How to Keep Foreign Objects Out of Your Pet's Mouth

I recommend four general steps for keeping your pet out of harm's way at home.

The first two are really just reminders. The remaining two suggestions may not occur to every pet owner as being useful in keeping a dog or cat from taste-testing weird objects.

  • Remove temptations. Otherwise known as pet-proofing your home, garage, yard and car. This step requires scanning all surfaces in and around your property (including your vehicle, if necessary) that your dog or cat can access, and removing anything she might find interesting enough to put in her mouth.

Everyone in the family should make it a habit to pick up small items that fall to the floor whenever they notice them. Clean up wet spills immediately. Move electrical cords out of reach.

Take care what houseplants you keep, as some are toxic to pets, especially cats.

If your pet is especially fascinated with something, for example, the contents of a bathroom trash can or dirty clothes hamper, make sure she never has access to it.

Now you may be thinking, as you scan the list of items pets ingested in 2011, ‘But how can I remove potential temptations like my rosebushes or the corner of my bed?’

The answer? You can’t. Which brings us to suggestion number two.

  • Supervise your pet. Many dogs and kitties are very much like small children, requiring round-the-clock oversight.

Kids are naturally curious. So are companion animals -- they come equipped with an instinctive drive to investigate the world. Your dog or cat explores by sniffing, touching and tasting items he finds interesting in his environment.

If your pet is young, extremely curious or unusually bold, you must keep a close eye on him. If your companion is a dog and spends time at home by himself, crate training is your best bet to keep him safe when you’re not around.

When you’re outdoors with your pet or take her to a friend’s house or on vacation, extra vigilance will be needed to keep her safe in unfamiliar surroundings. A whole new environment to explore can mean a whole new world of foreign objects to potentially swallow.

  • Keep your pet’s mind and body well-exercised. Pets, especially dogs, who get adequate exercise are much less likely to have behavior problems. If your dog is napping peacefully after a power walk, he isn’t wandering around looking for bizarre objects to sample.

Regular aerobic exercise is the goal to shoot for – meaning your pet’s heart rate gets elevated for 20 minutes during each exercise session.

Indoors, you can keep your pet’s mind active with treat-release puzzles, kitty DVDs, and other toys and games designed to stimulate and challenge pets.

At my house we stuff toys with Beef and Bison Bites and canned pumpkin to keep four-legged family members distracted and less likely to get into things they shouldn’t during the day.

  • Feed species-appropriate nutrition. Sometimes dogs and cats ingest non-food items because their bodies aren’t being nourished at the cellular level with the right kinds of food.

Animals are instinctively aware when something is missing in their diet, and they go in search of that something, having no idea what it is or where to find it.

The ‘something’ often winds up being a pile of rocks, dirt, feces, or another exceptionally odd item like one on the above list.

Feeding your pet a balanced, species-appropriate diet provides all the nutrients she needs at the cellular level. This removes the urge many dogs and cats have to snack on strange foreign substances.