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Foreign Body Ingestion in Dogs: Vet-Reviewed Signs & Treatment

Written by: Rachel Giordano

Last Updated on April 11, 2024 by Dogster Team

black & white Australian Shepherd chewing on a dog bone

Foreign Body Ingestion in Dogs: Vet-Reviewed Signs & Treatment


Dr. Amanda Charles Photo


Dr. Amanda Charles

BVSc MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Most dog owners have experienced the scare of their dog ingesting something that can cause harm. Dogs are curious creatures and will investigate anything that strikes their curiosity. When these investigations lead to a dog eating something that is not digestible we call it a foreign body.  The object could be a toy, food wrappers, sticks, rocks, bones, and really anything they can get into their mouths. But what if your dog swallows an object that doesn’t pass through the intestinal tract or gets stuck in the throat?

Events such as these are known as foreign body ingestion. In this article, we’ll explore this topic, as well as the signs to watch for and what to do should your dog let his curiosity get the better of him.


What Is Foreign Body Ingestion?

Foreign body ingestion is when your dog swallows a non-digestible  object, and it enters the digestive tract. Some of these can pass through a dog’s GI tract without causing issues while others are unable to pass out of the stomach or along the intestines and cause an obstruction. Others can lodge in the esophagus causing more sudden serious signs.

The problems eating a foreign body will cause for your canine varies depending on several factors including:

divider-dog pawTop 3 Factors That Will Affect The Prognosis of Your Dog

1. What the foreign body consists of and its size

Some small, non-toxic, smooth objects can pass through a dog’s gastrointestinal tract without causing issues. Others such as sharp objects (e.g. skewers and bones), and string can damage the intestine and cause holes in its wall causing very serious infections in the abdomen. Batteries contain toxic chemicals and magnets can cause lots of issues too.

dog chewing owners shoes
Image Credit: Christine Bird, Shutterstock

2. Where the foreign body is and how much the foreign body is blocking the GI tract

For example, foreign bodies that are in the stomach, and food is still able to pass down the digestive tract, will often cause less obvious signs than a dog that has a complete blockage of their small intestine.

3. How long the foreign body has been present for

If you’re a dog owner, it’s crucial to keep dangerous objects and items in places your dog cannot reach, but sometimes, things happen, and your dog may swallow something quickly before you have the chance to intervene, for example on a walk or when at someone else’s home. Knowing the signs of foreign body ingestion is crucial so you can seek help urgently.

divider-dog pawWhat Are the Signs of Foreign Body Ingestion?

Would you know what to do if your dog suddenly develops a problem from swallowing a foreign object? As stated, signs of foreign body ingestion will vary depending on the object swallowed. Always contact your vet for advice if your dog has eaten something they shouldn’t and they will advise you on the best course of action,

In some cases, you won’t know if your dog swallowed something until they are showing signs of a problem.  In such a case, it’s essential to know the signs of foreign body ingestion. They are as follows:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Abdominal tenderness or pain
  • Trouble defecating (small amounts of feces or none at all)

Esophageal Foreign Bodies

An esophageal foreign body is any item that fails to pass into the stomach after being swallowed. In dogs the most frequently reported objects are bones, treats such as rawhide and sharp objects such as fishing hooks and needles. An esophageal obstruction is a potentially dangerous, life-threatening situation and requires immediate medical treatment.

There are two types of esophageal obstruction: partial and full obstruction. A smaller object usually causes a partial obstruction, and food and water can still pass and make their way to the stomach. The signs may not be as obvious with a partial obstruction; however, emergency medical treatment is still needed.

A full obstruction is caused by larger, irregular-shaped objects (bones, raw hides etc.) and can prevent water or food from passing through. Let’s take a look at some of the signs of esophageal obstruction.

  • Gagging or coughing
  • Gulping/repeated attempts to swallow
  • Licking/smacking lips
  • Drooling (with or without blood)
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased interest in eating/drinking
  • Vomiting (may be delayed after eating)
  • Pain with movement, particularly the neck or head

If you are concerned about an esophageal foreign body you should contact your vet immediately. Urgent medical attention is of course needed if your dog is showing any signs of having difficulty breathing. Usually objects in the esophagus will not affect a dog’s breathing, but objects lodged in the throat or the upper part of the esophagus can.

Blue Merle White Pied Female Frenchie Drooling. Off-leash dog park
Image By: yhelfman,Shutterstock

How Do I Prevent My Dog From Ingesting a Foreign Body?

Now that you know the signs of foreign body ingestion, it’s vital to seek urgent medical care if you notice any of the signs mentioned above.

Regarding care, prevention is the best medicine. We know life happens, and sometimes, your dog may swallow something quickly before you have the chance to intervene but there are measures you can take to reduce the risk.  For starters, avoid giving your dog bones or raw hides. Some pet owners believe it’s fine to give their dogs bones from a holiday dinner, but you should avoid this at all costs.

Make sure all toys …..Toys with string, rope, or yarn should either be supervised when your dog plays with the toy or avoided altogether. Stringy material when swallowed can cause the intestines to bunch up and quickly cause serious problems.

Keep harmful objects out of reach of your dog. Puppies are more susceptible to foreign body ingestion because they always put something in their mouths out of curiosity or simply want to chew on an object due to teething. If necessary, crate your dog while you’re not home to prevent your canine pal from getting into something dangerous.

a puppy dog in a crate
Image By: Ayla Verschueren, Unsplash

Physical signs are not the only indicators that your dog has swallowed something that can cause problems. If you notice a trashcan knocked over, scattered materials throughout the home, such as pillow stuffing or the like, a disheveled laundry basket, or pieces of a toy, wrappers, etc., contact your vet and monitor your dog for signs of foreign body ingestion. It’s a good idea to buy garbage cans with lids and, if possible, keep the garbage cans in an area your dog cannot knock over.

Avoid leaving toys out that can cause harm if you cannot supervise your dog while he’s playing with the toy, and don’t leave items with wrappers within reach of your dog. These safety measures will go a long way in keeping your dog safe.

divider-dog paw

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How Is Foreign Body Ingestion Treated?

If foreign body obstruction is suspected, your veterinarian will likely perform an x-ray and/or an endoscopy to see the object and its location. Treatment will ultimately depend on what the object is and its location. Surgery may be required.

If the obstruction is in the esophagus, surgery will likely be performed if your dog cannot dislodge the object through vomiting. Your veterinarian will assess the situation and determine the best course of action. However, getting your dog to the vet for treatment will be the first crucial step.

What Happens if Foreign Body Ingestion Is Left Untreated?

Depending on the object, if left untreated, your dog’s intestine can become perforated, which can cause spillage of intestinal contents into the abdomen. This scenario is very serious and life-threatening.

Sick mastiff dog sitting on table in a vet clinic
Image By: UfaBizPhoto, Shutterstock



Dogs are curious by nature and will investigate anything and everything. It’s best to avoid buying potentially harmful products, such as rawhides or stringy toys. Monitor your dog while playing with a toy and keep dangerous objects out of your dog’s path. Buy size-appropriate toys—you don’t want to buy a small toy made for a Pomeranian when you have a Labrador Retriever.

If you suspect your dog has swallowed something that could be problematic, a trip to the vet is necessary to be safe. As a dog owner, it’s wise to familiarize yourself with signs of foreign body obstruction so you know what to look and watch for.

Featured Image Credit: Thomas G.,Pixabay

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