by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.
Corncobs and Peach Pits
It was the first week in September, just after Labour Day Weekend, a few years ago, when Barney got sick. He was brought to the animal hospital because he was vomiting. It was his supper that was brought up, when he first vomited 2 days earlier. However, since then it had been only small amounts of white frothy material or, most recently, dark, yellow, bile-coloured fluid. Not only was he vomiting, he had no appetite. He could not be tempted even to eat some cheese, his usual favourite treat. Though he occasionally tried to drink a bit of water, it usually came back up soon afterwards. Also, he had none of his usual zip and zest for life. He had just lay on his blanket with a sad and forlorn look on his face, all the time. All this was very unusual for Barney, his owners were really worried about him.
Barney was a 2 1/2 year old yellow Labrador retriever. Dogs of this breed are renowned for being willing to eat just about anything that's not tied down. Therefore, after taking the history of his illness, the veterinarian who examined Barney, quickly put a dietary discretion of some sort, high on the list of possible causes for him being so sick. On further questioning of the owners, they reported that, yes, they had invited a few friends over for a backyard barbeque on the holiday, but they didn't think Barney had eaten anything that was on their mealtime menu.
There was no immediate cause evident on his physical examination, for Barney feeling ill. He did seem a bit sore when his abdomen was palpated. He groaned a bit on this part of his exam, but was much too stoic and well behaved to show any more displeasure to his doctor. There was no specific diagnosis possible yet, but there were some immediate steps to be taken. Medication to combat the nausea, intravenous fluids to maintain electrolyte balance and proper hydration and some further tests were ordered for Barney. X-rays of Barney's abdomen were among the first of these tests to be done.
Strangely enough, it was exactly one week later that Fraser needed to see his veterinarian for a very similar list of complaints. Fraser was a usually rambunctious, happy-go-lucky, you'll-never-see-me-tired, Jack Russell terrier. Just past his 4th birthday, he was a physically fit, well-muscled, in his prime, individual, but he sure looked terrible this day. He had to be lifted up to the examining table. Usually he bounced from the floor to the seating bench to the table top, almost in one motion. He seemed almost too weak to hold up his head as he lay on the table awaiting his examination.
Fraser had first begun to feel ill 5 days earlier. However, after his first episode of vomiting, he seemed to rally. The vomiting stopped, he even felt able to eat a small amount of food, though he didn't keep it down for long. The next day his appetite was gone again. He moped around, very listless and uninterested in those around him. That evening, even though he had not eaten or drank anything of substance, he retched several times. Two days later, with no sign of improvement this time, his owners knew Fraser needed veterinary care.
When he was given a general physical examination, really, the only difference from the findings with Barney, were that Fraser was running a slight fever. Antibiotics were added to his treatment regimen and the same group of tests Barney had received were initiated.
As it turned out, both Fraser and Barney had fallen victim to the same ailment. It was fortunate for both dogs that their owners recognized they required the help of a veterinary medical team. Without diagnosis and prompt treatment it is most likely both would have died as a result of their illness.
With Barney, the medical team got lucky. The two plain radiographs that were taken of his abdomen revealed the characteristic x-ray appearance that occasionally is visible when this object is eaten. Similar x-rays of Fraser did not show any diagnostic changes. It was only after he was given a barium swallow and follow-up x-rays taken that it was determined he had suffered an intestinal blockage. Very often this step is necessary to diagnose a problem like Barney's, as well. Once the diagnosis was made for each dog, they went immediately to surgery.
Barney had a 4 inch long corncob removed from his intestine just where it begins, beyond the stomach. Fraser was found to have a peach pit lodged in his small intestine, where it narrows, as it joins the large bowel. Each of these foreign objects is a common thing dogs may eat, if given the opportunity. Both are feared by veterinarians because they may be difficult to diagnose and can cause fatal illness. Their size and shape makes them very difficult to move through the dog's intestine. Their density means they show up poorly, if at all, on x-rays. Sometimes despite the best of medical care death results from infections and destruction of bowel tissue caused by these materials.
We are once again in the worst season for corncob and peach pit problems. Enjoy sweet corn and peaches, yourself, but please be sure the waste from each is disposed of in well secured garbage or composts that cannot be accessed by your dog. Barney and Fraser recovered, uneventfully, after their operations. They were lucky, try to avoid the same risks for your pet.