Bizarre Meals Cost Pet Owners Plenty in Vet Bills

Retrieving a foreign body from an animal’s mouth is easy compared with one that gets into the small intestine.

Rocks, balls and even rugs have ended up inside dogs, cats and other pets, sometimes with deadly results.

The Trupanion pet health insurance company calculated that pets that swallow a foreign object cost their owners hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in veterinary bills to retrieve the item. And the farther a sock or knife—yes, it happens—moves, the more difficult its removal can be.

“Some objects can pass uneventfully with supervision, but the longer pet owners wait, the more dangerous—and costly—foreign body ingestion can become,” said Kerri Marshall, DVM, the Seattle company’s chief veterinary officer. “As the object travels further along the gastrointestinal tract, the opportunity for complications increase and the cost to remove the object often increases along with it.”

Trupanion, combing its records, reported that removing ingested objects is the second most common insurance claim from dog owners and the third most common among cat owners. The company, whose policies cover up to 90 percent of veterinary costs, paid out more than $1.8 million in 2014 in such cases.

The cheapest and easiest removals tend to be for objects lodged in an animal’s mouth. The average cost, according to Trupanion, is $370, with a range of $100 to $900.

Objects that reach the small intestine—invasive surgery is often needed—can leave a pet owner with an average bill of $1,640.

The riskiest and costliest cases sometimes involve linear objects such as string or ribbon, which can get tangled in multiple organs or entwined in the intestines, causing significant damage, Dr. Marshall said.

Complications such as infections can send costs skyrocketing to $2,000 to $10,000, with an average of $4,210, Trupanion noted.

Believe it or not, pets have swallowed just about everything, including carpeting. Trupanion highlighted the case of a blue tick coonhound that ate a piece of rug when her Canadian owner wasn’t looking.

“She was vomiting undigested food and was even more lazy than usual,” said Sierra’s owner, identified only as a registered veterinary technician named Lindsey.

When Sierra threw up a large piece of rug, “I thought we were in the clear,” Lindsey said.

“The next morning she started to vomit again, except this time it smelled rotten,” Sierra’s owner recalled. “I knew then that a piece of rug was stuck and causing severe damage.

“That night, Sierra had to undergo a lengthy surgery with several complications. The linear foreign body extended from her stomach to her colon. The surgeons had to remove a long segment of dead bowel. She needed three plasma transfusions, a feeding tube and a lot of love in the intensive care unit following her surgery.”

The final tab was $7,817, but Trupanion covered $6,676 because Lindsey was a policyholder.

Trupanion is the sponsor of Veterinary Practice News’ annual “They Ate What?!” radiograph contest.

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