Monday 27 January 2020

My dog nearly died after a corn on the cob lodged in her intestines

When Jade showed no interest in her breakfast or walks, Craig knew it was serious

Jade is a typical three-year-old Dobermann: full of energy and continually active. She enjoys exercise and she loves her food, tucking into her breakfast and dinner hungrily. One morning last week, Jade refused to eat her breakfast, something that had never happened before. And then, when Craig offered to take her for a walk, she showed no interest.

Craig didn't know what was wrong with her, but it had to be something serious. She was so different to the Jade that he knew so well. He brought her to the vet at once.

Jade was dull and dejected when I examined her, but there were no obvious clues about what might be wrong with her. When I felt her abdomen, she tensed up, as if she was uncomfortable, but that's not a specific sign of anything: there are dozens of diseases that can cause this.

I had to do the usual diagnostic work-up to pinpoint what was going on. I took blood samples first. These showed that her general metabolism was working well, with no sign of liver, kidney or other internal disease.

Her blood count showed that there was some sort of inflammation going on inside her, but again, it was nothing specific.

The next stage was to take radiographs (x-rays) of her chest and abdomen. Digital processing means that within just a few minutes, I was looking at the images on my computer screen, and it was only then that the diagnosis of the cause of her problem became clear.

Jade's abdomen was full of abnormal black shadows, which told me that her intestines were distended with much more gas than normal. And I could see a suspicious shadow in the middle of her intestines.

This combination of findings told me what was going on: she had swallowed something which was causing a complete obstruction of her digestive tract. I couldn't tell what the object, which measured 3cm by 5cm, was, but it was stuck, causing the massive build-up of gas.

Jade needed an emergency operation immediately. When there is a complete intestinal obstruction like this, there is a serious risk of intestinal rupture which rapidly leads to death.

Within half an hour, Jade was anaesthetised on my operating table. I made a deep incision into her abdomen. It was easy to find the obstruction: her intestines were empty, apart from one single large object that had become firmly wedged in place. I had to cut into the intestine to remove this object, carefully suturing the incision closed afterwards, then double-checking that it was a water-tight seal. I then sewed up Jade's abdomen, gave her a high dose of pain relief, and she was taken back to her recovery kennel.

I then turned my attention to the large object that I'd just removed. What was it? It was hard to tell at first: it was a half-digested dark brown object, covered in digestive juices. I rinsed it under the tap, and it became clear: it was the half-chewed remnant of a piece of corn on the cob.


I was not at all surprised: this is one of the most common causes of intestinal obstruction in dogs. There's something about the pock-marked, rough surface of the cob that causes it to lodge in the digestive tract.

Jade went on to make a full recovery, and she's back to her normal energy levels and appetite. One thing has changed: Craig has resolved that she will never again have the remotest possibility of chewing a corn on the cob. He still doesn't know where she found it, but now, all corn cobs are being double bagged and placed deep in the wheelie bin.

> Corn on the cob is a common cause of intestinal obstruction in dogs

> Urgent surgery is needed to save the lives of dogs with this problem

> Corn cobs should be disposed of carefully, out of the reach of all dogs

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