First-person report by Dolores Roeder, DVM, our electronic vet, exclusively at CBS.com
Four-month-old Turbo was having a rotten day. By the time his owner got home from work, the pit bull puppy had christened almost every room in the apartment with a particularly foul-smelling diarrhea and bile-colored vomitus. The pup lay motionless in the corner in a crouched position, moving only his eyes as his owner called the vet for an emergency appointment.
Turbo's trip in the car was no better than the rest of his day, as the motion of the vehicle prompted him to bring up additional fluid. His owner was not pleased when the receptionist instructed him to leave Turbo in the car until his appointment was called. As much as an inconvenience this may have appeared, the receptionist's reasoning was rational. Turbo's clinical signs were consistent with a very contagious infectious disease that pit bulls appear particularly susceptible to: parvovirus.
At four months of age, Turbo had not yet completed his vaccination series and was still at risk. It was better to leave him in the car so that if he did have parvovirus, he would not put the other waiting animals at risk, and so that he was not exposed to whatever the other animals may have been carrying.
During the physical exam, Turbo had exhibited many of the classic signs of parvovirus: the profuse vomiting, the sewage-smelling diarrhea, the abdominal pain. The lethargy and the dehydration were all consistent.
A puzzling discrepancy, though, showed up on his bloodwork. Instead of the classic decrease in white blood cells expected with parvovirus, Turbo's were significantly elevated; 40,000 as opposed to a high normal of 18,000. Something else was up...
Turbo was taken to radiology for an X-ray of his abdomen, where the answer became clear. There on the film was the obvious shadow of a dense metallic object - presumably a coin. However, there were also dozens of metallic fragments all intertwined into a large sausage-shaped mass. Guesses as to its identity ranged from Brillo pads to twist-ties, but no one was willing to back up their bets. Only surgery would tell.
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Turbo was anaesthetized for surgery, but as the doctor pulled Turbo's tongue forward to insert the endotracheal tube (the tube inserted into the patient's windpipe to deliver oxygen and anaesthesia during surgery), she noticed something odd. Deep under Turbo's tongue was a very fine infected line. Probing into the tongue itself, a piece of clear nylon cord was found cutting deep and disappearing into the meat of the tongue.
The cord was grasped with forceps and cut, but pulling back on the pieces, the vet encountered resistance ad stopped. Obviously, this cord had been strong enough to cut the tongue, so she was not about to cause similar damage to the esophagus and stomach. The exploratory surgery would have to proceed with the clamps still attached to the cord, still in Turbo's mouth.
Finding the affected intestine was an easy task - instead of laying flat like an egg-noodle, Turbo's small intestine was bunched up like Christmas ribbon candy. Instead of being
a healthy, fleshy pink, the intestines were an ugly, irritated red. Making an incision into the small bowel, the coin (which by now was one expensive penny) was readily retrieved.
Next came the more difficult and dangerous task of removing the metal fragments that jam-packed the corregated loops of intestine. As the offending material was removed, the identity remained a mystery. (It was only when the owner went to use his "Sega Play Station" that he found that Turbo had convincingly destroyed the associated wiring.) Once tension had been relieved, it was possible to release the clamps in Turbo's mouth and gently coax the last of the cord out through the intestinal incision.
Fortunately, while there was some damage done to the lining of the intestine, no sections of intestine needed to be removed. Turbo was lucky.
Within hours of surgery, Turbo's condition had improved dramatically. By the next day, he was up and demanding attention and food. Two days later, he was home in a now "Turbo-proofed" apartment.
Puppies need to be treated like children. Electrical outlets need to be covered, cabinets need to be barred or locked, and small objects need to be picked up and kept out of harm's way.
Coin ingestion is relatively common, and not all dogs that are guilty of eating money are going to wind up like Turbo. For those that are lucky, the coin may quickly pass through into the large intestine where it is likely to pass without much more than a little straining.
Occasionally, the coin can get stuck in the small intestine, but as in Turbo's case, there is often other foreign material that is involved, kind of catching the coin in a "net." In some instances, the coin can get hung up in the stomach, where the stomach acids can react with the metal and cause some very serious metabolic inbalances.
Overall good advice is to "puppy-proof" the house as carefully as you would "child-proof" it. The few minutes it takes could save your new best friend's life.
Written by Dolores Roeder, DVM
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