Pets do the darnedest things, but that’s why we love them. For every shoe that my dog Lulu has destroyed, she also has provided hours of much-needed cuddle time. I still miss those green suede pumps she ate — and it seems that I’m not alone in lamenting lost inventory. Each year, Veterinary Pet Insurance compiles a list of the unusual ingestion claims for its annual Hambone Award. The dubious title honors a dog that got stuck in its owner’s refrigerator and ate an entire Thanksgiving ham before being discovered. Here are a few notable items consumed last year. In some cases, names have been omitted to protect the guilty.
Harley the pug secured the 2011 Hambone Award after consuming 100 rocks during his stay at a veterinary boarding facility. (That's an X-ray of Harley in the photo above.) His owner knew there was a problem when the pooch kept pooping rocks. A visit to the emergency clinic led to the discovery of pebbles clogging Harley’s pipes.
He passed the rocks without requiring surgery, earning a bronze ham-shaped trophy, treats and an emergency pet kit. It’s a good reminder to create your own pet first-aid kit, complete with the number to your nearest after-hours veterinarian.
Sometimes dogs like to veer off the beaten trail and find their own adventures. That didn’t disturb pet owner Brian Handwerk until his dog Scooby started throwing up quills, as in potentially fatal porcupine quills. Next time, we recommend stocking up on Scooby snacks.
Package of fluorescent light bulbs
Compact fluorescent bulbs require much less energy than their incandescent counterparts. But consuming a package of these green bulbs isn’t so bright.
ASPCA dog trainer Kristen Collins recommends investing in a variety of chew toys to promote good dental health and prevent destructive behavior. Even though deer antlers have gained popularity as “green” chew toys, she says that pets should be monitored during playtime.
“Supervise your dog really closely the first few times that she is chewing anything,” she warns, because broken pieces can present a choking hazard. They also can be dangerous if ingested.
A cassette tape
When pet owner William Yunker discovered broken shards of plastic, he knew there was a problem. Dangling under his pointer puppy Rudy’s tail, he discovered evidence of a tune gone horribly wrong. Rudy had managed to eat a cassette tape — and the evidence was working its way out the other end. (That's Rudy at right.)
Stringy objects such as yarn, shoestrings or cassette tapes can become potentially fatal as they become entangled in a pet’s intestinal tract. Gastrointestinal foreign body issues rank among the top five preventable medical conditions treated at the ASPCA'S Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York. While Rudy’s case did not require surgery, it serves as the perfect cautionary tale to watch pets around bite-size items. Also, maybe it’s time for Yunker to try a digital music format.
One-foot-long metal hanger
Boredom is a common cause for destruction, says animal trainer Kristen Collins of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Mental and physical exercise can keep dogs and cats on the path to good behavior.
She recommends five to 10 minutes of playtime for frisky felines. Interactive toys also keep pets mentally stimulated.
Train pets to avoid potentially dangerous items. Collins is a proponent of the “drop it” command. If your dog has something it its mouth, say “Drop it” and show a high-value treat. As soon as your dog drops the item, offer praise and give the treat. Repeat this step a few times before moving on to the next stage of saying the command without showing the treat every time.
Since most cats don’t respond to bribery, Collins says it’s important to be vigilant about keeping their environment safe. Remove items they are likely to find chew-worthy and stock up on cat grass or other alternatives.
If it’s small enough for pets to swallow, it should be placed far beyond their reach. Foreign body ingestion can require costly — and preventable — emergency surgery.