Some cases stick in your mind because they are unusual or because the patient is a bit of a character, or both. One such case was Wally the collie, who needed a major operation a few years ago.
Wally was well known at the surgery, partly because he had epilepsy, so he made regular visits for check-ups and blood tests, and his condition was well controlled. Despite a poor start in life before his present owner acquired him as a rescue dog from the Blue Cross, he had become a lovely dog with such a good temperament that he became a P.A.T. dog (Pets as Therapy), visiting residential homes for the elderly where I am sure he brought a lot of pleasure into the lives of the residents.
Wally was 9 years old, well past the age when dogs normally chew things up, but he had a long history of such misdemeanours. Since his owner had him he had chewed up and swallowed many items. He had previously chewed the electric cable to the pump in an outside pond, even though the cable was encased in hosepipe and insulation.
On the day in question Wally had taken a liking to another electric cable. This one was indoors, neatly coiled and secured with a Velcro band. Fortunately it was not plugged in to the mains supply. Wally’s owner knew that he had chewed it up but hoped he might be able to pass the bits naturally, as had always happened before. By the next day, however, it became obvious that Wally had problems as he started to vomit repeatedly.
When Wally was examined there was nothing remarkable to find, but the history meant that an x-ray would be necessary, so he was anaesthetised. The changes seen on an x-ray can be very subtle or very obvious, but they are never more obvious than when a dog has swallowed an object which does not allow x-rays to pass through it (a radio-opaque foreign body). The picture immediately confirmed our strong suspicion that Wally had overdone it this time. In the stomach were large amounts of cable, unable to move on into the intestines. A few smaller pieces which had reached the intestines also showed up clearly. The only way to remove the cable was by opening up Wally’s abdomen (a laparotomy) and then deciding which parts of the stomach and intestines needed to be opened to remove all the cable.
Wally was given intravenous fluids by a drip into his vein because he had been vomiting repeatedly and he had to face a long operation. He was also given antibiotics because of the risk of infection involved in this type of surgery and, of course, pain-relief.
The smaller parts of cable had luckily reached the large intestine where there was a good chance that they would pass out naturally, but to make absolutely sure, they were carefully eased towards the anus by very gentle squeezing of the large intestine from inside Wally’s abdomen. A second vet assisted by working at the less pleasant end to receive each piece, making sure that there was no tearing of the delicate lining of the bowel.
Then Wally’s stomach was opened (a gastrotomy) after applying bowel clamps to seal it off. A large tangle of cable was removed, complete with Velcro band! After a thorough search to make sure nothing remained inside that shouldn’t be there, the stomach wall was sewn up in two separate layers, and then the muscle layer and finally the skin. Then Wally was allowed to wake up.
Wally made a good recovery and after spending a night at the surgery, he returned home. He had to have a light diet and reduced exercise for a while until all the internal and external stitches had healed. Fortunately he never needed another similar operation, although he did chew through the cable of the Christmas tree lights later the same year!
Wally is sadly no longer with us, but will not be forgotten.
If you are worried that your dog may have swallowed something inedible, or concerned about any other problems, please contact your vet or use our interactive Dog Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next. For more information about insurance which could ensure the cost of operations like this one are covered, please see our pet insurance pages.