How to Save a Dog That Has Swallowed a Fish Hook, Without Surgery
If you cannot take your dog to the vet to have a fish hook removed through surgery, here is an alternative method that may save his life.
Why Would a Dog Eat a Fish Hook?
Recently we had a fishing tournament along the beach in front of my house. The contestants left a lot of trash, and unfortunately, I took my dogs for their afternoon walk before the high tide had swept it all away.
My small dog stopped her run, swallowed a fish head before I could reach her, and immediately started pawing at her mouth. When I opened it, I found a nylon fishing line already deep in her throat. She has swallowed a fish hook along with the fish head it was attached to.
I went ahead and tried to pull it out. An old fishhook might scrape her esophagus on its way out—better to deal with esophageal strictures than a perforated intestine or a linear foreign body (from the nylon fishing line).
Unfortunately, the line broke, and the hook was lost in her stomach.
If a hook is caught in the mouth, the dog will probably need to be sedated to have the tips cut before being removed. If the hook is swallowed, however, the situation is even more dangerous.
Options for a Fish Hook
Even if you do not see what your dog has swallowed, assume the worst. The fish head will dissolve in the stomach, and the barbs of a fish hook will damage the intestinal lining as they are being passed.
The lacerations will probably heal up, but if the intestinal lining is perforated bacteria will leak into the abdomen. The dog will then most likely die from peritonitis, an infection of the abdominal cavity.
Almost all dogs should have the hook removed by endoscopy or surgery. There are a few cases where this might not happen:
- No surgical facilities available (isolated area)
- Dog not able to survive surgery because of poor health
- Dog has a disease (like a protein losing nephropathy) that will make surgery fail later (If available, endoscopy may be able to keep your dog from undergoing traumatic surgery. This is definitely the best option for that dog!)
Helping the Fishing Gear Pass
No x-ray machine or surgical facilities are available where I live. The first thing to do in this situation is to take the dog back to your house or fishing lodge.
Some people have recommended feeding cotton balls to grab the end of the hook, but I do not feel this method alone will take care of this problem. Since this therapy has never been tested in a lab, there is no dose available. Give a small dog a few cotton balls, a larger dog more.
Cook some pumpkin. I usually have fresh pumpkin in my house, but the canned product is just as good. (You can also use some squash varieties if you do not have access to pumpkin.) Pumpkin is a high fiber food that will give your dog the best chance of passing a bulky stool. The bulky stool might surround the fish hook as it is being passed down the intestine and make damage to the intestinal wall less likely.
Let your dog eat as much pumpkin as she wants. To make the pumpkin taste better, you can add hamburger, hamburger grease, or sprinkle on some parmesan cheese. I keep dried shrimp in my kitchen, so I also added that to make the pumpkin more palatable.
You should also give Metamucil (psyllium), a fiber that will add more water to the stool, help bulk it up even more, and will aid the hook to pass. Give one teaspoon for each 10 kilos (22 pounds).
Finally, I always have lentils on hand, and since my dogs like the taste I made up their meal with this high-fiber legume.
Here are my recommendations if you cannot have the hook removed correctly:
- Give cotton balls to coat the tips of the hook.
- Feed cooked pumpkin to increase stool volume.
- Administer metamucil to increase stool volume.
- Feed lentils to add more fiber to the diet and further increase stool volume.
Even if your dog is vomiting, do not give an antacid. The metal and string might irritate the stomach but the best chance of it being destroyed, or at least blunted, is in the acidic environment of the stomach.
Does This Always Work?
Unfortunately, it does not always work. If the fish hook is too new, the barbs may still be sharp after passing through the stomach, and no amount of padding is going to protect your dog. If there is too much line, or the sinker is made out of a dangerous material, the dog is going to have other problems.
For those of you that live in an area where endoscopy is an option, that will give your dog the best chance to survive. His stomach will need to be x-rayed first but if the hook can be reached, it can be removed with the least chance of trauma.
If there are surgical facilities available nearby, I recommend taking your dog into your local vet immediately for observation, x-ray, and surgery. Your veterinarian will decide how to proceed with the problem based on the x-ray.
If you are reading this article because you cannot afford surgery, call around, and see if you can find any veterinary clinic willing to help. There are certain costs that cannot be avoided during surgery, which is why it is so expensive, but no veterinarian wants you to lose your dog, and most of us will do whatever we can to help.
If you live somewhere that does not have surgical facilities for dogs, this procedure may help, and although he may survive your dog can still have a lot of problems. If your dog has damage to the intestinal wall and secondary infection, he will need to be on antibiotics to pull through.
I have been reluctant about publishing this article since I do not want dog owners to ignore the seriousness of this problem. In some cases, however, fish hooks do need to be removed without surgery.
Do the best you can for your dog!
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
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© 2015 Dr Mark