Give A Dog A Bone

Google Maps location for Frankston Heights Veterinary Centre

Frankston Heights Veterinary Centre
231 Frankston-Flinders Rd
VIC 3199

03 5971 4888
03 5971 4887

I hadn't planned on the blog turning into a series of case histories, but in light of some excitement last week, I have decided to put digital pen to paper and write about a specific case. I had also planned on only posting about once per month, but I guess that's going to be a moveable feast too.


There's hardly ever a dull day at Frankston Heights, and last Wednesday definitely wasn't one of them. We always start our day with clinical rounds. Rounds are an opportunity for the vets to meet, discuss the coming day and to brainstorm any complex cases we have. The team at Frankston Heights have a wide-ranging spread of interests and skills, and working as a close-knit team helps us make the most of that.

At rounds on Wednesday morning, the appointment book contained a full morning of routine surgery, a full morning of consultations, and a couple of housecalls. With three vets available, it looked to be a fairly busy but manageable day.

By 11 o'clock, the situation had changed slightly...

Garrie is a very friendly 25 week old female English Bull Terrier belonging to Ashleigh, who you may have met running our reception desk.

Garrie spends one day each week at Ash's "inlaws", being pampered with plenty of walks, pats, cuddles and bones. Being a young and enthusiastic puppy, Garrie sometimes bites off more than she can chew, and on this occasional she didn't chew at all.

Down went a fairly large a chunk of bone. Immediately afterwards, she started to gag and look distressed. The "inlaws" did exactly the right thing, and called the clinic immediately (for reference, that's 0359714888). They were calmly told to come straight in, and that a vet would see Garrie when they arrived.

Dr. Ange examined Garrie and, suspecting that a piece of bone was causing her distress, advised taking xrays to see where it had become stuck.

A few minutes later, we knew that a 5cm x 2.5cm piece of bone was lodged in the oesophagus. That's about the size of a hen's egg; imagine swallowing a whole hard-boiled egg, still in its shell! Xray Oesophageal Foreign Body

 The oesophagus is the tube which leads from the mouth, down the neck, through the chest, past the heart, through the diaphragm and into the stomach. The oesophagus is designed to be slightly stretchy, and the bone had travelled as far as it could before getting stuck just beyond the heart. It wasn't going to go any further, and it wasn't going to come back up either; Garrie needed some help.

There are three ways that an oesophageal foreign body (the vet term for something stuck in the oesophagus) can be removed. Coming back out the same way it went in (through the mouth) is the best route, because it doesn't involve surgery. The next option is to try to push the foreign body into the stomach and, either perform an operation to open the stomach (called a gastrotomy) and remove the bone or, let it pass along the bowel and out through the normal channel.

If the foreign body is firmly lodged in the oesophagus, and we can neither push it into the stomach nor drag it up to the mouth, then the only other option is to remove it directly from the chest with an operation called a thoracotomy. This is major surgery, requiring referral to a specialist surgeon.

The word endoscope is derived from Greek words for inside (endo~) and look (~scope). A flexible endoscope is a tiny video camera on the end of a bendable, controllable tube. Air, water and various instruments can be passed down the tube to view, sample or hold objects. Using an endoscope is a great, non-invasive way of accessing the deep, dark holes of the body. Luckily, we have a full set of medical-grade video-endoscopes at Frankston Heights; three different sized flexible 'scopes (for different sized holes in different sized patients), and two rigid 'scopes (for ears and noses).

Garrie was anaesthetised, and the endoscope passed through her mouth, into her oesophagus and down to the obstruction. Using the camera, we were able to find and identify the bone but we couldn't grasp it; it was simply too smooth to grab. Unable to bring the mass to the mouth, we had to try to move it the other way. Fortunately, we were able to dislodge the bone and push it into the stomach. After that we could see all the way down the oesophagus, and could see that there was nothing left and no damage to the walls. Hurrah!

Now we were faced with another dilemma; should we take Garrie to surgery for a gastrotomy, or wait and hope she passes the bone naturally? We had a long conversation with Garrie's owner Ash and, after weighing up the decision, opted to wait and see.

Garrie woke up from her anaesthetic and was very quickly bouncing around like nothing had happened. She went home on a diet specifically designed for patients recovering from gastrointestinal upsets and surgery (Hill's Prescription i/d®).

Update: 1 week later Garrie is completely fine.

Garrie's adventures raise the questions of how, when and whether to feed bones. There is no doubt that chewing bones is a very effective way of keeping a dog's back teeth clean. Oesophageal foreign bodies are thankfully uncommon, but when they do happen they can be disastrous.

As an alternative to bones; consider offering Greenies®, which are designed to break down if they get stuck. Or use a special diet (like; Hills Prescription t/d®) which is designed to act like a chewable toothbrush.

And, if you are going to feed bones; please make sure that they're raw, and too big to swallow whole!

Rule of thumb: cats = whole chicken necks, dogs = whole lamb necks

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  • OMG, whatever would we do without you guys who are just the bestest Vets and carers of our furbabies. So rapt Garrie came through this safe and well.

    Posted by Beverley Allen, 29/04/2013 7:48pm (4 years ago)

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