A Holiday Pet Safety Story: Abby

Photo reference: Proteck

When I first saw Abby in December of 1990, I was a veterinarian who had only been out of school a couple of years. I was still filled with all the lists of possible diseases and the tests for them that I had been taught in school. That was why I thought that Abby had eaten garbage.

Abby was a ten year old Golden Retriever that had not eaten for a day. That did not seem like a serious problem. I have come to learn in subsequent years that most retrievers that skip any meal must be very sick. Instead, I went with the things that I had been taught. She was not vomiting, so she didn’t have a foreign body. She didn’t have diarrhea, so she didn’t have a bowel infection. She probably was going to be fine in a day.

It was only when I felt her belly that I realized that there was a real problem. There was a hard lump near the stomach. If I pushed on it, Abby cried in pain. I was sure Abby had a tumour!

I told her owners I needed to take radiographs to see what we were dealing with, although I already knew. It turned out that I was wrong. I was shocked when the films developed and, instead of a big lump of cancer, they showed dozens of little pieces of metal clumped together. I showed Abby’s owners, and they knew immediately what it was. Two days earlier, a homemade ornament had disappeared from the tree. The ornament, made from a marshmallow and a box of pins, was a star their daughter had made fifteen years ago.

Since Abby had never touched the tree in her life, they never suspected her as the culprit. They just thought the ornament had fallen off and rolled under the tree. Even when Abby lost her appetite, they never put the two facts together.

The owners and I had both made mistaken assumptions. The one thing we did agree on was that Abby was in danger without surgery. She was under anesthesia within an hour. In surgery, I could see the pins before I even opened the stomach. None had perforated the bowel, but it was close. I cut into the stomach and began scooping out pins with my gloved hand. Even having seen the images on the radiographs, I was still astounded at the sheer number of pins that Abby had consumed (and that she had even tried). After 45 minutes of surgery I had somehow retrieved all the pins without the stomach or intestines being punctured. By the next day, Abby was back to eating. Her owners were just watching her a little more closely.

Years later, I still think back on Abby. She taught me that Christmas is an unusual time for pets. Expect unusual things to happen, and take unusual precautions!

Wishing you & your families a safe holiday this season.


Written by Morinville Veterinary Clinic