What do bagels, apple cores, pizza crusts, squirrels and corn cobs all have in common? All of these items have fallen out of the trees in our yard over the last couple of months. I blame it on the squirrels. They rummage through the garbage dumpster of the nearby condo building, find treasure and then scurry up our trees where they return to their nests. Most of the time, the squirrel and their goodies make it all the way back but sometimes they lose their grip and a random food item will fall to the ground. And yes, occasionally they make a bad jump and end up falling out of the tree as well.
I know that it’s nesting season when I find a pile of leaves and branches in the yard that wasn’t there the day before. I would guess that one out of every four leaf bundles falls to the ground while they are building their nest. Shortly after that, random food and trash starts to appear and continues to fall for the next couple of months. Squirrels have 2 litters a year, early spring and mid-summer. Right now, they are prepping for the mid-summer. (About a month ago, I was in the yard and 3-4 young squirrels were chasing each other when one fell out of the tree and landed a couple of feet away from me. To my utter shock, it jumped up and ran away. I’ve found enough dead ones in the yard to assume they don’t usually survive such a fall.)What got me to write about this? Last week, I spent a full day in the Animal Emergency Room with Winn after I discovered that she had consumed a corn cob.
A couple of years ago, I read an article about the dangers of corn cobs to dogs and since then have had a healthy fear of having one of the dogs eat one. Until then, I was completely unaware that a dog could die from ingesting a corn cob. Corn cobs don’t break down in the digestive track and their cylindrical shape contributes to the risk of obstruction. If the cob is already dried out, its sharp edges can shred the lining of the intestinal track. Another risk is that it can get stuck in their throat, either going down or coming back up if vomiting is induced. The best course of action is to get your dog to the vet as quickly as possible.
In Winn’s case, I don’t really know when she got it or how much she ate. She threw-up 4 pieces one morning, and I wasn’t even sure what it was at first. The texture was strange, not completely hard like a bone but not soft and pliable either, but then I noticed a corn kernel and I knew immediately what she had found. I tried to figure out when she might have gotten it. She was in the yard a couple of times the day before but I had been with her most of the time. Her dinner didn’t come up with the cob pieces and I know she didn’t get it after dinner because she was never out of my sight. She went out and did her morning business just fine, she was hungry for breakfast and was showing no signs of distress. Could that mean the corn cob just jiggled around in her belly for a day or two before she barfed it up? Could that be all there was to it?
I had booked a morning swim time for Maisie and Winn so I loaded them both up in the car and decided to call the vet on our way. I described everything that had happened and what I knew and didn’t know. I was not surprised when I was told to bring her in right away for an x-ray, they would squeeze us in as soon as we got there. So…I turned the car towards the vet’s office and the three of us arrived about 10 minutes later.
It didn’t take long for the x-ray and sure enough, there were visible pieces scattered around her abdomen and her colon looked a little enlarged, perhaps she’d already expelled some on her own. There were a couple of pieces she was concerned about so the x-ray was sent to the emergency surgeon for a consult. The surgeon agreed with her assessment and wanted to see us, surgery would probably be needed. I have always been concerned about the use of anesthesia on my dogs, and after losing Annie shortly after her oral surgery, my fear has been heightened. Winn’s vet encouraged me to express my fears to the surgeon and assured me that they would talk through any and all questions or concerns that I had.
I gathered everybody up and we quickly headed to the car. Winn was still showing no signs of distress, other than a little anxiety about being at the vet’s office, so I decided to head home. I could drop off Maisie and change my clothes (I was still in my bathing suit, shorts and a t-shirt, not the most comfortable outfit to wear while waiting around in an air-conditioned office).
Winn and I were shown into an exam room where we met with another dr. The surgeon was still with another patient, but we talked through different scenarios, what the procedure would entail and the fact that Winn would need to stay overnight in recovery for two days (very scary). We decided to get her pre-op blood work done as well as an ultra-sound which would give us a clearer picture of where the pieces were.
It was all becoming so real, so scary and the waiting was excruciating, but the dr. came back with a big smile on her face. All of the cob pieces had already traveled through her small intestine and most of them were in her colon! They don’t operate once they show up in the colon because she should be able to eliminate them on her own. What a relief!
They gave her some fluids to keep her hydrated but were comfortable sending us home with care instructions that included warning signs for me to watch for. If anything changed in her condition, we were to come back for another ultra sound and more tests. I wanted to cry from relief, but I gathered our things and quickly checked out. We were incredibly lucky that it all turned out so well and surgery wasn’t needed!
Now I’m going to hop onto my soap box and talk about pet insurance. It’s horrifying enough when you find yourself and your pet in an emergency situation. Trying to absorb everything you are being told in order to make a good decision for your pet is incredibly difficult. I knew as I sat there trying to hold back the tears, that whatever decision I had to make, I didn’t have to make it because of finances. Surgery is expensive, surgery on big dogs can be more expensive, but having pet insurance can give you peace of mind while you are making that decision. I knew I was responsible for my deductible and 20% of the fee because that is how I set up the policy for Maisie and Winn. I only have sick/emergency care but it covers tests, treatment, therapies and medications. (I didn’t insure Annie because everything with her was a pre-existing condition. I wish I could have, managing all of her health issues was expensive.)
Most hospitals expect you to pay at the time of service (but many are willing to work with you especially if they know you have insurance to cover the bulk of the fees), my solution for this is that I have one credit card that is just for the dogs, but I know I will be reimbursed after my portion is paid. The staff at Winn’s vet office and the animal hospital submitted the claims for me that same day and I received an email from Embrace a couple of hours later that they were processing the claims.
Our friend My Brown Newfies has written a great post about pet insurance comparing the different companies. You can read her excellent post here and I hope you find it helpful. I encourage everyone to get pet insurance, you can tailor many of the policies to suit your needs and budget. Hopefully, you will never need it but if you do, it will be one less thing you have to worry about when you furry best friend is sick.
With the 4th of July occuring at peak season for corn on the cob, please keep and eye on your dogs and make sure the cobs are properly thrown out so that they don’t get them and you can all safely enjoy the holiday!