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Polly on a couch

Meet Polly, my very curious golden retriever. She joined my family in February of 2021 and quickly taught me the ins and outs of pet parenthood. In September, I brought her with me to the beach for a quick weekend getaway, but that trip ended very differently than normal.

Polly escaped her travel crate while I was out to dinner, and I came back to chewed-up clothes scattered around my room. I was hours away from the nearest emergency vet, and I couldn’t tell how much and if she’d eaten anything. So, I did what many new pet parents would do; I drove her home the next morning and waited to see if she’d pass what she had (or hadn’t) eaten.

The next day, Polly seemed like her normal, playful self. She ate breakfast, pooped, and went on her morning walk. She even passed a little bit of fabric, so I thought we were in the clear. In the afternoon we set off on our three-hour drive home. About halfway through the drive, Polly started dry heaving and acting like she needed to throw up. At the time, I didn’t know that this is a major sign of gastrointestinal obstructions in dogs.

When I made it home Polly was still acting OK and had only thrown up a little bit of phlegm. Sometimes she gets car sick, so I thought I was being an over-worried pet parent.

The next morning I knew something was wrong

Polly woke up the next morning vomiting and refusing food and water, which is when I knew she needed help. I called her veterinarian and they confirmed that she was possibly suffering from a bowel obstruction. Polly needed to go to an emergency pet clinic right away. After making a few phone calls to clinics near my home, I immediately drove Polly to a 24/7 animal hospital that specialized in emergency care.

The clinic confirmed Polly needed surgery

When Polly and I arrived at the animal hospital we waited for almost an hour before she was taken to an exam room. The clinic X-rayed Polly and found foreign material in her stomach and small intestines. They administered IV fluids to see if hydrating her would help her body naturally pass some of the material. Unfortunately, this didn’t help. The clinic decided she needed to have surgery that evening.

The surgeons and veterinarians operated on Polly’s stomach and small intestines to remove the fabric she’d consumed. Polly did well in surgery and the veterinarian called me to report that she was resting and would need to spend a few more days in the clinic to recover. I was so grateful that their team saved Polly’s life.

But, emergency surgeries and overnight stays in a pet hospital are very costly. In fact, at the time, I didn’t have pet insurance. I now believe that pet insurance is 100% worth the cost — and I can’t emphasize that to pet owners enough.

Polly riding home

Polly riding home from the clinic.

Coming home to recover

Polly came home with me after spending two more days in the animal hospital. When I picked her up she immediately perked up and was so happy to be heading home. But there were a few things about post-op care that I wasn’t prepared for: carrying Polly up and down the stairs, keeping her comfortable while wearing a cone, and making sure she didn’t bother her incision.

Plus, at 9 months old, Polly was used to daily walks and playtime, activities that we had to stop until her tummy healed. But, I found that there were other ways to keep her entertained. Polly’s favorite pastime was eating a Kong filled with frozen bananas and dog-safe peanut butter.

Fortunately, she recovered from her operation very well even though her appetite didn’t return for a few days. She was taking lots of medications to keep her comfortable and prevent infection — I found that her pills were easiest to administer when covered in peanut butter. After three weeks, I took Polly to her primary veterinarian for a checkup. They removed her staples and made sure her incision had healed properly.

Polly recovering at home

Recovering at home with her favorite toy.

Five dog parenthood lessons I learned the hard way 

While Polly’s accident was scary and costly, I learned some important lessons that I hope will prevent this from happening to your dog — or prepare you for what to do in case it does. These are some key lessons I learned from Polly’s intestinal blockage surgery.

1. Some crates aren’t safe for dogs

I purchased a fabric crate for Polly to use while traveling, like this one, that was light and easy for me to break down. I’d used it countless times with her that summer and had no problems. But Polly learned that she could pull the zipper and escape, which is how I ended up in this situation. If you have a young puppy or curious dog I highly recommend using a plastic or metal crate, even if it’s heavier or bulkier to bring with you.

2. If your dog eats something they shouldn’t, call a vet

One of the biggest lessons I learned is that you should call your pet’s veterinarian as soon as something happens. While Polly ended up being OK, this story could’ve ended very differently. So, whether your dog accidentally eats a toy or you think they ate toxic food, don’t wait to call a vet for help.

According to our veterinarian, Dr. Michelle Diener, if you’re able to call within two hours of your pet eating a foreign object, the vet may be able to induce vomiting to get the object or toxin to come up. This could prevent your dog from needing surgery or treatment for toxicity.

3. These are the signs of intestinal blockages in dogs

When dogs eat something they shouldn’t, like fabric, their stomachs are unable to break down and pass the material. This causes the material to get stuck in their stomach or small intestines, which can lead to many problems and even death. I learned that these are the common signs of bowel obstructions in dogs:

  • Vomiting, especially if repetitive or vomiting up food or water within minutes of consuming it
  • Weakness or decreased energy level
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hunching or whining

Polly had four of these eight symptoms, the most prominent being vomiting and inability to hold any water down. If you suspect that your dog has eaten foreign material, call a veterinarian or emergency pet clinic immediately. Time is of the essence in these scenarios. While eating a foreign material doesn’t always result in emergency surgery, it often does.

4. Having a pet insurance policy is a good idea

Emergency pet care is extremely costly. If your pet needs surgery or has to spend several nights in the hospital, you’ll likely pay thousands of dollars. Pet insurance helps cover owners in the case of an emergency. However, different coverage options will protect your pet in varying scenarios. It’s important to understand what your policy covers. Not sure which provider to use? We researched the best pet insurance providers to help you get started.

5. Accidents happen

No matter how hard we try to keep our fur babies safe, accidents still happen. The best way you can keep your pet safe is by learning what to do in emergencies.

Months later, I’m happy to report that Polly is doing great, and the days of her surgery recovery are far behind us. I now have a metal crate that I use to keep her safe on our adventures together. I hope you never have to go through a similar experience with your pet, but if you do, stay calm and call your pet’s veterinarian for immediate support.