Cornell surgeons repair pitbull’s perforated small intestine

When Brian Joslyn gave Gage, his 9-year-old pitbull mix, the last lick of his ice cream bar, he didn’t expect him to swallow the stick along with it.

“I was going to let him lick off the last little bit, and the whole stick disappeared right out of my hand in a heartbeat,” Joslyn says. “I grabbed him and I reached down almost past my wrist to try and grab it but I never touched it.”

Joslyn called a local veterinarian and was told that the stick might work its way through his digestive system and come out in his stool. “I started keeping him on a leash and cable, and every time he went to the bathroom, I would try to look and see if that popsicle stick had come out but it never did,” Joslyn says.

Gage in the grass with his family
“Anybody who meets him loves him. He looks very intimidating but he's the biggest baby I’ve ever known.” - Gage's owner Brian Joslyn. Photo provided.

When Gage began vomiting and acting lethargic, Joslyn drove him from his home in Windsor, NY, to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals (CUHA). The ice cream stick didn’t show up on an X-ray, but exploratory surgery revealed that it had poked two holes in Gage’s small intestine. The contents of his intestines were leaking into his abdominal cavity, causing septicemia.

“They were preparing me for the fact that, depending on what they found in there, there was a 50 percent chance he might not make it,” Joslyn says. “He was a very sick puppy at the time.”

Dr. Galina Hayes, associate professor in the Section of Small Animal Surgery, says the first thing veterinary surgeons do in these cases is to suction out the leaked bowel contents so they can see exactly where the leakage is coming from. Once she and the surgical team identified the location of the perforations, they removed approximately a foot of Gage’s small intestine and stitched the ends together. The procedure took a little over an hour.

“The reason we have to remove a segment of bowel rather than just sewing up the holes is that often the damage that's done is over a fairly wide area,” Hayes says. “If you just suture up the holes, the risk is that that tissue isn't healthy enough to heal and could break open again. Instead, we have to kind of prune back the dead tissue to a point where the tissue is healthy and then rejoin the ends of the intestine.”

Hayes says CUHA does around 15 foreign body removal surgeries a week. Typically, dogs swallow things like socks, underwear, toys, pacifiers and corn cobs.

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Gage is now back to normal, at Joslyn’s side 24/7 as usual, and turning on his signature charm. Photo provided.

“It's relatively unusual to see a wood foreign body because most dogs will crunch up the wood in the process of eating it,” Hayes says. “And then it's just digested and passed out in the stool. So, not all foreign material becomes an obstruction. If it's small enough, it's typically able to pass or they'll just vomit it back up again.”

In Gage’s case, the stick sat in his stomach for at first without causing any trouble, but once it passed into the small intestine, it couldn’t manage the turns of the small bowel and eroded through the intestinal wall until it perforated. “Gage was unlucky in the sense that he didn't really show any clinical signs until the perforation. If he’d just crunched on the stick a couple of times, he probably would've been fine,” Hayes says.

Gage was able to go home less than a week later and recovered with no complications. “I'm so thankful,” Joslyn says. “I messaged one of the doctors and told him how thankful I was. They did good and he did good.”

Gage is now back to normal, at Joslyn’s side 24/7 as usual, and turning on his signature charm.

“To know him is to love him is what I've been told so many times,” says Joslyn. “Anybody who meets him loves him. He looks very intimidating but he's the biggest baby I’ve ever known.”

Written by Christina Frank