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Ask the Vet: Labrador should be fine but swallowed golf ball 'a time-bomb'

Ask the Vet

By Craig Reilly

Recently we were out hitting a few golf balls about. My year-old black Labrador jumped up, caught a golf ball in his mouth and swallowed it.

He seems 100% today. Do you think he can pass that ok?

Reggie, Lisburn

Oh dear, why do dogs do daft things like that? The answer is no, he won't be able to pass a golf ball. Dogs do explore the world with their mouths, something they start when they are born, when their eyes aren't even open. If they swallow a foreign object, occasionally it will stay in the stomach itself for a while (even a very long while).

In the stomach, unless it leeches out a toxin, the only problem it causes is intermittent vomiting, when it temporarily obstructs the gastric outlet into the bowel. The main problem occurs when a huge gastric contraction occurs and forces the object into the small intestine. This organ is nowhere near as distensible as the stomach, and objects get stuck. This changes the situation almost instantly into a surgical emergency. I have seen dogs die very quickly when obstructed, so can never feel comfortable not acting very urgently indeed. An enterotomy (surgical operation) is required to remove the object, and if the bowel has become compromised, perhaps a section of intestine needs resected also. While this is routine, it remains a very big operation, with its own risks.

I'm afraid you need take your boy to the vet, who will confirm the presence of the ball by palpation or x-ray and perform surgery to remove it. Some smaller objects can be retrieved by camera these days, but a golf ball is just too big. One of the vets in my practice has had to remove a full-sized snooker ball from the bowel! I also once had a client with a Weimaraner who lived beside a golf club. This dog had six golf balls in his stomach, and had had them for weeks before the obstructive crisis developed.

Good luck – I'm sure he'll be fine, but he would definitely safer without that time-bomb inside.


Craig is a partner in Cedarmount Veterinary Clinic, Bangor ( Send your pet queries to Craig can only respond to questions through this column, and these answers cannot substitute for treatment decisions based on a full history and clinical examination by your vet

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