Low Dog on the Totem Pole

Bob was standing at the front counter, waiting to talk with me. Bob had been into the clinic several times. He would usually go through the office girls with no problem. I thought this must be something serious or embarrassing for him to be waiting to talk with me.

I motioned him back to the lab area to talk.

“What can I do for you this morning?” I said as I extended my hand.

“Good morning, Doc,” Bob said as he shook my hand. “I think I probably made a big mistake.”

“What up?” I asked.

“I cleaned out our chest freezer yesterday,” Bob said. “There was a bunch of old lamb meat in there that was well past its prime. So I figured I would boil it up and feed it to the dogs.”

“Now he has a bunch of sick dogs,” I thought to myself.

“After boiling it, I let it cool and then went out and dumped it in the gravel driveway. And boy, did the dogs like that. They slicked up every bit of it in no time.”

“So, are they okay this morning?” I asked.

“Yes, they are all okay except the old dog,” Bob said. “She was sort of crowded out of the group while they were eating. I don’t think she got much of the meat at all. But she is in pretty bad shape this morning.”

“Is she vomiting or what?” I asked.

“No, she is painful and hardly moving,” Bob said. “I was hoping I could get you to look at her.”

So, here it comes. Bob has no money, that is why he didn’t want to talk with the girls.

“I feel terrible if I made her sick, Doc,” Bob said. “But she is an old dog. I don’t want to have to sell the farm to take care of her.”

“Well, let’s get a look at her, and then we can talk about what we are going to need to do,” I said. “We are a little busy this morning, so if we need to take some x-rays or do some blood work, you might need to leave her or wait here for the results.”

As soon as I picked Dolly up to get her on the exam table, I could tell this was no simple issue. Dolly was old enough that she was almost gray-headed if that can happen in a Golden Retriever. She groaned audibly as I sat her on the table.

Working through a clinical exam, she was very painful when I palpated her abdomen. My first thought was we were probably dealing with a case of pancreatitis. That is often the result of an inappropriate meal.

“Bob, Dolly is pretty painful in the abdomen,” I said. I think we should get an x-ray of her abdomen and do some blood work.”

“How long will that take?” Bob asked. “I have to pick up a few things from Hoys. Maybe if I do that and check back, do you think that would work.?”

“We will have the x-ray by then, but the blood will probably take a little longer,” I said. “But you do your shopping and check back. We will have the x-ray to look at by then. That might tell the most of the story.”

Dolly was painful enough that we had to sedate her to get her on and off the x-ray table.

The x-rays were just coming out of the darkroom when Bob came through the front door. So when I called him back and put the films up on the viewer, I hadn’t seen them yet.

“Wow! What is that?” Bob asked.

There was Dolly’s stomach, stuffed full of gravel. It made for a pretty dramatic x-ray picture.

“That is her stomach, Bob,” I said. “Completely full of gravel.”

“How do you suppose that happened?” Bob asked.

“My guess, if she was pushed out of the way by the young dogs, she cleaned up all the drippings that were left,” I said. “That meant that she was licking up a lot of gravel.”

“Can we do anything?” Bob asked.

“If this has been since yesterday and all the gravel is still in the stomach, I don’t think it will pass on its own,” I said. I think I need to open the stomach and remove the gravel.”

“You talk like that is a simple process,” Bob said.

“Well, it is not an everyday procedure for me, but it is something that I have done pretty often,” I said. “I think we are well equipped for this surgery. I would almost call it a simple surgery, but all surgery carries risks. Especially when we are doing it on an old dog.”

“Okay, since I am the one at fault,” Bob said. “Let’s go ahead and do the surgery. When is this going to happen?”

“I have a busy afternoon, so it will be at the end of the day,” I said. “I need to autoclave a large spoon or a scoop of some sort to use in removing the gravel. Other than that, the only thing I need is time. We will have Dolly ready to go home tomorrow. She will be on a liquid diet for a day and then on some special food mixed into a slurry for the rest of the week.”

We got Dolly on the surgery table sometime after four in the afternoon. Her stomach was easy to find but almost impossible to bring up to the incision. It was packed with gravel.

I packed off the incision area with moist lap sponges and made an incision in the stomach wall that was about two inches long. Removing the gravel, one spoonful at a time, was a little time-consuming.

After about half the gravel was removed, I was able to elevate the incision up through the abdominal incision. I could feel better about preventing any spillage of content into the abdomen.

After getting the last of the gravel out of the stomach, I closed the stomach in a two-layer closure using Dexon. We rinsed the area liberally with a solution of saline with some gentamicin added. The abdominal incision was closed with a routine, three-layer closure.

The surprising thing was the about of gravel that had entered the small intestine. It was all of the size that would pass with no problem. The x-ray taken following surgery showed all the gravel was out of the stomach. The fact that none had passed when the stomach was packed, it just surprised me that some had entered the gut during surgery.


The following morning, Dolly was up and wagging her tail. I think she thought she was going to get something to eat. That was going to have to wait until this evening. I went a called Bob.

“Bob, Dolly feels much better this morning,” I said. “I think we will send her this afternoon, around three or four. That way, we can keep her on IV fluids all day. You can start some oral fluids this evening and a slurry of food tomorrow afternoon.”

“You got all that gravel out?” Bob asked.

“All the gravel is out of the stomach,” I said. “There is some that entered the small intestine during surgery, but that will pass with no problem.”


Dolly healed with no problems and lived for several more years. Bob learned not to feed the dogs on the gravel driveway.

Photo by Nicolas from Pexels.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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