It was finally warming up with the arrival of spring and so was our emergency caseload at the UTVMC. Our technician received a strange call Easter Sunday afternoon regarding a dog that had decided to go counter “surfing” and gobbled up some raw bread dough, which was intended for the family’s dinner that evening, after spending some time in the oven of course. The dog was currently acting normal, but I remembered something from my days of school long ago that sent warning bells off in my head about the danger of this situation. “I think he should come in for us to take a look.” I told my technician, remembering that the unbaked bread dough can expand in the warm environment of a dog’s stomach, causing an enormous increase in the size of the stomach and may not be able to pass through the intestines at all. The dough also begins to ferment, which produces a type of alcohol that the dog can then absorb systemically.
It took a bit of convincing but the owner agreed to bring the dog in for evaluation. By the time Jimbo arrived, he was starting to feel the effects of the alcohol production. He was happy to see us as most lab mixes are, but his hind end was swaying a bit and he was quite uncoordinated as he made his way down our exam hallway. “Looks like someone had one too many last night!” One of our students joked, which brought some fleeting laughs to our hard working group. I started to examine Jimbo and was just about to check his gum color when a large burp erupted from his mouth. I was in just the right place at the right time, as the smell that wafted toward me was the unmistakable aroma of beer! I had to chuckle for a moment, but then returned to all seriousness as I noted his abdomen appeared to look a bit distended. I feared that the bread was starting to enlarge within his stomach, which a radiograph confirmed. The amount of dough inside his stomach was enormous, stretching his tissue to almost life threatening size. We began to detect this in his vital signs, and we all knew we must act quickly so that what was once a humorous situation did not turn deadly.
After a short discussion with his owner, we called in our surgery and anesthesia teams to escort Jimbo into the OR. At this point surgery was the only option to remove the large amount of dough, relieving him of both his clinical signs related to the alcohol production and his systemic instability. Fortunately for Jimbo we acted promptly enough and everything went well. The dough was removed and he recovered without incidence overnight in our ICU. It was a learning experience for our students and Jimbo’s owners, as who would have thought something as simple as bread dough could cause such serious consequences!
(Dr. Amanda Rainey, DVM, is a clinical assistant professor in the small animal clinical sciences department at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center in Knoxville.)