UT-VMC emergency room tails: the case of the missing hearing aid

utvmc web headerBy Dr. Amanda Rainey

 As in every profession, sometimes things that happen are just plain funny. One Saturday last spring was just such a situation for us at the UTVMC ER. Our emergency technician received a call from a very concerned and slightly annoyed gentleman who told her that he feared that his dog had consumed his hearing aid. The dog was less than ten pounds he stated, so we were concerned about the pieces of the hearing aid becoming lodged in the dog’s intestinal tract and causing an obstruction to content flow, as well as the possibility of the battery being toxic if ingested with the hearing aid. We advised him to bring the dog in, and he begrudgingly confirmed with our technician that he would be on his way shortly.

About an hour later the cute little poodle mix arrived along with her less than pleased owner. As he talked with our fourth year veterinary student on ER duty, he mentioned that this was the third time she had somehow gotten access to his hearing aid and subsequently chewed or completely ingested it! The dog was super friendly and seemed to enjoy being in a new place and meeting new friends, with no idea why she was at the ER. We recommended radiographs of her abdomen to determine if we could see any parts of the hearing aid in her GI tract, most importantly the battery. Her owner agreed, but remarked on how much this had cost him; not only to replace his hearing aid but also to make sure his little dog was not going to become ill from snacking on them! Communication was a bit difficult I must say, because as one would imagine he was without his hearing aid due to his naughty pooch.

“CAN YOU TELL ME WHAT THE HEARING AID LOOKS LIKE?” I said loudly, and he was able to describe the size of battery in addition to the shape of the plastic. As I exited the room, a curious bystander in the lobby caught my attention and asked with all sincerity, “Do you all put hearing aids in dogs now? My old dog sure could use one, he doesn’t listen at all anymore!” I had to suppress the urge to chuckle, instead telling her politely that the dog didn’t need a hearing aid, that she may have eaten one. She could not hide the look of shock on her face, and quickly ushered me onward to take care of my patient.

We performed the radiographs of the little dog in question and saw no evidence of anything foreign or any type of obstruction, although plastic itself usually is not apparent on an x-ray. There was also no battery identified, which would be very obvious on this type of diagnostic tool. The owner was mystified but relieved, although now he had a bigger problem. Where was the hearing aid? And could his other dog have been the culprit this time? We never did find out the fate of the missing hearing aid, as the accused was discharged for monitoring at home, and neither has returned through our ER service. The mystery lives on!

(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.)

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