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Dog died after surgery.

Species: Dog
Breed: dash/chi mix?
Age: 5-8 years
Last Monday our dog Ben began throwing up. He also stopped eating. It lessened on Tue/Wed- but we took him to our vet on Thursday. She thought perhaps it was something related to his endocrine system/adrenal gland? They took blood and while his liver numbers were slightly elevated, there was not much more she saw that was concerning. Anti nausea meds were prescribed. Nausea stopped but he still would not eat.
After speaking with the vet several times deciding how much longer we should wait before taking further action we ended up going to the emergency vet Sunday morning, as our vet was closed. From speaking to her, I thought they would give us something to put on his gums to boost sugar/electrolytes or give him IV fluids.
Instead, we learned from xray that he was sick because he had ingested pieces of his rubber ball. One piece appeared to be in his stomach, the other in intestine. After going over options and hearing the vets opinion that the items would likely not come out on their own, combined with nearly a week of not eating we decided to do the surgery to remove.
Surgery was successfully completed on Sunday evening, however 6-8 inches of intestine was removed as it was so damaged from the object.
As it was an emergency vet, we had to pick Ben up the following morning at 7am- which we did. They went over after care, explaining we would need to take him to our regular vet where he would likely be put back on IV and monitored until they said he could go home.
Our vet did not open until 9, so we asked if he would be ok to bring home and wait or if we needed to take him somewhere right away. They reviewed his chart and said he was stable and that waiting for the vet to open at 9 would be fine. The only thing that was said was that his body temp was a little low, so they had him wrapped in a blanket.
The ride home was a little rough. He was on my lap, clearly uncomfortable. He had been given pain meds before we left as the nurses had said he was beginning to get a little vocal about his discomfort.
When we got home, we decided he would be most comfortable in his own bed in his crate. We laid him down- where he barely moved. Approx 30-40 min later we left for the vet. We decided to move him as little as possible, so we just lifted his whole crate and put in the back of the car. We reached the vet within 10-15 min. It had been about 1.5 hours since we left the emergency vet. When we opened the back to get Ben he had passed away.

We have gone over and over this in our head. Our sweet Ben was a rescue. He was so timid and so gentle and so very afraid of everything- but young and perfectly healthy had it not been for swallowing his toy. Still we wonder if his ever present stress could have killed him? Should we have just kept him at home and let him calm down? Should I have held him in my lap instead of having him lay in the bed? Is it possible that he died from the stress of the surgery?

I can't help but think we did something wrong. We asked multiple times if it was ok to wait until 9 to see our vet. They told us he was fine. Everything in the report given to us indicates the surgery went fine. He stayed there overnight after surgery and he was fine. But- was that it? Should we have found another vet that was open and taken him right away? How much time do post surgery dogs need to be on IV?

If he had had an infection of some sort, wouldn't that have been obvious to them? Fever? Symptoms?

This all happened so fast. We never thought in a million years he would die and it just doesn't make sense.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Oh dear. I am so sorry to hear about this sad situation.

In a situation like this, it is probably a good idea to have a post mortem exam done. Where I practice, if an animal dies after being in my care I am legally obligated to advise you to have another vet do an autopsy.

This is almost definitely not because of anything you have done. There is a good chance that this is a complication of surgery. If intestines had to be removed then this was a major surgery which comes with major risk.

In a normal abdominal surgery like this I would not have a problem with an owner taking the dog home for a short period of time. There is no way that anything you did caused his death.

It is possible that he had internal bleeding or that there was toxic damage from his intestines being affected for so long.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Please let me know if you have more questions.

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:

Thank you for your response. It's a little comforting to know that our decision to wait, even a brief amount of time, for his vet was likely not the cause.

I've also read a fair amount about peritonitis. Is that something that could have been undetected at the time he was discharged and developed in the time between going to his regular vet?

Also, in the case that stress or shock was a factor- would holding him and calming him in my arms in the car have made a difference? That's the one thing I'm still having a hard time with. I only put him in his bed in the back because I wanted him to be more comfortable- but I wonder if it just made him more anxious and was the catapult to his death. I'm just not sure how stress and shock works in animals, is it something that they can be brought down from?

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Peritonitis is when there is an infection in the abdomen. It can happen after an intestinal surgery if the location where the intestines are joined together starts to leak. While it can often be fatal, it would take much longer to cause death.

No, holding him would not have made a difference. I really can't see any way that this could be your fault. It really sounds like it was either a surgery complication or that there were serious toxins released into his bloodstream from the damage done to his intestines caused by having the object in there for so long.

Please know that this is not your fault.

Dr. Marie.

Customer reply:

That really helps me. Thank you. I just have one more question and then I'm just going to have to let this go, but...

I know you didn't personally treat him, but just knowing that he had been lethargic and not eating or drinking for a week, that the vet who looked at the x rays said he did not think the obstructions would come out on their own and that when they did operate they found the intestine was so damaged they had to have portions you believe that even though obviously something went wrong, surgery was his best option?

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

It sounds to me that not only was surgery the best option, but if surgery had not been done then Ben still would have died. I have seen cases like this where it is debatable whether or not an animal has a foreign object in the intestines. Often the vet is reluctant to do surgery because none of us want to open up an animal that doesn't need it. But, the longer an object stays in the intestines, the more damaged they become. The more damaged they are the riskier the surgery is. I have seen cases where I really wished that surgery had been done earlier. However, I don't think that in any of these cases I could blame the vet as the decision was a very tough one.

So, to answer your question, yes, surgery was his best option.

Customer reply:

Thank you, for all of this.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.