Her relaxed demeanour and her relaxed abdomen left me equally relaxed to begin with, even though for a six-month-old pup who had vomited umpteen times over the last few days a foreign body was high on the list of possible causes.
There are a multitude of conditions that make dogs vomit, ranging from simple gastritis, via pancreatitis to serious organ disease. Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of seriousness lies the presence of an obstructing foreign body. Vets use all their powers of deduction to work out if this is a possibility.
First, we take a detailed history. The cat that had swallowed a condom, for example, came with a very definite (and rather embarrassing) story, and said foreign body was therefore quickly found and removed.
The false teeth, on the other hand, came with a vague history that they only might have been swallowed, which resulted in a long, and ultimately fruitless (or toothless) search.
Examination by abdominal palpation is next. The fingers of an experienced physician can be many times more sensitive than a radiograph. Round rubber balls, for example, are particularly easy to palpate.
But other things – socks, plastic bags, or even partially chewed party poppers – are not so easy to feel. X-rays can come to the rescue, but not always.
Whilst the arms, legs and ears of a Mickey Mouse stuffed toy can show up clearly and amusingly in shades of grey, many foreign bodies are invisible to X-rays, disguised as normal abdominal contents. Other clues on an X-ray can help though. Abnormal gas patterns suggest an object is obstructing normal passage through the bowel. And this was the case with Amber. Plans were made to take her to theatre.
What we found in Amber, despite earlier assertions to the contrary, was indeed a foreign body. It was soft, which made it impossible to palpate, and made of rubbery plastic, which made it invisible to X-rays.
Lodged in the intestines, the peculiar structure had done well to squeeze itself out of the stomach. It plopped/bounced into a kidney dish, almost ending up on the floor. What on earth was it? It was too flat to be a ball. Its surface was crisscrossed with sulci and gyri. There was a cerebellum in its hindquarters and was that also a medulla?
Without doubt, the object that had just been removed was a tiny brain. It was prodded with instruments. Surely an actual brain, from a rodent or mole or rabbit, would have been chewed, mangled and digested past the point of causing an obstruction?
Prodding proved it to be made of a rubbery material, presumably from a model – although who has a scale model of a human brain in their house, waiting for an inquisitive puppy to eat, we all wondered.
The rest of the surgery went fine and Amber was soon as good as new. By morning, she was wagging her tail like beforehand, but with just one brain in her body.
The lively, young Labrador had been dubbed (by me) The Dog with Two Brains, none too subtly referencing one of the funniest films of all time, featuring the genius Steve Martin. If you’ve not watched this film, you should. It contains one of the most hilarious lines of all time. And, when you’ve watched it, you’ll never see those acid soil-loving plants called Azaleas again, without raising a smile or laughing out loud.