Rocco, the young Rhodesian Ridgeback, was a typical case.
The youngster, normally with unwavering enthusiasm and a vigorous lust for life, was being sick and looking uncharacteristically lacklustre. It was the time for some X-rays.
But I suspected the cause as soon as the image appeared on the screen, because I’d seen the suspicious signs many times before.
“I reckon it’s a corn-on-the-cob,” I declared confidently. Minutes later, after phone calls had been made, anaesthetics administered and an abdomen prepared, I was peering inside the dog’s abdomen, where a very obvious foreign body was lodged stubbornly in the intestines.
Corn-on-the-cob can do extraordinary damage to the small intestine, where it becomes completely jammed like a cork. The intestine tries its best to push it along but ends up stretched and devitalised, sometimes to the point that large sections have to be removed.
Fortunately, in this case the tissue was still reasonably healthy and, before long, I was watching Rocco recover in his kennel. He’d been lucky and would make a full recovery.
But, as dramatic as Rocco’s corn was, another patient won the prize for top foreign body. The spaniel had visited several vets around Yorkshire to try and solve his malaise, all to no avail.
His owners arrived at Sandbeck, desperate for help.
The lump on his side, recently identified as a benign and incidental fatty lump, turned out to be anything but. Poor old Charlie was in great pain and feeling awful. It was our new vet Ed’s turn to come to the rescue.
More X-rays were taken, and heads were scratched. I had the nagging feeling we could be dealing with another gastric foreign body.
Brows were furrowed and eyebrows raised, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt confident I was on the right track and persuaded Ed to reach for his scalpel. I’d seen this sort of thing before.
An accidentally ingested and pointy foreign body, like a kebab stick from a barbecue, can perforate the stomach wall and make a slow and steady bid to escape through the body wall, impossible to find until it finally pokes up under the skin somewhere.
“Make an incision over that swollen bit, Ed,” I advised. “Dissect down and see what you find. My bet is that it’ll be a wooden skewer.”
Ed made tentative cuts, exploring methodically and cautiously. Suddenly, he announced, “Oooh. I can feel something.”
“What can you feel?” I asked.
“Something spiky,” he explained, after a dramatic pause, matter-of-factly but with just enough jeopardy to keep everyone in attendance enthralled. We held our collective breaths and watched.
The spiky something was grasped with forceps and Ed, like King Arthur withdrawing Excalibur from its stubborn home in a rock, slowly but very deliberately removed a six-inch wooden skewer.
It was dramatic and a bit gruesome, but would prove to be totally curative. To Charlie’s owners (especially once they’d seen the video) Ed, quite rightly, had acquired legendary status.
Rocco’s owners, in the meantime, had realised their own dog was also rapidly becoming a veterinary legend, for all the wrong reasons. He was back just two days after his sutures had been removed. He’d swallowed another corn cob!
The Yorkshire Vet continues on Channel 5 at 8pm on Tuesday.