The Devil in the Hor D'oeuvres: Beware of Toothpicks

Did you watch the Needle in a Haystack House MD episode? 
A teenage boy becomes gravely ill and a cause cannot be found. He bleeds in his lungs, then his liver, than his bladder, then his spleen ruptures ... Nothing adds up. When they finally discover a cause it turns out to be a swallowed toothpick, wreaking all that havoc.

Things like that are not likely to show on x-rays.

Unlike other foreign bodies, toothpicks can make themselves invisible. All you see is the problem but not the cause.

Imagine your dog gets diarrhea that isn't going away for about two months. He'll vomit every now and then and show signs of abdominal pain. Sometimes he's better, sometimes he's worse.

With an ongoing problem like that, you see a vet.

At least you should. Your vet is rightfully concerned and orders further diagnostics. Could it be pancreatitis? Could it be IBD? Could it be something even worse?

Ultrasound finds inflammation and fluid in the abdomen. The fluid tests positive for inflammatory cells and bacteria. What now?

Fortunately, the vet(s) in charge drained some of the fluid and did another ultrasound which revealed the culprit.

There was a toothpick stuck in the spleen.

Where the heck did such thing come from?

Then you remember that your dog is present with you at all times, including any special occasions and celebrations which involve serving hor d'oeuvres. Yummy smelling food bits, held together by toothpicks.

Dogs can be quite fast and stealthy in helping themselves to a bite or two of the goodies meant for your guests.

Pointy foreign bodies are uniquely suited for travel. A toothpick can perforate the stomach and take a scenic tour until it finds a fun place to stay.

Such renegade foreign bodies can be tricky to diagnose.

Particularly wood and plant material which like to hide from imaging.

Your dog was lucky. Once the culprit was found and the toothpick surgically removed, the fluid drained, he bounced right back.

It doesn't always go like that.

If you use toothpicks or skewers for your party goodies, watch them like a hawk. Put them somewhere your dog cannot get to them. Be also careful how you dispose of them after because they will still smell yummy.

If your dog is sick with no good diagnosis, keep digging until one is found. And think back. You might remember what the culprit could be.

Source article:
Why dogs should avoid the hor d'oeuvres: the tale of a migrating toothpick

Further reading:
Gastric Foreign Bodies in Dogs
My Dog Ate What? 2014 X-ray Contest Winners

Do you have a story to share?

Your story can help others, maybe even save a life!

What were the first signs you noticed? How did you dog get diagnosed? What treatment did/didn't work for you? What was your experience with your vet(s)? How did you cope with the challenges?

Email me, I'll be happy to hear from yo


  1. I've never heard of that, but it is surprising that it doesn't happen more often. Toothpicks must taste really good to a dog.

    1. Well I don't know how many people make these types of snacks for their guests (we don't). Plus, and that is even more scary, I wonder how many times it just never got figured out.


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