Pet owner discovers hard way dog toy not indestructible

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By KELLY SMITH
Dog owner Susan Parker wants to warn fellow dog lovers about what she says could be a dangerous toy for some canines.
Last month, Parker noticed her dog Cairo, an American Staffordshire terrier, was sick and vomiting violently. Concerned, she took the dog to Oaklawn Animal Hospital, and after x-rays showed nothing in his stomach he was sent home under the assumption he was sick from eating too many "Greenies," a dog treat.
However, the vomiting continued, and when Parker returned to the veterinarians at Oaklawn, they sent her to Warwick Animal Hospital on Elmwood Avenue, telling her it had more advanced equipment to better determine what was causing the problem.
Long story short, after several x-rays, a barium swallow and an EGD (an examination of the lining of the esophagus, stomach and upper duodenum with a small camera, a flexible endoscope) showed nothing in the dog's stomach but the vomiting persisted, Dr. Seychelle Ricard decided to perform an emergency operation on Cairo. A few minutes into the surgery, the four-year veteran veterinarian discovered a large, hard lump in Cairo's small intestine.
"I didn't know what it was at first," said Ricard, adding it wasn't until Parker told her it was part of the dog's chew toy, a Dental Kong, that nearly killed him.
"I took one look at it and I knew right away what it was," said Parker. "I couldn't believe it. I never thought it could've been the Kong. I always thought they were indestructible."
Kong toys have been around since 1976 after Joe Markham, desperate to keep his German shepherd from chewing on rocks while he was working on his van, tossed the dog a suspension part. After the dog showed an interest in it, Markham refined the rubber design into a strong chew toy for large dogs. Since then, the company has created several different toys for dogs and other animals as well. Based in Colorado, Kong products are sold worldwide.
An active advocate for sheltered dogs, specifically pit bulls, Parker said the Kong toys are commonly used and known by many dog owners as virtually indestructible chew toys. However, the Kong Company does not claim the toys are indestructible.
"No dog toy is indestructible," says the company's Web site at www.kongcompany.com. "Supervise your dog's use of Kongs until you are confident they can be used safely without supervision."
The site goes on to say dog owners should check and inspect Kong toys frequently.
"Look for cracks, separations and/or missing pieces," it says. "Flex your dry Kong and inspect it from all angles. Loose pieces larger than a food nugget can be harmful if swallowed. Worn and damaged Kongs must be replaced immediately. Your dog's safety is your responsibility. If you think your dog has swallowed a toy fragment (for example, if the toy was damaged and you cannot find every piece larger than a food nugget), promptly inform your veterinarian."
Having read this herself, Parker said although it's good the company has this disclaimer on their Web site, the toys are known by dogowners everywhere to be "one of the safest toys you can give your dog." Saying she did inspect Cairo's toys often, Parker is now concerned for other dogs out there. Expressing how grateful she was to Ricard and the staff at the Warwick Animal Hospital, Parker said Cairo would've died were it not for them, and she wants other dogowners to know that not only did the hospital do a "phenomenal job saving Cairo's life," this danger does exist.
"I want people to realize the Kongs are not as indestructible as they think there are," said Parker. "I'm sure the average person doesn't know this, and I want them to know."
Ricard feels the original Kong toy or Extreme Kong are good chew toys for even the largest of dogs and most aggressive chewers, but said she would not recommend the one Cairo swallowed for larger dogs.
"I think the important distinction is what Cairo ate is one of the Dental Kongs and one of their newer products," said Ricard. "The material it's made out of is squishy. I've never seen a dog that was able to chew [apart] a regular Kong."
Ricard said Cairo's dilemma was her first encounter with the Dental Kong, which has paste squirted in it and is meant for dogs to "brush" their teeth as they are chewing on it, and had she seen one sooner she "definitely would've been concerned."
"And not because there's anything inherently wrong with the toy, but strong dogs, strong chewers — and a pit bull is at the top of that list — can chew apart just about anything that isn't nail-bound," she said, emphasizing she believes the regular Kongs are pretty sturdy.
Aside from Kongs, Ricard suggested rawhides, which are digestible if swallowed, as chew toys and even said she's known of people giving their pit bulls truck tires to chew on, saying, "That's how tough they have to be."
Ricard said dogs investigate with their mouths and noses and as puppies they develop chewing habits when teething. Providing them with safe chew toys is very important, and the stronger and more aggressive a chewer the dog is, the more careful owners must be when choosing toys.
The bottom line, said Ricard, is to not use the Dental Kong on dogs who are aggressive chewers and take care to inspect your dog's toys regularly.
As for Parker, $3,600 later, she said she's not giving Cairo any more Kongs, regular, Dental or Extreme.
"He misses his toys," she said, "and he eats a lot of cheese."

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