Vets urge dog owners to keep masks out of reach after several emergencies

BOSTON — Veterinarians are urging pet owners to keep face masks out of reach following several emergencies involving dogs eating the face coverings.

The Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Tufts University in Grafton has seen 11 dogs that have eaten or are believed to have eaten face masks.

King, a two-year-old Labrador retriever, needed emergency surgery last month after an X-ray found and an ultrasound confirmed he had eaten two disposable face masks.

“What we could see was the thin metal strands that are in face masks – the nose pinch basically. And then we could see some clothlike material,” said Catherine Stecyk, a surgeon and resident at the Foster Hospital. “He had a wad of material that I could feel in his stomach and then that scrunching of the intestines and another wad stuck in his small intestine.”

King was rushed into surgery, where his intestine was found to be bruised and inflamed but thankfully not perforated. Stecyk was able to push the material in his intestine back into his stomach, cut a small incision in the abdomen and pull all the material out.

King remained in the hospital overnight to be evaluated and hydrated with intravenous fluids before returning home and making a full recovery.

His owner, Betsy Kehoe of Harvard, Mass., told Boston 25 News King, like so many Labs, has eaten socks and various objects before, but she never would have expected he had consumed a face mask. King had been vomiting and suddenly stopped eating the bland diet a local veterinarian advised she put him on. Kehoe and her husband then rushed King to Tufts.

“Honestly, my heart was racing… You will do absolutely anything for your dog,” Kehoe said, expressing gratitude for the Tufts team’s quick actions. “I’m just so, so, so thankful, because my husband and I were losing sleep over this.”

Kehoe believes King might have gotten the masks in the back seat of the car. While she says she has been diligent about keeping masks out of reach and disposing of them properly, she is now being extra cautious and urging others to do the same.

“Now, I’m just very, very paranoid,” Kehoe said. “I hide everything. So I think the best you can, especially if you have a dog that’s willing to eat just about anything, is just to have it on your mind.”

With the statewide mask mandate now in place, vets expect more such emergencies. Medical-grade masks, Stecyk said, are very durable and do not dissolve easily, making them particularly dangerous when consumed.

“Something to definitely be careful about,” Stecyk said. “I don’t think mask restrictions are going away anytime soon. So I think it’s something that six, seven months ago wasn’t a problem, and now it’s very real.”

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