Meet Tia, a very energetic one year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Tia came to us late one afternoon very much in distress. She had been having a wonderful time at her place up in the hills chasing her canine companion and playing with a pine cone. They had been at it for a couple of hours when suddenly Tia seemed to have trouble breathing and began gagging.
She was panting vigorously as a result of all the running around but her breathing seemed very loud and she seemed very anxious. Her owner called her normal vet who immediately referred her on to us.
Tia sounded like a steam train in the waiting room as she was breathing so loudly! She kept gagging and bringing up fluid from her mouth but the back of her throat seemed clear on examination. Her body temperature was 41C! This is an extreme body temperature and very dangerous as the vital organs can suffer severe and irreversible damage if they remain over heated. The only way dog can cool themselves is by panting and Tia was doing that very well but also very noisily.
We immediately commenced a cold bath for Tia and reduced her temperature to below 40C. She soon became much more comfortable and the anxiety reduced. The panting returned to normal levels. However it was not clear why she became so hot. Some dogs can suffer hyperthermia from strenuous exercise during hot weather and although it was a warm autumn day, it did not seem nearly hot enough for a dog to suffer hyperthermia.
The next part of our examination was to look down the back of Tia's throat to make sure nothing was lodged there. We gave Tia a full anaesthetic as that is the only way to completely examine the throat. Look what we found!! - a segment of wood was just visible lodged in the top part of her airway right below the vocal cords. A special examination light enabled us to see it. The piece of wood was sitting longitudinally and allowing some air passage but was otherwise stuck fast. It required considerable force with a very long pair of forceps to remove it. Once removed of course Tia's breathing was quite normal again.
Tia had bitten off a segment of the pine cone and had managed to inhale it during her excitement and play. The piece was small enough to enter the airway but big enough to get stuck. Fortunately it did not block the airway completely otherwise Tia would have suffocated. The resulting partial obstruction of the airway was enough to reduce her ability to pant and prevent her cooling down. The result was hyperthermia on a mild day.
Tia quickly made a full recovery and went home the next morning. I suspect she may not be allowed to play with pine cones any more!