Underpants are no laughing matter
Even casually mentioning "underpants" in the presence of children tends to elevate one's status to "comedic genius" in an instant. I admit, it is a funny word - underpants. Saying things like, "Whose underpants are these?" or "Please don't leave your underpants on the banister," or "I like your underpants," generally are followed by snickering. Even if they are shouted very loudly by an angry parent. The "Captain Underpants" children's books capitalize on this phenomenon, and therefore never cease to amuse their target audience (and they are pretty funny).
While soiled underpants are rarely humorous to the owner of the pants, they can be utterly hilarious to those telling and retelling the story.
TV programs featuring home video clips routinely air long montage sequences devoted to exposed underpants, usually at weddings and often involving spectacular dance moves or injurious falls. While this doesn't typically amuse me, I admit to chuckling at the folks who still find it "fashionable" to wear pants three sizes too large so as to reveal their underpants to the world. I can't help thinking that kids in my school days would have suffered humiliations galore (not to mention some atomic wedgies) for sporting that look.
But, there are times when underpants are not funny at all. Underpants can be hazardous - or even deadly. Mainly, because I think I'm going to have to kill Miriam, our dachshund, if she destroys another pair of underpants in our home. OK, not 'kill' but yell really, really loudly and make her stay in her crate for, like, TWO hours! Of course, she has no earthly idea why I yell or confine her, she's just glad she's safe in her crate during my tirades.
Our laundry is kept in a laundry basket in a closet behind a closed door and moved to a laundry sorter before being er laundered. I am very particular about this, and find myself training and retraining my family to adhere to this system on a regular basis. Short of digging my riding crop and helmet out of the attic and threatening violence to anyone who falls out of line, I do my best. And yet, every now and then, despite all the safety checks in place, a hapless pair of underpants still manages to fall into Miriam's evil clutches.
She is an equal opportunity underwear mutilator: any size, color or style will do. She prefers the unlaundered variety, but will steal freshly laundered if these happen to stray too far from their brethren.
One day, Miriam ran in to the living room and vomited on the rug. I was surprised to find the gooey pile contained large pieces of the waistband of, what else, a pair of underpants. The thing was - she'd chewed those particular ones more than 36 hours before this incident. She had been acting perfectly well, eating regular meals, drinking, passing normal bowel movements all that time. Impossible? Clearly not.
How'd she do it? If she were a hamster, I'd have said she had it in her cheek pouch all that time, but as she's a dachshund, I'll have to do better. The fabric she ate was in her stomach all that time. It rolled around in there, not leaving, and not causing any problems, apparently moving out of the way as food came into the stomach and left by the normal route. The fabric was perhaps clinging to the stomach wall during that time. At one point, it moved and blocked the exit to the stomach, which triggered the vomiting incident. Thankfully, it was expelled.
What if it got stuck? Well, then she would have been a really sick pup soon after the fabric passed out (or tried to pass out) of the stomach. The amount of foreign material I found would have been enough to cause a blockage in the small intestine. Depending upon how far down the intestinal tract it would have traveled before becoming stuck, she may have begun to vomit repeatedly, or simply become lethargic and stopped eating and moving her bowels. Water can pass through most fabrics, but not once it's wadded up into a tight ball. As it sits in one spot along the intestinal tract acting as a plug, this foreign body causes the intestinal wall to become swollen, deprived of its blood supply, and eventually compromised.
Once the blockage occurs, all normal movements of the intestinal tract (peristalsis) ceases, causing gas to build up and distend the intestines and even the stomach, which will cause abdominal pain and sometimes visible abdominal distention or bloating. The weakened intestinal wall can rupture, causing its contents to spill freely into the abdomen, resulting in peritonitis. Left untreated, an intestinal blockage will kill the animal in a matter of hours to days, depending on the circumstances.
Is it possible Miriam simply could have passed the fabric without incident? Of course - provided it went through in little pieces and didn't get wadded up or stuck on its way out. There are several typical places foreign bodies get stuck: under the tongue, in the pylorus (exit from the stomach), in the proximal (upper) small intestines, and in the ileocecocolic junction (place where the small intestine narrows a bit as its joins the large intestine).
Once something like the fabric Miriam swallowed makes it past that last checkpoint and into the large intestine, it's typically home-free. Unless there is a remarkable amount of the substance wadded up in the colon, or if the animal swallowed a great length of a linear object like string that spans the length of the intestines, it is likely to be a good sign when the foreign material is seen to pass into the stool.
Obviously, Miriam's addiction to underpants had taken a new turn. We knew she chewed them, but this was the first time she'd ever given an indication that she was daft enough to swallow some, too.
While underpants are her preferred quarry, she has been known to abscond with stuffed animals, Nerf darts, and marker caps, leaving their mutilated remains under beds and tables. I've got to hand it to her, she's very sneaky. While the other dachshunds are not entirely innocent, they ordinarily stick to items that involve food.
The children have learned the hard way that if they don't pick up their stuff, it may fall victim to one of the dogs and that will be "too bad" (not replaced). But, as it is generally frowned-upon to allow one's children to dress without underpants, I am forced to replace those that have been destroyed. Perhaps my yearly threats to make large packs of underpants their "big" birthday presents has had some influence, but for whatever reason, their vigilance has improved over time. Lots of folks are worried about grain-free or preservative-free diets for their pets, but I say an underpants-free diet has an immediate effect on good health.
Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital. Her column prints every other Sunday in the Lifestyle section. She can be reached at email@example.com.