Alfie, a one year old Labrador who needed surgery after swallowing a hairband.

Alfie is a typical young Labrador: he’s full of energy and enthusiasm, and he loves picking things up with his mouth.  Labradors have been bred over many years as working dogs: the full name of the breed is Labrador Retriever. They have an instinctive strong desire to retrieve objects for their owners. Originally, this meant bringing back the limp bodies of ducks, pheasants and grouse that had been shot on a hunt. In a modern Irish household, many Labradors enjoy picking up anything at all that’s the right size to fit into their mouths, and they don’t necessarily bring them back to their owners.

In the O’Brien home, everyone has learned that they need to have tidy habits, putting away their clothes at the end of the day. If anything’s left on the floor, Alfie comes along and picks it up. He particularly enjoys chewing fabric, and he’s destroyed many socks and knickers in the past. When Grace’s mother is doing the laundry, she can’t leave the clothes basket on the floor for even a few moments, or Alfie will grab an appealing “small”, rushing off to find a quiet spot to chew it to shreds. The problem hasn’t been completely solved by getting the family to pick up after themselves: Alfie recently chewed the lower reaches of the curtain lining in the living room. When he was given an expensive toughened bean-bag bed, designed for dogs, it took him no time to chew a hole in its corner, filling the room with tiny polystyrene beads.

Last week, Grace dropped an elasticated  “Alice in Wonderland” type hair band on the ground. Alfie picked it up, and trotted into the back garden to play with it. Grace went after him, but as she approached, he kept running away from her, and eventually, she was horrified to see him swallow it whole. He’s swallowed laundry in the past, and it’s always come out the other end, so the family wasn’t too worried at first.

When he brought up his dinner a week later, it wasn’t anything very unusual. Alfie’s prone to an occasional vomit, and he usually returns to normal after a day or so. This time, it was different. He vomited again the next day, and then again two days after that. He began to lose weight, and Grace’s parents were about to bring him to the vet when things suddenly got much worse. Alfie became dull and quiet, and he vomited three times in one morning. He was then rushed along to our veterinary clinic: it had become obvious that there was something seriously amiss.

As part of my examination of Alfie, I squeezed his abdomen with one hand on either side of his body, probing with my fingertips for anything unusual. I could feel a solid object like a large sausage, and a brief ultrasound examination confirmed my suspicions: there was something stuck in his small intestines. The hair band had obviously been sitting in his stomach for a week, where it only been causing an occasional irritation. It must have just moved out of the stomach, further down the digestive tract, where it had become completely stuck, causing a severe intestinal obstruction. Alfie needed an urgent operation to remove the hair band before his intestines were seriously damaged.

The operation went well: the hair band was successfully removed, and Alfie went home the following day. He’s making a good recovery, and he’s been given a red rubber Kong chew toy. This is designed to be stuffed with food, to encourage a dog to have many hours of contented chewing time. The Kong chew toy is indestructible, and – very importantly – Alfie will never be able to swallow it.


  • Young dogs, especially Labradors, love chewing
  • The easiest answer is to keep all chewable objects out of reach
  • A “good” chewable object should be provided instead, to keep the dog entertained.

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