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A dog is lucky to be alive after needing major surgery when he swallowed a discarded face mask.
Nine year old Buster was enjoying a walk near his home in Hinckley, Leicestershire, when he ate the face covering, which swiftly led to him becoming sick and lethargic.
The English Springer Spaniel had an X-ray which showed a strange, ‘sausage shaped’ shadow in his stomach and vets were shocked when they operated and discovered a black face covering, which had been discarded in the park.
“Buster was enjoying his regular walk near to our home," owner Rachel explains. "We are always mindful of what is on the floor and we watch him carefully because people often scatter food in the park for the birds and squirrels.
“However we didn’t see him eat the mask, but once we came home he seemed to go downhill. He became lethargic and was being sick.
"He couldn’t settle and we were concerned he may have eaten something so we took him to the vets.”
Buster was examined at Fairfield Veterinary Centre with staff deciding to X-ray him, after anti-nausea medication didn’t work.
“When we saw Buster he had been vomiting, but when he did not respond to simple treatment, we decided we should X-ray him," Kathryn Dean, head nurse at the centre, explains.
“We saw something suspicious and could also feel a ‘sausage shaped’ structure in his abdomen. We were concerned that he may have a ‘foreign body’ in his intestines.”
As the vets were unsure what the foreign body was, they decided to operate.
“Fabric does not show up clearly on X-rays, but there was definitely a suspicious shadow, so we opened Buster up and confirmed that there was something lodged in his small intestine.
"Imagine our surprise when we removed it and discovered that it was a face mask.”
Thankfully, since his surgery Buster has made a good recovery.
“He is back to his usual self again," owner, Rachel, adds. "We couldn’t ask for a better dog, he has been with us since he was a puppy. He is so gentle and spoilt.”
Watch: More than half of us are reusing disposable face masks.
The staff at the veterinary centre were very pleased to see Buster feeling better and hope what happened to the dog will serve as a warning to others about the dangers of discarding face masks carelessly.
“During the COVID pandemic, we have all become familiar with seeing people wearing masks. Unfortunately, there has also been a significant issue with discarded face masks littering the streets, which can pose issues to wildlife and pets.
"We've had lots of other cases where we've removed foreign objects, but this is our first face mask, so far. We would like this to be a reminder to everyone to be careful of how they dispose of their masks during the pandemic."
Last year, leading environmental charities issued a warning to remind people to be more mindful about disposing of face masks and urging them to choose reusable ones instead where possible.
“As with plastic straws, carelessly discarding face masks, gloves, and other protective gear doesn't just pollute our parks, woods, and beaches – it can be deadly to animals," PETA director, Elisa Allen said.
“Birds have died after becoming entangled in face masks, while dolphins, turtles, and other marine animals can easily choke or suffer from fatal bowel obstructions when they mistake PPE for food.
"It's vital that single-use items be disposed of properly – and it's important that those outside of a medical environment consider opting for reusable, machine-washable cloth masks.”
The RSPCA last year also urged people to cut the straps from their disposable masks before putting them in the bin.
The animal welfare charity launched the appeal in a bid to cut down on the hundreds of tangled animals who had to be rescued during lockdown.
Chris Sherwood, the RSPCA’s chief executive, said: “For many years the public have been aware of the message to cut up plastic six-pack rings before throwing them away to stop animals getting tangled in them, and now we are keen to get out the message that the same should be done for face masks too - as very sadly, animals are susceptible to getting tangled up in them.
“Now that face masks are the norm, and may be for some time to come, this message is more important than ever as thousands of these masks are being thrown away every day.
"We’re concerned discarded face masks could become a significant hazard, particularly to wild animals and birds.
“Our RSPCA officers have had to rescue animals from getting tangled in face masks and we expect that this may go up as time goes on, so the best thing to do is to simply cut the elastic ear straps in half before throwing it away.”
The government has also issued some guidance on how to safely dispose of a face mask.
"Once removed, store reusable face coverings in a plastic bag until you have an opportunity to wash them," the guidance states.
"If the face covering is single use, dispose of it in a residual waste bin. Do not put them in a recycling bin."
Additional reporting Caters.