A puppy has been saved by vets after ingesting a face mask, prompting a warning for pet owners to be vigilant.
Staff at the Blue Cross charity’s animal hospital in London removed the cloth mask from the 11-month-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’s stomach during emergency surgery.
Known as Toffee, the pet's upset stomach was initially thought to be the result of a change in diet but a week later, his owner, Jess Busby, realised his health was deteriorating.
“Toffee was just really lethargic and had lost weight – you could see the bones in his back – and suddenly his whole demeanour just changed and he vomited,” Busby recalls.
Blue Cross staff told her to take Toffee into their animal hospital in Victoria immediately, where he was put on a drip. An ultrasound scan confirmed a large object stuck in his stomach.
It was only when senior vet Roisin Bolger operated on the dog that she discovered there was a face mask in his stomach.
“Toffee was really lucky to be brought into us when he was because blockages of the stomach and intestines like this are life-threatening,” Bolger adds.
Busby says she was “shocked” when she found out the cause of the problem, adding: “We still don’t know where he got hold of the mask.
“He’s so tiny we wouldn’t have thought he’d be able to swallow something like that!”
It is thought the face mask was inside Toffee’s stomach for two weeks.
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Since his operation, Busby said Toffee is “running around as if nothing happened and is back to his old self”.
Bolger added a stark warning for pet owners with face masks lying around: “We’d urge dog owners to be vigilant around the home and when out and about on walks, especially those with young puppies and kittens.
“If you think your pet has eaten something it shouldn’t, or you are concerned about repeated vomiting, then always contact your vet for advice.”
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This warning comes after the RSPCA launched an appeal in September 2020 for people to cut the straps off their masks before disposing of them.
At the time, the charity said it had dealt with more than 900 incidents of animals caught in litter, like elastic bands, plastic bottles and tin cans.
“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,” Chris Sherwood, the RSPCA’s chief executive, said at the time.
“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.”
Additional reporting by PA.