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For puppy, magnetic toy pieces were an almost-fatal attraction

ALEXANDRIA -- A sick puppy taught Tina Qualls and her children a lesson they won't soon forget.

Always pick up your toys.

The Christmas season for Qualls and her children, Zachary, 7, Orion, 6, and Sorsha, 4, was a prolonged one. The family attended four different family celebrations - and toys were in no short supply.

The boys were ecstatic when they received Magnetix, magnetic construction toys that consist of a combination of plastic building pieces and steel balls that can be connected to form various shapes and structures. The boys couldn't get enough of snapping those little magnets together to see what shapes they could create.

But with Christmas over and life getting back to normal, the family basset hound, Daisy, was the worse for wear.

"She started throwing up and getting very sick," Qualls said. "I thought she had gotten into some poison."

After a couple days of vomiting, 9-month-old Daisy started to shiver and shake, so a worried Qualls called Dr. Bill Kraker, a veterinarian at Alexandria's Animal Doctor. A routine exam showed nothing out of the ordinary, so Kraker took an X-ray of Daisy.

When Qualls saw the X-ray she knew immediately what it was.

"Right away I knew it was Magnetix," Qualls said. "You could see them in the X-ray as plain as day."

Unfortunately, the puppy had swallowed two of the magnetic pieces, and the X-ray showed that they had been pulled together in her intestine. Exploratory surgery was the only answer.

When Kraker opened up the dog's intestinal tract, things did not look good. One magnetic piece had ended up in one part of the intestinal tract, and the other toy in a different portion.

"They had migrated together and pulled the intestines together," Kraker explained. "They were so strong that they actually ripped through the intestinal wall."

The perforation had "compromised the intestinal tract" and caused peritonitis, a "belly infection."

The magnets had destroyed two sections of Daisy's intestine. After removing the toys, Kraker had to remove one portion of Daisy's intestine, sew it back up and then remove the other portion and repair it. He then had to flush out the abdomen with fluid and antibiotics. The surgery took about four hours.

After two days of careful supervision at Animal Doctor, Daisy was sent home - with antibiotics and a restricted diet.

"Her recovery was uneventful," Kraker said. "You can't even tell she had surgery. She's doing wonderfully. It's amazing how fast they recover."

Pet owners take heed

Daisy was lucky. She had owners who paid attention to her illness and sought out a doctor's care before it was too late.

But it could have easily ended in tragedy, and the Qualls were determined not to let it happen again. Magnetic toys were history.

"When I told [the children] about it, we came home and threw them all away," Qualls said. "I didn't want anything like that in my house again. I was scared the kids would swallow them."

According to Kraker, magnetic toys aren't the only things that pet owners should be aware of. In his years as a veterinarian, he has a long list of strange items he has found in pets - sticks, clothing, razor blades, utensils, fish hooks, sewing needles, socks, toys, balls, etc.

"The list could go on and on and on," he said.

Obviously, sharp objects are the worst offenders, as is anything with a string - as it can strangle and cut through the intestines.

"Dogs are just like children," Kraker warned. "They are very curious and they explore by putting things in their mouth, and the chance of swallowing is very high."

Kraker suggests a common-sense approach to preventing pets from ingesting foreign objects - using the same caution as if you had an infant and keeping things out of reach - but he also realizes that it's easy to forget and leave things out.

He also says that if a dog gets sick, especially with vomiting, to seek professional advice.

Qualls' advice is a bit more specific after almost losing the dog she and her family have become so attached to.

"Don't buy [magnetic toys]! And if you do, keep them up high and very supervised," she stressed. "We learned our lesson. We are just happy to have Daisy back."