Life-saving surgery for trainee hero puppy who swallowed battery

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A Portsmouth puppy in training to be a lifeline for a person with disabilities needed emergency surgery after swallowing a button battery.

Eight-month-old Labrador Warrior was rushed to the vets by his worried puppy parent after he gulped down a button battery from a child’s toy. Warrior was seen straight away at the vet practice and X-rays showed that the battery had travelled through the stomach and into the intestines of the puppy, who is a trainee assistance dog with the charity Hounds for Heroes.

Warrior with vet Laura Gallagher (left), puppy parent Eimear Hobby (centre) and Hounds for Heroes trainer Lauren Butcher. Picture: VetPartnersWarrior with vet Laura Gallagher (left), puppy parent Eimear Hobby (centre) and Hounds for Heroes trainer Lauren Butcher. Picture: VetPartners
Warrior with vet Laura Gallagher (left), puppy parent Eimear Hobby (centre) and Hounds for Heroes trainer Lauren Butcher. Picture: VetPartners | VetPartners

Hounds for Heroes trains dogs that help improve the quality of life of armed forces and emergency services personnel with disabilities, and Petersfield-based St Peter’s Vets works with the charity to provide veterinary care and preventative healthcare to its puppies and adult dogs in training.

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St Peter’s Vets vet Laura Gallagher, who treated Warrior, said button batteries are dangerous if swallowed because they can cause serious internal burns.

She said: “All batteries are potentially harmful if ingested, but button batteries pose an extra risk as they can leak caustic substances when they come into contact with saliva or digestive juices. Warrior was at risk of the battery burning a hole in the wall of his intestine, which could have led to life-threatening peritonitis, and the best course of action was to perform surgery to remove the battery.

“We made an incision in Warrior’s abdomen, but although the battery could be seen clearly on the X-ray, it proved tricky to find because a dog’s intestines are quite long and the battery was tiny – it only measured about 1cm across. My colleague had the brilliant idea to use a sterile magnet to locate the battery within Warrior's intestine. The magnet attached to the battery and once located we were able to guide the magnet through and out of his intestines.

“Retrieving the battery this way was a much better option for Warrior because it meant that we didn’t have to make a surgical incision into his intestine, reducing the risk of complications. He made a good recovery and was able to go home the next day. He’s very lucky that his carer was vigilant and contacted us as soon as she realised the battery was missing. It was already showing signs of corrosion when we removed it, so acting fast prevented him becoming really unwell.”

An X-ray showing the button battery inside Warrior’s intestine. Picture: VetPartnersAn X-ray showing the button battery inside Warrior’s intestine. Picture: VetPartners
An X-ray showing the button battery inside Warrior’s intestine. Picture: VetPartners | VetPartners

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Warrior is now back home in Portsmouth with his puppy parent Eimear Hobby and her family and has resumed his training to become an assistance dog.

Warrior’s trainer, Lauren Butcher, said he is a typical Labrador who loves food and is always on the look out for something to eat.

She said: “Eimear has two young children and the battery Warrior swallowed was in a toy ring that came in a party bag. Eimear had put the ring on the dining table, but Warrior managed to reach it when she was out of the room, and when he played with it, the batteries it contained fell out. When Eimear realised one of the batteries was missing, she contacted the vets straight away.

“We are so grateful to Laura and the team at St Peter’s Vets for the care they showed Warrior, and it was ingenious to use a magnet to remove the battery. Hounds for Heroes currently has 17 dogs in training and they will all have been to St Peter’s Vets at some point for vaccinations and routine treatment. The veterinary team is amazing and very caring and we can’t rate them highly enough.”

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Warrior, like other trainee service dogs, will live with his puppy parent until he’s around 18 months old, and will then move to a foster family to start more advanced training in skills such as opening doors, removing clothes from the washing machine, turning on lights and pressing buttons.

Once his training has been completed he’ll find a permanent home as an assistance dog, and will be assigned to someone from the armed forces or emergency services personnel who has become disabled through injury or illness.

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