Epic, a young tricolour border collie is the beloved agility dog of our long time client, Fiona. Epic was rushed into VetCare Bethlehem one Saturday morning as she was terribly unhappy, lethargic and vomiting. She wasn’t the type of dog to get into rubbish and she hadn’t eaten any bones but after a thorough physical exam her clinical signs put a gastrointestinal obstruction high on the list.

Dr Garry Ball was called in to help with Epic’s case as the morning was fully booked with consults and Epic couldn’t wait any longer. The X-rays performed lead Dr Garry to believe there was an obstruction that needed surgery. The skilled veterinarians at VetCare read digital radiography to identify if they can see a ‘foreign body’ (something in the body that basically doesn’t belong in there) or if a foreign body is invisible on radiography (as many objects are), then to recognise patterns within the gastrointestinal system that suggest the presence of an obstruction. Often the intestines are much wider due to gas build up or there may be a clear difference in the width of the intestines dilated upstream of the obstruction compared to narrower intestines downstream of the obstruction. This was the case in Epic’s X-rays.

Dr Ball discussed his findings with Fiona. There was only one option: …..Surgery – to find the cause of the obstruction and if it truly was a ‘foreign body’ (such as something odd she had eaten), remove it and check her gastrointestinal system for further damage. If vital blood supply had been cut off or if the foreign object was sharp like a bone shard, there could be perforations through the soft wall of the stomach and intestines. Perforations can lead to an often fatal infection of the abdomen called peritonitis. Epic was a healthy firecracker of a dog but within 48 hours she had developed a life threatening emergency. Fiona had pet insurance which made the decision to go to surgery an easier one. As long as this was a typical single foreign body obstruction that hadn’t been left for days or caused perforations along the way, Epic’s chance of a full recovery was very good. Sometimes the only answer is to do what is called an exploratory laparotomy (or ex-lap, for short) to enter the abdomen and check the stomach and intestines for problems such as these.

Dr Ball has performed dozens, if not hundreds of ex-laps in the 37 years he has been a vet. Sometimes vets will try to guess what the dog may have eaten before surgery as you never know what you are going to find. At VetCare we have surgically removed everything from a toy rabbits head, to socks, underwear, bedding, towels, whole oranges, kebab sticks, tennis ball pieces, coke bottle tops to a favourite in summer in NZ, corn cobs from a weekend BBQ!

Dr Ball scrubbed for surgery and entered Epic’s abdomen. He quickly found a single obstruction, placed an incision longitudinally along the intestinal, wall and pulled out….. a peach stone! For larger dogs these would pass through the gastrointestinal system without causing any trouble but Epic was a smaller medium sized dog and a peach stone was just the right shape and size to come to a slow grinding halt. If left, the obstruction could have caused necrosis, a breakdown of the intestinal wall, then a fatal infection. Dr Ball quickly sutured the intestinal wall back together, gave the abdomen a quick clean up, checked the rest of her organs and closed. Within an hour and a half he had performed the surgery and had Epic in the hospital in recovery. With 37 years of experience comes lightening speed and a surgical confidence we are all in awe of!

After ensuring Epic was stable, Dr Ball made the call to an anxious Fiona. It was a relief to know her girl would be back on her feet and back to her within a day or two. In hindsight, even though Epic wasn’t typically a scavenger of things like peach stones, Fiona thought that maybe she had been playing with the peach stone, throwing it in the air and catching it as she sometimes does with sticks and she had eventually swallowed it. Thankfully, Fiona had picked up on Epic’s symptoms quickly and got her to VetCare before any irreversible damage was done.

Epic has recovered well. Within a few days of surgery Fiona had the task of keeping her quiet and calm while her abdomen healed. She was crate trained as a puppy so spending some time in her crate bed was the best way for her to recuperate. She came back to VetCare ten days after surgery to see Dr Ball and have her sutures removed. She happily scoffed treats and had a belly rub from the nurses.

It has been several weeks since Epic’s surgery and she almost back to fully charged.

For Epic and Fiona, after having this scare, life is back to being…..just peachy!



Fiona –

 ‘I personally would like to commend and thank all the VetCare team, especially to Dr Garry Ball, Epics fantastic surgeon who did such a great job, Emma the fabulous vet nurse who took the best care of Epic, also the vet Nina who came in and saw Epic the Saturday morning when I brought her in and all the other team at VetCare that helped with Epics surgery and aftercare.. You guys are the best and Epic and I can’t thank you enough!


With her recent mishap with swallowing a peach stone pet insurance is really peace of mind that she can have the best of care and treatment without the huge worry of how can we afford this and having to take shortcuts in her care that could otherwise cause more damage if not death.

For the first 3 days post surgery she was only taken out to toilet on the lead. Then we started with a small 10 minute walk on lead (she always wanted to go further) for a day or two gradually increasing this to half an hour the first week. The second week we carried on with crating and on lead walking increasing it up to 3/4 hour, and sometimes a quick 10-15min walk at night. Week 3 off lead but carefully monitored as to not let her scream around 100 miles an hour! I also started her doing short stretching exercises on balance cushions to help strengthen her stomach muscles. She certainly loves doing this specially when there’s treats involved. We are now into week 4 which I am letting her free run now and have started small cavaletti jumping with her. She is just about back to her fitness level before the surgery but now we will be working on her jumping fitness over the next few weeks as well as continue with the strengthening exercises I hope to have her back to full height jumping fitness by Easter weekend and hope to be able to compete with her then if everything keeps going the way it is



We wish Fiona and Epic the very best competing this Easter weekend!