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Paper Shredders and the Potential Danger to Dogs by Erica Cacioppo

On May 26th, 2006 my Lab/Pit mix, Shelby, had a horrific accident involving a paper shredder. I woke at 6 AM to a horrible sound. It was Shelby screaming! It was a sound I have never heard and can't get out of my head.

I ran downstairs and asked my husband Gino, who was holding her, what was wrong. Before he could answer I saw the most horrific sight of my life, Shelby's tongue stuck inside our paper shredder.

Our other dog Sophia, thinking Shelby was being attacked was pulling relentlessly and with all her might on the shredder, not knowing she was making matters worse.

Even though in shock of the situation we worked as fast as we could to get Shelby to the vet. We had to pry Sophia off and put her in the bathroom. In that time Shelby had bit her own tongue off. I suppose in animal instinct.

Gino got Shelby in the car as I got dressed and got together our purse and wallet. This all happened in a matter of 5 minutes. Our closest animal clinic was an agonizing 20 minutes away, at which time Shelby was bleeding profusely. We got there just in time.

She started going into convulsions just before being put under for surgery. During the operation she got between 40 to 50 stitches and lost her entire tongue. After the surgery the vet, Dr. Emo, told us she didn't know how Shelby would be able to eat and drink, as she has never seen or heard of an injury like this.

At this point we had decided to put her to sleep. Thank God the vet did extensive research and found a study on dogs with the same injury and they adapted to the situation over time and had the same attitude and a great quality of life. We then decided to give Shelby the chance she deserved.

It paid off! She is very happy! Shelby getting her voice back was no problem, 2 weeks later she was barking at the neighbor dog again. She can eat wet food very easily with our help and as of mid June is doing okay with trying to learn to eat dry food again.

She is drinking water through a syringe that we give to her. She lets us know when she wants water. She is starting to learn how to scoop up water on her own and on June 17th ate her 1st rawhide that she stole from her sister!

She still drools some, but has learned to wipe her own mouth on towels we have in the house and outside for her. We have no doubt she will completely adapt with some time and effort. She's our miracle baby!

We want people to know that this happens and that if it does you can save your baby! If you are in a similar situation please e-mail this web site and they will contact me and I can help you with any questions you may have. I beg you to please tell everyone you know and please UNPLUG your shredder or GET RID OF IT!!!! You NEVER want to go through what we did!!!!!! It was utterly horrible. We couldn't eat or sleep. We have bad nightmares about what happened. PLEASE BE CAREFUL!!!!

Thank you,
Erica Cacioppo, Shelby's owner

Dogs and Paper Shredders - What I Learned One Night in the ER  by Dr. Emo, Shelby's Vet

Dr. Emo works as an Emergency Room veterinarian in St. Louis, Missouri)

One night while I was working at the St. Louis Animal Emergency Clinic a 4-year-old female spayed Labrador retriever named Shelby came in. Little did I know this would be a dog that I'll never forget. Shelby presented after recently getting her tongue caught in a paper shredder. Despite the owners' and the family pitbull's valiant efforts to rescue her, the traction on Shelby's tongue was too great and it gave way at the level of her epiglottis.

Basically, Shelby lost her entire tongue. Graphic Image of Shelby's severed tongue

Despite this, Shelby presented bright, alert, and responsive but was a little head shy and per owners could be unpredictably “snappy” at times making an oral exam difficult without sedation. She had blood dripping from her mouth but the rest of her physical exam was within normal limits.

In order to provide the owners with a realistic prognosis (in terms of swallowing, prehension, laryngeal reflex, voice) and because the case was so unusual, phone calls were made to the University of Missouri Veterinary Teaching Hospital (UMC-VMTH), a specialty practice in St. Louis called Veterinary Specialty Services (VSS), and my father, Phillip Hornbostel M.D. (a general surgeon) for advice.

 I learned of a recent study done at UMC-VMTH which showed the prognosis for dogs after traumatic glossectomy (tongue excision) was excellent and explained these results to the owners. The owners were satisfied that an acceptable quality of life was possible for Shelby and opted for surgery.

The immediate and most pressing concern was blood loss. Stabilization was the highest priority since fatalities due to traumatic glossectomy have been reported. In Shelby's case, a preoperative bolus of fluids was given and was adequate for stabilization prior to anesthesia. Pain medication was also given.

Preoperative bloodwork to determine if Shelby was anemic was done and her value PCV was 55% which is normal. Upon intubation an oral exam was performed revealing not even a “stub” of tongue, but only a small amount of tissue remaining at the back of the throat. The edges were trimmed and the remainder of the defect was closed with suture.

Shelby recovered well. Her red blood cell count was down after the surgery but she showed no clinical signs of anemia. She was offered water with a syringe 16 hours after surgery which she took relatively well. Just 24 hours post-op she was offered canned i/d meatballs but it was another 12 hours before she was successful in getting them to the back of her mouth and swallowing them. Shelby was eating and drinking well (syringe drinking) 36 hours later and likely could have gone home at this time. At the owners request Shelby was allowed a full 72 hours of recovery before returning home.

Shelby has been pretty famous since this “freak” accident and has even made the Channel 4 news in Saint Louis! At the time of the news story a few weeks ago she was still getting syringes of water which was likely not necessary but was a result of Shelby training her owners.

University of Missouri recommends kibble for these patients. One post-op patient ate canned food in the form of meatballs in order to get adequate daily water intake. Most of these dogs learn to drink water by scooping it out of the bowl. Another consideration might be a wall mounted watering device with a nipple attachment.

Quality of life was the owners' number one concern and they are thrilled at how much she still enjoys life, including food. All in all Shelby is a happy, albeit very lucky, dog.

Safety Tips:

Unplug the shredder when not in use
Never leave the shredder in the "automatic" setting.

If used often, plug the shredder into a power strip where power to it can easily be turned off with the flick of a button. Children are less prone to try and find where it is connected but will always flip the switch on top of the unit itself because of easy accessibility. Another advantage of  plugging it into a power strip which is left off until use is that a dog or cat who accidently lands on the main on/off button will not turn it on.

Never put food wrappers through the shredder! Animals are attracted to food and this is one area where you do not want them. Shredders have disfigured many children's hands and animals have suffered in horrible ways from these machines. Although manufacturers are making them safer, placing cutting bars farther away from little fingers, older units are still in use.

When buying a shredder, look for one with a protective bar over the opening. If you think there is the slightest chance that a child or dog could be injured by a shredder in an area accessible to everyone in the household, simply take a large sized waste paper basket and turn it upside down over the unit, concealing it from view.