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Dietary Indiscretion in Dogs

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Sometimes called “garbage gut,” dietary indiscretion is an issue that affects many pets, though it’s most common in dogs. 

What is dietary indiscretion?

Simply put, dietary indiscretion refers to any time your dog eats something they shouldn’t—including garbage, table scraps, or non-food items. It is often accompanied by signs of gastrointestinal (GI) upset, such as diarrhea or vomiting. 

Dietary indiscretion can happen to any dog, though some are more prone than others.

What to do if your dog has a dietary indiscretion

Sometimes, dietary indiscretion does not result in any symptoms, and dogs can digest the items normally. On other occasions, dietary indiscretion can cause stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or dehydration. Pets with dietary indiscretion may also develop pancreatitis or other diseases.

Mild cases of dietary indiscretion in dogs are usually resolved by a short episode of fasting (12 to 24 hours) or by feeding your dog a bland, easily digestible diet until they feel better. Always talk to your veterinarian before fasting a puppy, as fasting young dogs can result in severe hypoglycemia. Dogs with frequent vomiting and/or frequent episodes of watery diarrhea need immediate veterinary intervention, as they may not be able to drink enough water to replace their fluid loss. 

If symptoms continue, dehydration can become a serious issue. Take your dog to your veterinarian or an emergency clinic if they aren’t drinking water, if their GI symptoms continue for more than 24 hours, or if they refuse to eat for more than 24 hours. If you notice that your dog has dry, tacky gums, or if you gently pull on the skin of their neck and it stays up (“tented”) even after you let go, your dog is dehydrated and needs immediate care.

If your dog ingests a potentially poisonous substance, such as a toxic plant, chocolate, or other dangerous items, contact a poison control center immediately. You can reach the 24-hour ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. (Note that pet poison control helplines charge a consultation fee.) Don’t try to induce vomiting unless you’re instructed to do so.

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Ingestion of an object (what veterinarians call a “foreign body”) can be an emergency, depending on the object. Your veterinarian may recommend an X-ray to diagnose foreign body ingestion. After confirming what the object is, your veterinarian can advise on the best course of action. If the object is small and harmless, it might pass through your dog’s digestive tract normally. If it is sharp or toxic, your veterinarian might recommend surgery to remove it.

How to prevent dietary indiscretion in dogs

Dietary indiscretion behaviors can be managed. These tips can help prevent your dog from ingesting something they shouldn’t:

  1. Always give your dog their own food and dog-safe treats. 
  2. Limit table scraps, and make sure you don’t give your dog any human foods that are toxic to dogs.
  3. Keep garbage cans, food containers, and laundry bins closed and secured.
  4. Dog-proof your house and make sure hazards like household chemicals, electrical cables, medications, and dangerous plants are out of reach.
  5. If your dog is prone to dietary indiscretions while you’re away, crate training might help keep them safe in your absence. 

If you don’t have one already, consider a pet insurance policy, which can help cover unexpected medical expenses.

Mimi Padmabandu Contributor

Mimi Padmabandu is a scientific writer and Content Strategy Lead at Embark Veterinary. She has over a decade of experience writing about science and genomics for leading biotechnology companies. She holds a bachelor's degree in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology from UCLA and a master’s degree in Early Modern English Literature from King’s College London.

Read more about Mimi Padmabandu

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