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Eric Barchas, DVM is a veterinarian who lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. His emphasis is on small animal medicine, emergency medicine, hospice and wellness. An avid traveler, he has studied lions in Botswana and salmon in southern Chile.

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Dietary Indiscretion (Garbage Gut) in Dogs

Animals Affected

Dogs

Overview

Dietary indiscretion describes gastrointestinal upset that occurs when a dog ingests something that its body cannot tolerate.  Consumption of table scraps, garbage, or spoiled food may results in symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, lack of appetite, and weakness in dogs. The syndrome is similar to food poisoning in humans.

Dietary indiscretion is extremely common.  In some cases, people living with the dog feed table scraps or inappropriate foodstuffs that cause illness.  Many other cases of dietary indiscretion in dogs are self-inflicted.  These cases occur when dogs get into the trash or break into cupboards or refrigerators.

Most cases of dietary indiscretion are mild and do not have lasting consequences for the dog involved.  However, dogs that suffer severe illness due to dietary indiscretion may require intensive treatment.  The worst forms of dietary indiscretion can lead to pancreatitis or other serious complications.

Symptoms

  • Diarrhea is the most common symptom of dietary indiscretion. In some cases, small amounts of blood may be noted in the feces.
  • Loss of appetite often occurs due to nausea.
  • Some dogs vomit after consuming something that their body does not tolerate.
  • Lethargy is a common symptom of dietary indiscretion.
  • Owners sometimes note loud intestinal noises in dogs suffering from dietary indiscretion.
  • Some dogs with dietary indiscretion pace, pant, whine, or show other signs of abdominal pain and discomfort.
  • In some instances, people living with the dog witness the consumption of inappropriate items, or note garbage or food strewn about the house.

Risk Factors and Prevention

All dogs have the potential to suffer from dietary indiscretion if access to spoiled food, table scraps, or garbage exists.  Young dogs and dogs with very strong appetites suffer from the syndrome disproportionately.

Complications

Most cases of dietary indiscretion resolve over 24 - 72 hours without adverse long-term health effects.

House soiling may occur in dogs that have uncontrollable diarrhea.

Rarely, severe dietary indiscretion can lead to serious consequences such as pancreatitis. Dogs that consume bones or items that are not digestible may suffer from a life-threatening problem in which the ingested objects become lodged in the intestines.

Diagnosis

Many cases of dietary indiscretion are diagnosed based on symptoms and physical examination.  Especially in severe cases, veterinarians may run blood and stool tests, take X-rays, and perform other diagnostic assays to ensure that no other syndromes are playing a role in the symptoms.

Treatment

Many mild cases of dietary indiscretion resolve if the dog is fed a special, easily digestible diet.   Such diets are called "bland diets."

Dogs should be allowed to rest while they are recovering from dietary indiscretion.

In many cases, veterinarians prescribe stomach calming medications such as H2 blockers, metronidazole, or antibiotics to speed recovery.  Fluids may be administered by injection to treat or prevent dehydration.

Severe cases of dietary indiscretion can result in serious illness that requires hospitalization and intensive treatment.

Follow-up

The symptoms of dietary indiscretion usually begin to improve within 24 hours.

Many dogs develop the syndrome repeatedly over their lives.

Miscellaneous

Dietary indiscretion occurs, but is not common, in cats.

Dehydration and other serious complications can occur as a result of dietary indiscretion. Dogs suffering from the syndrome should undergo evaluation by a veterinarian.

Copyright © Eric Barchas, DVM All rights reserved.
The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.