Dietary Indiscretion in Cats

Key Takeaways

Dietary indiscretion occurs when a cat eats non-food items or food outside of its typical diet. 

• Dietary indiscretion is uncommon in cats

• Vomiting and diarrhea are the most common symptoms of dietary indiscretion

• Symptoms associated with dietary indiscretion are typically mild, but prompt veterinary care is recommended to rule out more serious conditions

• Diagnostics include physical examination, blood work, and diagnostic imaging

• Treatment typically involves a period of fasting, followed by a bland diet for 2-3 days

• Most cases are mild and symptoms resolve within 24-72 hours of treatment

A Closer Look: What is Dietary Indiscretion in Cats?

Dietary indiscretion is uncommon in cats, as they tend to be picky eaters. 

Other symptoms associated with dietary indiscretion include:

• Abdominal pain • Flatulence • Reduced appetite • Lethargy

Cats showing symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea require prompt veterinary care, to rule out more serious conditions that present with similar symptoms. In some cases, dietary indiscretion leads to more serious conditions such as:

GastritisEnteritisIntestinal obstructionPoisoning from ingesting toxic materials

Risk Factors

Overall, dietary indiscretion has an excellent prognosis, with most cases resolving within 24-72 hours. Dietary indiscretion is not common in cats as they are generally discerning eaters. Cats are not likely to develop symptoms associated with dietary indiscretion if their access to foods other than their own is restricted.

Possible Causes

Consumption of any food or non-food item outside of the cat’s normal diet constitutes dietary indiscretion. Potential sources of food include:

• Garbage • Table scraps • Other pets’ food • Non-food items like hair ties and wrappers

• Food items found in the environment, such as litter • Food or treats fed to outdoor cats by neighbors

• Prey hunted by outdoor cats, such as birds or rodents

Main Symptoms

Dietary indiscretion most commonly causes vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms are usually mild in cats.

Testing and Diagnosis

Diagnosis is usually based on a history of eating new food items, combined with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. Most cases of dietary indiscretion do not require additional testing if symptoms are not severe. Cases that do not resolve on their own, or have severe symptoms, may require additional testing such as blood work, X-rays, or ultrasound.

Steps to Recovery

Most cases of dietary indiscretion in cats respond to diet changes designed to allow the intestinal tract to rest. Food is typically withheld for up to 24 hours, then a bland diet is fed for 2-3 days. Frequent, small meals are better tolerated than large meals when a cat’s digestive tract is recovering. As long as symptoms continue to improve, regular food is slowly reintroduced over the following week. 

If symptoms do not improve, further diagnostic tests and treatments are indicated. Medications such as probiotics, anti-nausea medications, and gastrointestinal protectants are helpful in resolving more severe cases. 

Most cases of dietary indiscretion have an excellent prognosis, with the cat recovering within 24-72 hours with appropriate treatment.


Cats are usually picky eaters, so dietary indiscretion is uncommon in this species. Prevention strategies for cats known to eat unusual food items include:

• Using a tightly sealed container for garbage • Keeping cats indoors

• Keeping cabinets, cupboards, and the fridge door secured • Proper storage and disposal of all human food

Is Dietary Indiscretion Common in Cats?

Dietary indiscretion is uncommon in cats, due to their picky nature.

Typical Treatment

Fasting and a bland diet

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