Dietary Indiscretion in Dogs

Summary

Dogs are not selective about what they eat compared to humans, and their indiscretion often leads to gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and flatulence. This is referred to as dietary indiscretion or garbage gut and leads to conditions like: 

Gastritis • Gastroenteritis • Colitis • Pancreatitis

Each of these result from a dog’s tendency to overindulge on food and/or eat non-food items.

If the dog has severe symptoms, then emergency care is necessary, but if the symptoms are mild and the dog is otherwise alert, they may recover from dietary indiscretion without treatment within 24 - 48 hours.  

Dietary indiscretion has the potential to lead to other conditions including food bloat, gastric dilatation-volvulus, and gastrointestinal foreign body obstruction.   

Diagnosis and treatment depend greatly on the severity of the symptoms.

Risk Factors

Dietary indiscretion is common in dogs and the resulting symptoms range from mild to severe. Mild symptoms are often self-limiting, but severe symptoms indicate a need for emergency care.

**Severe symptoms that warrant emergency attention include: **

• Vomiting for >24 hours • Lethargy • Appetite loss • Severe abdominal pain or bloating • Dry heaves

• Pale gums • Weakness • Collapse

While it is useful to stop a dog from eating anything other than appropriate amounts of dog food and occasional treats, the fact that dogs are inclined to binge when food is available and sometimes eat non-food items is not a sign of something serious.

Possible Causes

Dietary indiscretion is caused by a dog’s natural tendency to eat indiscriminately. It is an inherent trait of their species, although there is variance in this behavior across individuals.

Main Symptoms

The main symptoms of garbage gut caused by dietary indiscretion are:

• Vomiting • Diarrhea • Lethargy • Lack of appetite • Stomach pain • Rumbling tummy

• Flatulence

Detailed Characterization

Other symptoms associated with dietary indiscretion are the result of potential complications such as: 

• Food bloat: Bloated belly, pacing, restlessness, excessive panting

• Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV): bloated belly, dry heaves, pale gums, labored breathing, weakness, collapse

• Gastrointestinal foreign body obstruction: vomiting >24 hours, appetite loss, lethargy

Pancreatitis: inflamed pancreas associated with eating fatty, rich foods

Veterinary care is helpful for dogs showing symptoms resulting from dietary indiscretion, regardless of if the symptoms are mild or severe.

Testing and Diagnosis

The diagnostic approach for a dog with dietary indiscretion varies depending on the severity of the symptoms shown. Typical tests, when warranted, include: 

• Bloodwork • Abdominal x-rays and/or ultrasound

More complicated cases require additional imaging such as: 

• Barium contrast study • Endoscopy

Steps to Recovery

The duration of symptoms resulting from dietary indiscretion varies widely depending on the severity and specific condition. Some cases resolve within 24 hours (or less) on their own, while some are life-threatening and require aggressive treatment and take weeks for recovery. 

Otherwise bright and alert dogs showing only mild vomiting and/or diarrhea often improve on their own within 24 - 48 hours. Common home therapies include: 

• Withholding food (fasting) • Small, frequent meals of a bland diet • Digestive probiotics

Treatment of more serious cases depends on which particular condition under the broad umbrella of dietary indiscretion the dog develops. Therapeutic options range from taking a wait-and-see approach to surgical removal of non-food items causing a GI obstruction. 

Veterinary care for dogs showing symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea following an episode of dietary indiscretion includes: 

• IV fluids • Anti-vomiting medications • GI protectants

When non-food objects in the digestive tract pose a risk for causing GI obstruction, surgical or endoscopic removal are utilized.

Prevention

Dietary indiscretion is not contagious.

To prevent a dog from dietary indiscretion:

• Provide proper pet food and treats, and only pet food (no table scraps) • Secure garbage cans

• Keep laundry bins closed • Store food in the fridge or cupboard; out of reach  

• Clear the garden or yard of toxins and loose items   • Supervise the dog during walks

• Use a basket muzzle 

If a dog routinely struggles with dietary indiscretion, veterinary advice about behavior management and environmental controls may help mitigate recurrence.

Is Dietary Indiscretion Common in Dogs?

Dietary indiscretion is very common in dogs.

Typical Treatment

Typical treatment of symptoms caused by dietary indiscretion may include:

• Wait-and-see (benign neglect) • Fasting • Bland diet • Anti-nausea and GI protectant medications

• IV fluids • Surgery for foreign bodies or obstruction

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