Published on
Last updated on
5 min read

Key takeaways

Dogs are not selective about what they eat compared to humans, which can result in dietary indiscretion or “garbage gut."

  • Dietary indiscretion often leads to GI irritation which may be diagnosed as gastritis, gastroenteritis, or colitis if veterinary intervention is required
  • Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and flatulence
  • Severe symptoms include collapse, pale gums, abdominal pain, and prolonged vomiting, which require emergency veterinary care
  • Dietary indiscretion has the potential to lead to other, more serious conditions including food bloat, gastric dilatation-volvulus, pancreatitis, and gastrointestinal foreign body obstruction, all of which are life threatening
  • Diagnosis and treatment depend greatly on the severity of the symptoms
  • Mild cases may recover without treatment within 24 - 48 hours
Are you concerned?

Connect with a vet to get more information about your pet’s health.

Book an online vet

A closer look: Dietary Indiscretion in Dogs

Dietary indiscretion is a general description of canine behavior that often results in gastrointestinal upset and symptoms. Dogs are indiscriminate eaters and tend to eat foods and items outside of their normal diet, including feces, roadkill, human food, table scraps, other pets’ food, and trash found on the ground. Depending on the constitution of the individual dog and what was eaten, symptoms of dietary indiscretion may develop after eating something unusual.

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.

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.

Veterinary care is helpful for dogs showing symptoms resulting from dietary indiscretion that do not resolve within 48 hours.

Connect with a vet to get more information

With DVM, ICH certifications and great reviews by pet parents like you for this symptom

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.

Some severe symptoms caused by dietary indiscretion may be due to potential complications.

In addition, vomiting for >24 hours and severe abdominal pain or bloating are also emergencies requiring urgent veterinary care.

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

Testing and diagnosis

Many occurrences of dietary indiscretion do not require veterinary attention. If needed, 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

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

Note: it is best to review dietary changes with a veterinarian before attempting at-home remedies. In some cases these remedies may cause further complications.

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.


Dietary indiscretion is not contagious.

To prevent a dog from developing symptoms related to 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 in Dogs common?

Dietary indiscretion is very common in dogs.

Typical Treatment

  • Wait-and-see (benign neglect)
  • Fasting
  • Bland diet
  • Anti-nausea and GI protectant medications
  • IV fluids
  • Surgery for foreign bodies or obstruction


Rachel Nixon BA VetMB CertAVP MRCVS and Lawrence Dodi BVSc MSc MRCVS - Writing for VetHelpDirect
No Author - Writing for Atlantic Veterinary Internal Medicine and Oncology

Our editorial committee

Our medical review team is responsible for validating and maintaining the quality of our medical information.