For many owners, their deluxe pedigree or posh cross will at any opportunity turn into something resembling what can only be described as the cookie monster. Indiscriminantly binging at every opportunity.

One might hope their desire to ingest anything other than that expensive, organic, uniquely-sourced food would be as low as a vegan’s wish to eat offal. However, in reality, given the chance, you’re pretty certain they would eat anything to the point of resembling a blimp. 

Indeed, their desire to gorge may lead you to question those longing looks your pet gives you – is it adoration or something entirely different? It is best we not linger on that thought and definitely do not google the answer to that question either!

Put simply, some dogs will eat anything. For many it isn’t just edible and digestible foodstuffs that they choose to munch on.

Sadly, no canine has a cast-iron stomach. For some, it’s only a temporary holding station of “food” before it is ejected to the nearest forward or rear-facing exit; faster than an arachnophobe leaving a room on hearing the opening theme to ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’.

Your dog (or possibly cat) is a scavenger and this regular habit could result in vomiting and diarrhoea or worse. Vets call this ‘dietary indiscretion’ but you may have heard it referred to as ‘garbage gut’. 

What are the clinical signs of garbage gut?

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Reduced appetite
  • Quiet behaviour
  • Stomach and gut pain
  • Flatulence (farting!)
  • A grumbly tummy

The severity of clinical signs is often variable. Many animals will recover without treatment or with simple medical management from your vet in 24-72 hours. However, other animals can develop potentially life-threatening complications including: 

  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Gastro-intestinal obstruction (ingested material causing a blockage in their stomach or intestines) 
  • Sepsis (a life-threatening condition caused by the body’s response to infection-causing tissue damage and organ failure)
  • Clinical signs specific to certain toxins (for example seizures following ingestion of slug pellets)

How is dietary indiscretion diagnosed?

Most cases of dietary indiscretion are diagnosed based on your pet’s history, presenting signs and clinical examination. Your vet may perform additional tests, particularly in severe cases or those not responding as expected to initial medical management, to rule out other complications such as dehydration, pancreatitis, obstruction etc. These tests include but are not limited to:

  • Blood testing
  • Ultrasound
  • X-rays
  • Faecal testing

How is it treated?

Thankfully, most cases of dietary indiscretion are mild and respond to feeding a bland diet (for example boiled chicken or white fish and rice) without any veterinary intervention. 

If clinical signs persist, your vet may consider further treatment which may include:

  • Anti-emetics – medication to stop vomiting and nausea
  • Gut protectors – to treat irritation or ulceration of the lining of the stomach
  • Probiotics – to replace normal ‘gut bacteria’ and reduce irritation to the lining of the gastro-intestinal tract
  • Antibiotics – are rarely needed. They are used in certain cases if there is a suspicion of infection, for example if your pet has a high temperature or significant blood in their stools
  • IV fluids – may be needed if your pet is becoming dehydrated

Specific treatment may be required such as surgery to remove ingested material causing obstruction, or hospitalisation for further medical management in patients with more severe side effects. 

How is it prevented? 

Unfortunately, some animals don’t learn and periodically suffer from dietary indiscretion. Preventing this can be difficult, particularly if your pet likes to pick up things on walks. Steps you can take include:

  • Keeping food out of reach of pets or in the fridge/cupboard if they are able to reach kitchen surfaces
  • Keeping your garden clear of toxins or rubbish that may tempt your pet
  • Supervising your pet closely on walks 
  • In some cases, for the worst offending dogs they need to wear a basket muzzle on walks to ensure they don’t eat something unwanted

So, next time your dog decides to be a dustbin, resulting in an evening holding back their ears from the stream of detritus and bile, whilst also dodging what appears to be demonically directed projectile diarrhoea, remember … you are not alone! Welcome to one of the downsides of being a domesticated wolf owner. Luckily, you have a vet in your corner to help.

Don’t blame yourself, as they almost certainly brought it on themselves. Like us, after the worst hangover, the memory will soon fade and they will be back to tempting the gastro-intestinal gods in no time at all.

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