It’s every pet owner’s nightmare: your dog simply won’t stay out of the garbage can, laundry basket or your garden without eating something and getting sick all over your house, or your cat constantly eats string or hair ties she finds. In veterinary terms, this type of compulsive eating of inappropriate objects is known as dietary indiscretion and it can lead to significant consequences for your pet.
With the help of the article below, you should be able to learn more about this behavior, as well as what conditions it may cause in your pet. You can use this information to prepare and monitor your pet properly moving forward.
What is Dietary Indiscretion?
Dietary indiscretion refers to the behavior of eating anything outside of a pet’s normal diet, such as garbage, foreign objects, table scraps, or excrement from other animals. Pets who are prone to eating garbage or trying to ingest food that isn’t theirs—or items that are not food at all—may be exhibiting dietary indiscretion. Dietary indiscretion may also be used to refer to the set of clinical symptoms, such as various types of gastrointestinal upset, that go along with this behavioral pattern.
What Causes Dietary Indiscretion in Pets?
Dietary indiscretion as a behavior is not caused by anything in particular. Some pets are simply more prone to this behavior than others. It may be seen more commonly in a pet who lived as a stray for a while, especially if that pet had to forage for food at some point. This is not always the case, however.
Dietary indiscretion may also be caused by humans giving inappropriate or unusual foods to pets, or it can be caused by pets getting into the garbage.
What Are the Symptoms of Dietary Indiscretion?
Dietary indiscretion is a common cause for acute gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting and diarrhea. The ingestion of foreign (non-food) material is a specific cause of dietary indiscretion.
What Are the Complications That Can Occur from Dietary Indiscretion in Pets?
Pets that eat items they should not consume may suffer from vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, lack of appetite, stomach pain, flatulence and dehydration. If these symptoms continue for more than a day, dehydration is a serious risk. For this reason, pets should be taken to the vet or emergency vet if they have had persistent diarrhea and vomiting for more than 24 hours.
Beyond vomiting and diarrhea, pets with “garbage gut” can develop acute or chronic gastritis, gastroenteritis, pancreatitis, colitis or even sepsis in severe cases and they may need to be treated by internal medicine and critical care specialists.
How Can You Prevent Dietary Indiscretion Problems?
Always make sure your pet is given proper pet food and pet treats only. Do not give your pet table scraps, as this could cause more significant dietary indiscretion and ultimately lead to pancreatitis.
Make sure you keep the garbage can secured so pets do not have access to trash and be sure to use closed laundry bins to avoid consumption of clothing items. If your pet shows signs of sudden dietary indiscretion, take her to the vet to be tested for conditions such as Cushing’s disease or hyperthyroidism, both of which can lead to a voracious appetite.
How is Dietary Indiscretion Treated?
Dietary indiscretion as a behavior cannot be treated, but it can be managed. This means it is up to you, as the pet’s owner, to make sure they do not have access to food or other items they may want to consume that could be harmful. This also means that you need to be ready to take your pet to the vet if they happen to eat something dangerous. We recommend that pet owners purchase pet insurance policies to assist with unforeseen medical expenses.
Mild symptoms of gastrointestinal upset caused by dietary indiscretion can be treated by a 24-hour fast (as long as your pet is not diabetic) followed by offering a bland diet for a few days. In moderate cases, pets may need medications and intravenous fluids from the vet, and in severe cases, pets may need to see an internal medicine specialist.
Foreign body ingestion is a subset of dietary indiscretion and can be an emergency, depending on what and how much was ingested. Many foreign bodies can be diagnosed by abdominal x-rays, while others are harder to visualize without an abdominal ultrasound and may be more difficult to diagnose.
At AVIM&O, we utilize endoscopy, a non-surgical method of visualizing the digestive tract using a tube fixed with a camera and light, to confirm the ingestion of many foreign bodies. Pets need to be under general anesthesia in order for our internal medicine specialists to safely perform this procedure.
Many foreign objects pass through the digestive tract without issue as long as they are not oversized or toxic in nature, but it can be difficult to tell when an object can or will get stuck in the GI tract. We may recommend a “wait and see” approach if your pet’s symptoms are mild in nature and if we can confirm that they ingested small, round or blunt foreign objects.
In other cases, endoscopic removal should be pursued for:
- Sharp objects, such as needles; although some needles pass uneventfully, others may puncture the GI tract, resulting in peritonitis
- Toxic materials, which commonly include lead, zinc, and small disk batteries containing alkali
- Objects that have been trapped for more than 2 to 3 weeks.
In some cases, a diagnosis or retrieval cannot be done non-invasively and an abdominal exploratory surgery is necessary to rule out an intestinal foreign body. Objects that are very difficult or impossible to remove from the stomach endoscopically include corn cobs, large rocks, large balls, polyurethane glue, and heavy objects.
Reach Out to Your Vet if Your Pet Suffers from Dietary Indiscretion
Dietary indiscretion is a common problem that affects many pets, although it is more common in dogs. It can be a mild condition that resolves with proper diet and behavior management, but it can also become more severe and may require assistance from a specialist at AVIM&O.
If you have any questions about your pet’s health and wellness, take them to the vet for a checkup. Your primary care veterinarian will recommend a referral to AVIM&O if your pet needs more specialized treatment or diagnostics.