A dog peeking its head above the edge of a table with food on it.

Debarking Pet Myths: My Dog Can Eat Anything!

Welcome to another installment of “Debarking Pet Myths,” our monthly series that addresses common myths, misconceptions and old wives’ tales about dogs, cats and their nutrition.

We all know that one dog owner who boasts of their dog’s seemingly cast-iron stomach. The dog can eat anything — table scraps, garbage, stagnant water, etc. — and feel no ill effects. But can the dog really eat anything, or are these tales taller than most?

In reality, a dog that “eats anything” is a dog that often suffers from dietary indiscretion, a condition more commonly known as “garbage gut.” When a dog eats something that their system isn’t used to, they can face gastrointestinal upset that can manifest itself in a number of ways, often depending on what exactly they ate. If the ingested food was absorbed into the system, it might cause vomiting or diarrhea, but if your dog ingested something indigestible, like a bone or a sock, there might be a physical blockage that causes the distress.

Outdoor pets are more susceptible

The term “garbage gut” can be misleading because eating the garbage is far from the only way a pet can end up with it. Eating any spoiled food or certain raw foods can upset the gastrointestinal system. A pet can get it from eating other animals’ stool, from eating birds or other wild animals, or drinking stagnant water; this is why it’s more common in dogs and cats who are free to roam outside. Ingesting anything unusual can potentially cause an issue.

Some cases can be severe

While most cases of garbage gut work themselves out within 72 hours, it can be severe and is almost always scary for the pet owner. You might see diarrhea and vomiting, lethargy, fever, lack of appetite or signs of an achy stomach. In some cases, the vomit or diarrhea may be bloody. It’s never fun to see your pet down for the count.

Dogs and cats have … interesting bowel movements somewhat regularly, so in mild cases, you might not even know that something out of the ordinary is occurring. You know your pet better than anyone, so if they seem to be sick or acting weirdly for an extended period of time, consult your veterinarian. Severe cases of garbage gut can lead to dehydration or pancreatitis.

Treating garbage gut

More often than not, garbage gut is mild, and your dog will feel better after a few days of rest and a bland, easily digestible diet. If there’s been a lot of vomiting or diarrhea, your veterinarian may administer fluids to prevent dehydration, or even medication to calm a rumbly stomach.

In severe cases, your dog might be hospitalized, or your veterinarian may treat them for pancreatitis, an uncomfortable condition caused by an inflamed pancreas. The exact cause of acute pancreatitis is unknown, but a sudden influx of fatty foods (like in table scraps), can be a culprit. If left untreated, pancreatitis can cause shock or death.

Prevention is the best medicine

The easiest way to keep your pet free from garbage gut is to limit their diet to a high-quality pet food. But we all know that dogs are curious, and we can’t expect them to remain indoors and away from table scraps or garbage 100 percent of the time. If you suspect that your pet has come down with garbage gut, try to retrace their steps to see what may have caused it, and keep a close eye on their behavior.

Let’s face it; we all sometimes eat things we shouldn’t. Pets are no different!

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The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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