Otherwise known as, “Oh, is that where my other sock is?”
by Margot Schwag, VMD
** Permission of author is required for use of this article.**

To those of you who have “kids” that insist on putting everything in their mouths, and to those of you who some day may “enjoy” this dilemma, this article is for you.


Dietary indiscretion can be loosely defined as the ingestion of any non-approved items. Articles include clothing, wood, metal, feces, mulch, twigs, dirt, Aunt Martha’s new shoes, Uncle Henry’s toupee, your cranky sisters car keys, etc. You get my point.


Why dogs feel compelled to do so is the million dollar question, and for those of you who have been through the whole process, the potentially real “thousand dollar question”. Worse yet is the dog that dies due to a severe secondary case of pancreatitis, bowel perforation, or severe impaction and life threatening metabolic changes.


All humor aside, dietary indiscretion can be as mild as a dog that grabs the holiday turkey off the table, and only gets diarrhea that clears in a day or two on its own. Or the dog that eats 6 corn-on–the-cobs, 4 chicken leg bones, the plastic the garbage was wrapped in, as well as a wad of tin foil for good measure. (Yes, I often write from experience, my beloved Poppy did this. In her case she never even burped once, instead, she wanted more!)  On the severe side, I once attempted to treat a dog that got into the trash and ate a small piece of kielbasa. That dog died within hours due to acute necrotising pancreatitis. Sadly she never had a chance.


Signs of Gastrointestinal (G.I.) upset include:

  • Lip smacking or licking

  • Increased salivation

  • Anxious look on the dog’s face

  • Decreased appetite

  • Vomiting

  • Straining to defecate without producing stool

  • Diarrhea

  • The dog passing particularly foul smelling gas. (You mean Doberman gas can get worse?)

  • The dog turning to look at their flanks (sides)

  • Increased gurgling noises from the stomach (borborygmi)

  • Distension of the chest and/or abdomen

  • Pacing or whining

  • The inability to lay comfortably

  • The dog assuming the “prayer position” where the dog stands with their chest close to the ground and their hind end is still standing


Performing a physical exam is the first, and most important step, in determining what is distressing the dog.

  • Check the gums- are they a normal pink and are they moist, or are they pale pink, blue, bright red? Are they dry to the touch?

  • A review of the dog’s facial expression is important. Does the dog look calm and happy or do they look worried, confused, anxious?

  • Is the heart rate elevated (greater than 150 beats per minute indicating

the possibility of pain.)

  • Is the dog salivating, swallowing often, or vomiting?

  • Do they repeatedly look at their belly?

  • Does the dog’s chest or abdomen appear distended? Is it painful to palpate the abdomen i.e., does the dog grunt, groan, or cry when the belly is gently compressed? Is the abdomen distended with any of the “ F’s”, fat, fluid, fetus, or flatulence (air), food, or foreign body- “Oh, is that where that toy went!”.

  • On rectal exam, is there normal or loose stool in the rectum?

  • Are the dog's pulses weak and thready?

  • Are the dog’s intestines making extensive amounts of noise i.e. borborygmi- a function of intestinal motility


Diagnostic tests to “rule in or rule out” dietary indiscretion include

  • Abdominal radiographs-the preferred tool with suspected G.I. disease

  • Plain films

  • Contrast films- using barium or another type of dye

  • Complete blood profile and serum multiple assay

  • Urinalysis

  • Fecal exam

  • Abdominal ultrasound

  • Endoscopy


Differential diagnosis for dietary indiscretion include diseases of the

  • Esophagus

  • Stomach

  • Pancreas

  • Small intestines

  • Cecum (another term for appendix)

  • Colon

  • Liver

  • Kidneys

  • Bladder

  • i.e. any abdominal organ that is not functioning normally


As one can see, dietary indiscretion can be a difficult definitive diagnosis to arrive at. That is why a thorough history can be so helpful. Thankfully many owners witness their beloved dogs in the act of eating “forbidden fruit”.


Treatment can be variable due to the scope and severity of the problem. Often times the animal has indigestion for a day or two and clears up on their own. Typically if the pup is still acting normally otherwise, but won’t eat and has diarrhea or occasional vomiting, I will instruct the “parents” to wait a day before seeing the dog. If the vomiting or diarrhea continues in the happy dog for the third day, I want to see them.  If the dog is distressed to any degree, I want to see that pet that day.


Based on the physical exam and history, I will determine what tests, if any, are necessary, and then perform the appropriate tests. Occasionally no abnormalities show at that time. If that is the case, I will hospitalize the pup for further observation and repeat the tests as indicated. Rarely, we only get our answer after performing surgery and possibly taking biopsies.


For the lucky dog with simple G.I. upset, I recommend:

  • No food for 24 hours-the intestines need to rest to heal

  • Give water in only small amounts as large amount of water can make a vomiting dog continue to vomit

  • Give live culture yogurt ( 2-3 Tbs./meal ) to replace good bacteria potentially overwhelmed by bad bacteria

  • Add canned pumpkin ( ¼ c/meal ) or Metamucil ( 1-2 tsp./meal )to the bland diet once the dog is done fasting to give the stool some bulk

  • Once eating, feed a bland diet 3-4 times daily. Either feed a commercially available high fiber, low fat diet such as Fit’n’Trim, R/D, W/D, or I/D. Or home cook a hamburger, chicken, turkey, etc. and rice diet. To do so, cover the meat with water and boil till cooked. Then skim off the fat, then water. Then mix one part meat with four parts 20 minute rice. Once the dog is back to normal, slowly wean them back onto their normal diet over the next five to seven days.


As you see, determining what is wrong with your dog can be as exasperating for the Veterinarian as it is for the owner. The good news is that we usually get our diagnosis and the dog lives another day to do it all over again!


* Abdominal distension, retching to vomit, anxious facial expression, pacing, whining etc. Can all be signs of gastric torsion-volvulus syndrome otherwise known as “bloat”. This is a potentially deadly disease that all owners should be aware of and know the signs to watch for. These dogs require immediate attention or their chances for survival are poor. For more information, please refer to the article on Bloat.


© 1999 Margot B. Schwag, VMD. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint contact author at Landisville Animal Hospital,

3035 Harrisburg Pike, Landisville, PA 17538