Pet parents often have common questions and concerns about things that the ‘dog dragged in.’ Dogs are closely tied to their genetic ancestors who survived by hunting, scavenging and eating, you guessed it, dead things. Some pet owners are concerned that their dog might contract an infectious disease chewing on a dead bird or roadkill, such as west nile virus or avian influenza. The truth is that even though they are high on the icky factor, dead birds are low on the risk factor. Even though west nile virus can cause death in birds, especially bluejays and crows, the risk of transmission of west nile is presumable very low in dogs. Avian influenza may cause very mild disease in dogs and cats, but most of the time any disease the pet might contract is so mild it goes unnoticed by the owner.

Your highest risk of infection from dead play things come from intestinal parasites, but if your pet is regularly dewormed and on a monthly preventative, then you and your pet are protected. If your pet finds a dead rodent or gopher, your primary concern should be rat poison. If you are at all suspicious that the rodent your pet is chewing on could have been poisoned, call your local veterinarian immediately. Your vet can run special blood tests to determine if your pet has been exposed to certain poisons, and if caught in time, you veterinarian can help your dog throw up the ingested material.

What about pets who get into the garbage, people food or tear open dog food? Pets, specifically dogs, who like to eat things they shouldn’t can develop a condition commonly known as “garbage gut”. Garbage gut is characterized by vomiting and or diarrhea usually with loss of appetite. It is usually caused by any number of factors: your dog’s response to a new food, an overloaded system, the effects of fermenting material on the intestinal tract or ingestion of bacteria such as Salmonella. Most times, the dog may vomit and have some diarrhea, but is otherwise fine and gets over it quickly. Other times, they may need to be fed a bland diet for a couple of days until their system gets back to normal.

Usually, garbage gut is more of a nuisance than a major health problem. If your dog vomits or has diarrhea, monitor them closely and call your vet if you have any concerns. Signs that your pet may be experiencing a more serious problem include:

  1. Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  2. Frequent unsuccessful vomiting
  3. Hunched stance, crying or moving around like it hurts
  4. Significant anxiety and restlessness
  5. Loss of appetite for more than one day
  6. Loss of energy

These signs may indicate a potentially serious problem, such as an intestinal obstruction with bones or indigestible garbage, bloat, severe intestinal infection or pancreatitis. If you have a dog that is very young or very old, has underlying health problems or is predisposed to bloat or pancreatitis, it is wise to call a veterinarian if your pet has any of these clinical signs.