Question: Our dog is a notorious chowhound, and she's pretty indiscriminate about what she eats. Should we be worried?
Answer: Let me tell you about Goldie. Goldie is the kind of dog no one can resist for long. She hovers peaceably at barbecues, lays her head lovingly on guests’ laps during Thanksgiving dinner and generally makes a mild nuisance of herself whenever food is involved. Her imploring expression and gentle acceptance of rejection make it easy to forgive her, though.
As everyone who knows Goldie has learned, no degree of meticulous strategizing or human obstruction is enough to thwart a dog with an indefatigable nose for garbage. No matter where her owners stash it in an attempt to foil her canine impulses, Goldie’s a pro at unearthing people-processed trash.
After one now-notorious dinner party, Goldie slipped out the front door (no doubt as some inebriated guest departed) and was missing for hours. As it turned out, she hadn’t gone far. She was a mere few yards away, stealthily working her way through the garbage bin behind her house, gorging on the discarded contents of every diner’s plate. By the time she was discovered, her belly was bigger than a beach ball. Alarmed, her people rushed her to the emergency hospital to see what could be done to avert impending disaster.
An X-ray confirmed that Goldie had consumed a formidable number of carcass remnants and was thus ineligible for the effective—if undignified—emetic. (Vets don’t induce vomiting if sharp shards are present, since they can shred the esophagus on their way up.) Instead, she went home with stomach-protecting drugs and strict instructions to her family to fast her for a day and make sure she got plenty of rest.
She may have been spared nausea that night, but it wasn’t long before Goldie looked as though a truck had hit her—perhaps one loaded with the crustacean husks and Cornish game hen bones of the night before. Another X-ray confirmed that the bony material was in mid-digestion, most of it still in the stomach. The bigger problem, however, was the evidence of severe inflammation surrounding her stomach, upper intestines and pancreas.
Goldie didn’t have a fever and her blood work was normal, but it was obvious that she was in serious pain, and pancreatitis—a painful, life-threatening inflammation of the infamously sensitive pancreas—was high on the list of possibilities. Goldie was hospitalized and given IV fluid therapy, pain relief, antibiotics and more GI-protecting drugs. An ultrasound and consultation with an internal medicine specialist were also ordered.
Typically, vets allow even these extreme cases of garbage-toxicosis to pass—which they almost always do. Occasionally, however, when a dog has gorged to such a degree, more aggressive treatment is in order. This was indisputably the case with Goldie.
As gloomy thoughts of pancreatitis and the undigested matter loomed, Goldie’s vets summoned the surgeon. It was a hard call: gastrotomy or pancreatitis, or the inevitable bout of pancreatitis augmented by surgical pain. A gastrotomy surgically relieves the stomach of its bony burden, but the pancreas knows an insult when it sees one—and rarely veers off course once offended.
In spite of the risks, it was decided that Goldie should have surgery to remove the bulk of her midnight meal. Within 18 hours of its consumption, with the help of a heating blanket, four techs, one doctor and narcotics, she was recovering surprisingly well. Her family was sure she’d learned her lesson, but there’s no doubt in my mind that as she slept, her dreams were filled with visions of overflowing garbage bins and oceans of musty, refuse-ridden poultry carcasses.
The hazards of overindulgence—whether it’s the result of scavenging or human generosity—can be more serious than you might think. Dogs are notorious for the range of foodstuffs they’re willing to eat, and as Bark readers no doubt know, some of these items are dangerous, if not fatal. Chocolate, which is toxic, and high-fat or spoiled foods, which are triggers for pancreatitis, are to be scrupulously avoided. As Halloween and Thanksgiving approach, it’s a good idea to review potential food hazards on the ASPCA’s animal poison control site . Be extra vigilant, as not every dog will be as fortunate as Goldie!
PS: Goldie made a good recovery and continues to live contentedly with her now-vegetarian family.
Photograph by Allen Johnson