Garbagitis, Garbage Gut, Non Specific GI Upset, & GI Discomfort
by Roger Ross, DVM
These terms are frequently used for any type of gastro-intestinal upset that we suspect is due to eating something inappropriate, rancid, in excess etc.
Your pet may feel miserable and be suffering from any combination of gas, diarrhea, constipation, bloat, and so forth.
Despite the awful feeling your pet may be experiencing, these cases are not usually serious.
However, every once in a while these cases can become critical quickly....leading to a twisted bowel, colic, and possible death.
Trust your vet and his or her instincts on whether or not to treat your case casually or aggressively.
Casual treatment typically involves treating the symptoms to make the patient more comfortable and evacuating the bowel with laxatives and/or enemas.
Casual or conservative treatment at our clinic would consist of:
A good exam and history: If the vital signs, gum color, pupil responses, and hydration are all normal, and the problem has only been going on for 1-2 days, then treating symptomatically and skipping a more expensive work up would be appropriate as long as someone is watching carefully to make sure the patient is improving quickly and not getting worse. Our most common case is somewhat tight and gassy abdomen on palpation and a history of a pet that just "isn't feeling well" and not eating much for a day or two. Sometimes the history includes "got into the garbage" or "yes, it eats everything including sticks, dirt, toys, etc" or "my husband feeds it food and snacks from the table".
Here's how I handle these less serious cases:
Unless the owner brought in a stool sample, I put a rectal probe up the anus to see what comes out. Is there mucus or blood indicating irritation? Is there diarrhea?
If an adequate stool sample comes out with the probe, we do an inexpensive test for intestinal worms.
For most cases I give a combination injection of antibiotics, short acting steroids, atropine, and B-12 to reduce gas, inflammation, as a prophalaxis against infection, and to make the patient feel better.
Then we try to get everything out of the bowel whether it be a physical object such as plastic wrap, hair, chewed up wood ... or whether it be just rancid food, gastric acid etc.
Whatever it is... our goal is to get it out of there. We do this with some combination of oral laxatives and enemas.
And finally, we wait and watch. If the bowel evacuation works and lots of foul looking stool comes out and the patient is much perkier and eating our job is pretty much done.
If, on the other hand, the vital signs are alarming, the gums aren't a healthy pink, there's clinical dehydration, or the abdomen is especially hard or painful on palpation ... or we've already tried conservative, symptomatic treatment and it didn't work ...
Here's how we handle such cases more aggressively:
On our casual treatment cases we often treat as outpatients or keep in the hospital only as a convenience since giving enemas are messy.
But for more serious cases, we formally hospitalize these patients and in addition to the treatment used for less serious cases we:
Get blood for lab work to rule out things like pancreatitis, liver disease, infection, metabolic disorders and so forth
We start IV Fluids
We take Radiographs looking for foreign objects, bowel torsions, intussceptions, and colic.
Surgery is NOT needed in most cases but sometimes it is and sometimes on an emergency basis. Neither dogs nor cats are prone to appendicitis, but there are prone to perforations, torsions, and intussceptions all of which need quick surgical intervention.
For really serious cases, your vet may recommend endoscopy, ultra-sound, or referral.
Street scene; India