Ack—My Pet Ate Garbage!

Why worry? Because people food is not safe for animals. And food isn’t the only risk—animals will eat the most unexpected things. It’s important to guard that garbage can.
“You don’t want your dog to pig out on chocolate or leftover pizza, chicken or turkey—anything with a high percentage of fat can lead to pancreatitis (inflammation and swelling of the pancreas, which can cause permanent damage and be fatal),” says Martha Gearhart, DVM, owner of Pleasant Valley Animal Hospital, Pleasant Valley, N.Y. “Raw bones are digestible, but their sharp points are dangerous, and cooked bones are very brittle and can shatter [once eaten].”
The odor of food or blood attracts animals to garbage, sometimes with tragic results—Gearhart’s brother’s dog ate the plastic wrap and Styrofoam tray from a package of meat, killing the dog. “It didn’t show up in the X-ray, but the points from the Styrofoam punctured the lung,” she recalls.
Boredom and separation anxiety can make animals explore trash cans or pounce on decorations, Gearhart says. “Some dogs have a passion for salty, smelly socks!” she notes. “I had one dog that enjoyed knocking down glass ornaments and biting on decorative balls.”
Cats eating tinsel is so common that tinselitis is a veterinary term. “Cats won’t eat tinsel from the garbage can, but will be attracted to tinsel on a tree,” warns Gearhart.
I discovered that myself—my own cat once ate tinsel. I found out when she eliminated it, tangled in balls of poop that she dragged around the apartment. I was lucky to get her to the veterinarian in time for treatment.
Dogs may eat used tampons or sanitary pads, which cause dangerous internal obstructions, Gearhart says.
There is string in a roast or bird, and string is severely dangerous—it causes internal damage. Cats are more likely to eat string than are dogs, notes Gearhart.

Prevention First
Prevention is the best way to protect animals from garbage:
  • Rinse wrappers, containers and packaging before pitching them.
  • Lock garbage under the sink or on the porch.
  • Use trash cans with tight-fitting lids (heavy, self-closing cans for households with large dogs).
  • Move garbage from indoors to well-secured outdoor containers.
  • Put tinsel and breakable decorations high up, out of reach.
  • Put a decorated tree in a room with a door—and keep it closed.
  • Keep dogs away from dangerous and tempting situations.
As Gearhart notes, “I’m all for crate training. They feel better and more secure.”
Protective Measures
If precautions fail, the best thing to do is call your veterinarian, who might have you come in to get a vomit-inducing drug. Or, they may encourage you to induce vomiting, unless the animal ate something sharp, acidic or caustic.
In some instances, your veterinarian might have you wait—it can take up to 5 days for elimination. Regardless, work with your veterinarian to find the best “cure” for your pet.
Here’s to a safe diet, and holiday season, for your animals!
Readers: Tell us what your pet has gotten into by e-mailing the editor at ann.everhart@aahanet.org.

Originally published by AAHA.