Some kids will seemingly eat anything, as long as it has no nutritional value and is objectively disgusting. From eating dirt to consuming boogers to, yup, eating poop (theirs or the dog’s), there will come a day when your child puts something unspeakable in their mouth, and you’ll have to act fast. What happens if they eat poop? Should you call poison control? Should you go to the doctor? Can you kiss your kid on the lips with confidence ever again? What is a parent to do when their kid ingests something as inedible as it is unfathomable?
First of all, don’t panic. For most children, eating non-food items is just part of a natural and developmentally appropriate exploration. The lips, tongue, and face have the most nerve receptors in the body, after all. All a kid needs to do to get information about something is shove it in their pie hole, and even some scientists still consider tasting as a valid form of inquiry.
Eating Dirt, Bugs, and Other Things in the Garden
Most bugs are nontoxic and are unlikely to cause any serious issues; dirt can actually be really healthy for little kids to consume. It helps them build out their microbiomes — that is unless it contains fertilizers or feces in which case it’s likely to trigger food-poisoning-like symptoms.
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What to Do: Keep an eye on the kid. If they are eating dirt that you’re confident is clean, let it happen for a bit.
This is an unsightly habit that many kids fall into. It’s deeply unpleasant to watch, and teaching a kid to not pick their nose and eat it is a good idea for social reasons. But there’s no real medical concern here.
What to Do: Politely suggest they stop.
Eating Pet Food
Small amounts of various pet chow and treats will likely be harmless. However, experts have linked some pet food to salmonella outbreaks.
What to Do: Call your pediatrician and let them know. Ask about salmonella symptoms.
What Happens If They Eat Poop
In small amounts, most poop won’t be harmful, but it could give your kid food-poisoning-like symptoms. Mouse poop is dangerous. Dog poop is not. Baby poop is, well, likely to be consumed at some point and probably not a problem beyond it being very gross.
What to Do: Watch for diarrhea, vomiting, and fever, which could occur within 30 minutes to 4 hours of ingestion. If symptoms don’t show up, give them some water and keep an eye out. If symptoms do show up and persist, it’s a good idea to call your kid’s doc.
What to Do When They Eat Wild Mushrooms, Berries, and Houseplants
These things can be incredibly toxic to little systems. Also, there is a tremendous variety, which means you’ll likely need help.
What to Do: Get poison control on the horn and make sure you snap a picture of the offending mushroom, berry, or plant in question to help the experts identify the risk.
Eating Their Own Spit-Up
It’s not uncommon for a young baby to regurgitate food and then re-consume said food. It’s unpleasant, but mostly a product of the newborn digestive system being slightly wonky.
What to Do: Make sure you know the difference between spit-up and vomiting. If a child is eating his or her own vomit (or simply vomiting a lot), you should call a pediatrician.
A Note on Pica
For a smaller number of children, eating non-food related things could be linked with developmental disabilities or early brain injury. In these children, the condition is called pica. It’s also experienced by some women during pregnancy. You can differentiate pica from normal developmental exploration if you find that your kid persists in eating specific non-food stuff, despite attempts to curb the behavior. Another indication is if the behavior continues past an age when it’s appropriate to explore things with the mouth.
Eating Your Stash
Pot decriminalization is occurring in many states, and along with it a surge in tasty-looking (but potent) marijuana gummy bears. Keep in mind that little systems aren’t ready for your grown-up nonsense.
What to Do: In the most extreme cases of pot “poisoning,” a kid’s breathing could become too shallow to provide enough oxygen. Because the dosage is hard to understand for legal weed, your best course of action is to call poison control. They are more interested in keeping your kid safe than narcing you out. They’re there to help.
Calling poison control is a no-brainer in circumstances where your kid is gnawing on non-organic inedibles, chewing dryer lint or quaffing bleach (though you did some baby-proofing to make sure that doesn’t happen, right?). Don’t worry about this being an overreaction. The folks at poison control are used to it and, in most cases, will simply explain that panic isn’t necessary. There are basically two rules to follow:
- Never induce vomiting and…
- Call poison control if you are ever in doubt.
Much of the stuff your kid can get into from day to day is not capital “P” poisonous. Unpleasant? Yep. A choking hazard? Most assuredly. But in small amounts, nothing to worry about.
Things get a bit more complicated in suppressing the gag reflex way when it comes to organic inedibles, like poop. Many babies’ most disgusting moments won’t end poorly, but some will in a gastric sense.