From toys and grass to feces and roadkill...some dogs will eat anything. If your dog eats things it shouldn't there may be good reason to be concerned. Today our North Asheville vets look at why some dogs eat everything they see and tips on how to stop this problematic behavior.
If it's not food, why do they eat it?
In many cases, the answer is pica. Pica is a relatively common disorder that causes your dog to eat things that are not food, such as socks, shoes, or toys.
This is not the same as chewing on something for attention, it is more of an obsessive desire to eat objects (like sand, rocks, sticks, etc.), often with nutrients that might be missing from your dog's diet.
Pica not only destroys your favorite belongings, but many of the things your dog eats can be unsuitable or dangerous to consume. They can lead to an obstruction of the intestines which would result in emergency surgery to save your dog's life.
If you feel that your dog might be displaying symptoms of pica, call to make an appointment with your vet.
Puppies learn about their world through discovery. And without hands to do that, a puppy uses its mouth to investigate.
Unfortunately, a common non-food item that puppies will try to eat is feces, especially from a cat's litter box. Not only is this unappealing, but it can also cause your puppy to become sick as the feces may have parasites.
Thankfully, many puppies will outgrow this unhealthy and somewhat disgusting habit, although you may need to help with training to curb this behavior.
Many adult dogs will eat whatever they come across while out on a walk or whatever may be lying around the house.
Like puppies, they like to explore new items by picking them up with their mouth or chewing on them. Or, unrelated to pica, a dog may only be trying to play with something and accidentally swallow it.
What Dogs Eat & Why
If your dog eats everything off the ground and from around the house, you're bound to be wondering why. Below are some of the most common substances that our canine companions love to eat:
Dogs will often nibble on grass, although some dogs enjoy grass eating more than others. Provided that your pooch is otherwise healthy, eating grass is generally considered to be safe provided that the grass is not heavily coated in chemicals.
It is believed that dogs eat grass for a variety of reasons including introducing more fiber into their gastrointestinal tract, relieving boredom, and simply because they enjoy it. If your pup is eating an alarming amount of grass speak to your vet about ways to curb this canine behavior.
In puppies, eating dirt is a common behavior. Why dogs choose to eat dirt is unknown but it is generally believed that it's due in part to the different scents given off by different areas such as a field, forest floor, or your mulch pile. It could be that eating dirts helps puppies to better understand the world around them. If your pup takes the odd taste of dirt there's probably nothing to worry about.
That said, eating large amounts of dirt can be problematic since too much could clog up your dog's digestive tract. If your pooch loves to eat dirt, speak to your vet about what might be causing the behavior and what you can do to stop it.
Many dogs love to play with and eat rocks, which can be a real health concern. Chewing rocks can lead to damage to teeth and gums, and choking is a very serious hazard. If your dog is a teething puppy, try supplying your pooch with lots of fun chew toys.
If your adult dog is obsessed with rock eating it's a good idea to head to the vet. Rock eating could be a symptom of boredom, anxiety, or attention seeking. Your vet will be able to help you diagnose the cause of your dog's behavior and recommend some ways to curb your dog's appetite for stones.
Pet owners often come to us at their wit's end with their dog's disgusting poop eating habit. "Why does my dog keep eating poop?!" In fact, poop eating is so common it actually has a name 'coprophagia' (kop-ruh-fey-jee-uh), and may be due to a combination of behavioral, genetic and psychological factors.
Eating their own poop is generally considered harmless for dogs, however eating the poop of other dogs or animals is a cause for concern since parasites, viruses, and toxins can be transmitted through feces.
One theory suggests that poop eating could be part of your dog's innate scavenging tendencies, developed as a survival tool for times when food is scarce. After all, when there is no food to be found a dog just can't afford to be too picky.
Some physical reasons that dogs may eat poop include:
- Diets deficient in nutrients and calories
- Malabsorption syndromes
- Thyroid disease, and other conditions that can cause increased appetite
- Steroids and other medications
Other factors that can lead to poop eating in dogs:
- Isolation and boredom
- Restrictive confinement
- Inappropriate association with real food
Ways to Curb Your Dog's Unusual Eating Habits
No matter what your pup enjoys munching on, there are a few things you can do to try and curb this problematic habit:
- Clean your backyard frequently to remove any rocks, poops, or other items. If it isn't there, your pup can't eat it.
- Teach your dog to 'drop it' and 'leave it' on command. Essential know-how for every dog.
- Increase your pup's exercise and enrichment throughout the day. A tired and busy dog is less likely to nibble on things they shouldn't.
- Take your dog to the vet for a full examination to look for signs of illness or to discuss solutions to behavioral issues such as anxiety.
Your veterinarian can give your dog a nose-to-tail examination to check for signs of illness, discuss the causes of your dog's strange eating habits, then provide you with valuable advice on your pet's nutritional and caloric requirements based on your dog's size and breed.
What should I do?
While training may be a solution, there are ways to try to curb the behavior yourself.
- If your dog is bored, try to find more time in your day to spend with them, and include fun, interactive toys
- Always remove any dangerous objects from reach, in case they don't respond to training
- Do not give your dog attention if they're behaving badly as it can reinforce the behavior
- You can try spraying the items your dog typically tries to eat with a dog repellent spray, you'll need to be sure that it's non-toxic and intended for this purpose
- If the cause for constant chewing or eating non-foods is due to stress or anxiety, your vet may recommend drug therapy if nothing else will work
- If the behavior happens on walks, you may want to use a muzzle to restrict them from eating whatever they come across
Should I be concerned?
If you suspect pica or other medical condition to be at the root of the issue, it's important to talk to your vet to resolve it. However, if it is more of a behavioral action, it's most likely something you can correct with some time and love.
Regardless of the motivation though, the important thing is ensuring the health of your dog and to keep dangerous objects out of their reach.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.