Welcome to our “Untraining Your Pet” series, where we help you “untrain” your pet from those naughty or annoying bad habits and get them back to being the goodest boys and girls.
Ever looked at a rock and thought, “Mmm, tasty”? Probably not, but there are dogs who certainly have — and even an “over-achiever” dog who ate 169 rocks! Whether it’s pillows, kids’ toys, trash or rocks, some dogs seem to have an appetite for anything. We’ll go over some of the reasons behind why your dog eats everything and what you can do to untrain them from this unhealthy habit. But first, here are some unbelievable stories of things that have ended up in pets’ stomachs.
They Ate What?
Veterinary Practice News runs an annual competition called “They Ate What?” To enter the competition, staff from veterinary clinics submit X-rays of patients who ate strange and unexpected things. Some of the entries include a cat who ate an astronaut pendant and a dog who ate a turtle shell. There was also a dog who, instead of just licking the peanut butter and heartworm preventative off the spoon, ate the whole spoon! There was even an entry for a bearded dragon who ate a nickel.
Pica and Coprophagy (Eww!)
When dogs routinely eat things that are not food, it’s called pica. Pica can be caused by a behavioral problem or sometimes it’s due to a medical issue. When the item that’s eaten is feces — either their own or another animals — it’s called coprophagy. While it’s not a normal behavior for most dogs, coprophagy is normal for momma dogs who use it to keep their newborn pups clean and to stimulate bowel movements from the pups.
Behavioral Problems Behind Pica
Sometimes if dogs are bored, anxious or stressed they will use pica as a coping mechanism. If you think your dog may have pica due to a behavioral issue, start by making sure they’re getting enough physical exercise to use up their excess energy. It’s also important that they have plenty of mental stimulation, particularly when you’re not home or not available to play with them. A dog who’s physically and mentally tired is less likely to roam around the house looking for random objects to chew on.
If your dog is eating things when you’re not home, they may have separation anxiety. An article by Samantha Randall, editor-in-chief at Top Dog Tips, has some suggestions for preventing separation anxiety when you leave the house.
Medical Reasons for Pica
If your dog’s pica behavior is new, you may want to have them examined by your veterinarian to rule out a medical issue. If they have nutrient deficiencies due to an unbalanced diet, they may eat objects to try to replace those missing nutrients. Pica can also be caused by metabolic conditions, digestive disorders or other medical issues.
Most people have probably seen a dog eat grass, but contrary to the common belief, dogs may not be eating grass to soothe an upset stomach. We don’t actually know why dogs eat grass, but apparently they have a good reason for it!
Remove the Temptation
If your dog is eating things they shouldn’t, do a survey of your house and yard, and put away things that you don’t want eaten, as well as things that may be dangerous for your dog to eat. Crate training your dog is a good way to restrict their access to tempting objects when you’re not around to supervise them. Use their crate when you’re away from home or during the night while you’re sleeping.
You should also make sure your dog knows “leave it,” “drop” or a similar command really well so that if they’re chewing on something they shouldn’t, you can get them to drop the object. You can then exchange the off-limits object with a yummy treat or a more appropriate chew toy.
Why Do Puppies Chew Everything?
Puppies who are teething may find comfort in chewing on things to make their gums feel better. You can help them learn which objects are OK to chew on by switching anything inappropriate with teething sticks, cooling teething rings or soft chew toys. When they start to chew on something you’d like kept intact, give them a chew toy instead. It’s best to train them out of chewing on things before it becomes a lifelong problem or turns into pica.
Watch Out for These Symptoms of Pica
If your dog eats something they shouldn’t have, you may notice them vomiting or dry heaving, experiencing diarrhea, not eating, having abdominal pain or being lethargic (not wanting to play or move much). If it was something digestible or small and soft, it may cause an upset stomach and then resolve itself in a few days. But if it’s not digestible or it’s too large to pass through the digestive tract, it could cause an intestinal blockage. This can be painful, uncomfortable and even life threatening. It may also require expensive surgery to remove the object. Infectious diseases or intestinal parasites can also be transmitted through eating contaminated feces or objects.
If your dog eats an object that’s toxic (e.g., human medication, batteries, coins containing zinc, mouse poison) it can be life threatening. If you see your dog eat something they shouldn’t have (or you think they did), immediately contact your veterinarian or an animal poison control center, ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435) or Pet Poison Helpline (1-855-764-7661), to determine if they need veterinary attention.
If you’re noticing objects around your home are going missing, you may want to consider if your dog ate them. As the “They Ate What?” competition shows, some dogs will eat anything! But by removing the temptation and crating your dog when you can’t supervise them, you can help untrain them from this potentially deadly habit. If you’re concerned that your dog has eaten something they shouldn’t have, make sure you seek veterinary advice immediately.
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