I just read an article about “horrifying” things removed from a dog’s stomach, it’s about a Great Dane who had 43.5 socks in his stomach and a Pug who had swallowed 104 pennies! Can you believe it? I personally had two beagles who shared a lightbulb as a snack! Seriously? I mean, it’s not like these things smell like food. But guess what? These are not rare occurrences. What in the world would cause a dog to eat crazy things like that?!?
Dogs with Pica
Eating non-edible things is called Pica. It can be a physical issue or a behavioral issue. As always, our first advice is to SEE YOUR VET! Medical reasons for Pica include everything from a simple vitamin deficiency to infections, disease, and even poisoning. Once you have ruled out a medical cause, it’s time to explore behavioral reasons that may cause your dog to eat crazy things.
Why dogs do the things they do may never be totally understood by us humans, and this is certainly one of them. Why would a dog eat a rock to get our attention? Well, as it happens, attention seeking is a big reason for Pica, as well as boredom and anxiety. Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety often turn to chewing and eating inedible items as a coping mechanism. A compulsive or stress response is probably the most prominent cause, for reasons varying from confinement, changes in their environment, constant punishment, competition with another household pet, and so on.
But Why does My Dog Have Pica?
Lack of exercise, mental stimulation, and sadly, loneliness can also cause Pica. But before you start to beat yourself up, please understand that chewing is very relaxing for a dog. It’s very natural and helps your dog wind-down. What if he doesn’t have any chew toys or bones? Oh… that cell phone looks yummy…as does anything else within reach.
Potential Risks of Pica for Dogs
You might be surprised to learn (tongue-in-cheek) that your dog’s stomach is not made of steel. Ingesting weird inedible items is in-itself dangerous for many reasons, one of which is intestinal obstruction. It’s highly possible that you are not even aware of what your dog has ingested, but notice that he is either very still, or very restless. He may be drooling, vomiting, or unable to defecate. Maybe he has no appetite or is lethargic. If you see any of these signs, see your vet immediately, an intestinal obstruction can be fatal.
Painful, broken teeth is also a consequence of Pica. After chewing a few rocks, nails, or other overly hard items, your dog can break off a tooth or crack the enamel. Wow, that hurts. Dogs will rarely show us any signs of dental pain…. again, we just have to look for clues. Did you see blood on his chew toy? Does he have abnormally bad breath? Has there been an increase in licking, or maybe chewing on only one side of the mouth?
Suggestions to Help Dogs with Pica
I know… it’s a guessing game, but one that must be dealt with. Here are some suggestions that we hope will help you in your battle with Pica:
- Give your dog safe options to chew on. Provide him with plenty of chew toys like elk or deer antlers, Bully sticks, Himalayan chews, and kong toys. Stay away from rawhides, cow or pig hooves, and animal bones of any kind.
- Be conscious of items laying around the house. Pick up things that your dog could potentially ingest.
- Use reward-based tactics to teach him what is acceptable or not. For example, if you observe your dog picking up a rock in his mouth, calmly take the rock away and give him a chew toy instead. When you see him pick up a chew toy on his own, praise him for it.
- It is going to take a balancing act to correct the behavior while trying not to “show attention” for the behavior. If attention seeking is the motivation behind it, then the worst thing we can do is make a big deal over it.
- Make sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise and playtime as well as good mental stimulation. Keep him busy.
- Spend more time with your dog. Don’t leave him alone for hours on end. Make it a priority.
- Finally, and this is a biggie, find out the stressors in his life and work to eliminate them. This is going to take some time and patience.
If your dog continues to eat crazy things, consulting a board certified veterinary behaviorist is your next best step.