Why do dogs eat weird things?

Most dogs like to snuffle and dig in the dirt, and eating a few bites of dirt or even poop is probably not a problem, but if your dog continually eats weird things, he may be suffering from an issue identified as “pica” , and your first stop should be to the vet. Medical causes include many scary possibilities, but if you’ve been to the vet and your dog gets a clean bill of health and she’s still trying to swallow rocks, tennis balls, and your underwear, you need to consider possible reasons why.

Lonely dogs who don’t get enough physical or mental exercise may become lethargic, or they may look for things to do. Many dogs find it relaxing to chew, and if they have nothing appropriate to chew on, they may eat whatever is around, edible or not. Boredom, frustration, and anxiety are major causes for this problem, and you need to be sure she’s getting plenty of exercise and play time, as well as reward-based training to tire her active brain, help her relax, and lower her stress level.

Never punish your dog if he likes to eat his poop… as gross as that is, it is usually not harmful. Pick up after him immediately in order to remove the temptation. Ingesting feces from another animal can expose him to a number of different parasites, so it is important to keep him on parasite preventative, and have his stool checked regularly. Swallowing things like rocks, chalk, fabric, sand, string and plastic can lead to gastric upset, vomiting, diarrhea, and even worse—intestinal obstructions. The best way to prevent your dog from ingesting inappropriate things is to keep them out of reach, and make sure he has plenty of exercise and activity. It is sometimes helpful to spray reachable non-safe – items with a non toxic spray such as citrus, cinnamon, or eucalyptus in order to remove temptation.

For the past eleven years, Veterinary Practice News has recorded some of the strangest and craziest surgeries required because of pica. This documentation of pica cases is meant to serve as an educational tool for both veterinarians and caregivers. They stress the importance of getting your dog to the vet right away if you suspect he has ingested a foreign body. The longer you wait, the more damage is possible, the harder it can be to retrieve the item, and the more expensive the vet bill will probably be.

In 2016 recorded surgeries included:

  • Recovery of 23 baby pacifiers (mostly intact) one peach pit, multiple pieces of white plastic, and a black foam nipple. Strangely enough, the lab’s caregivers had no babies in their house, so they concluded that the dog had collected the pacifiers over multiple visits to a relative’s house.
  • Abdominal radiographs of Riley, a young boxer, showed a full stomach, and surgery revealed 75 small coffee creamer cups in the stomach. With the popularity of individual coffee brewing systems, this may become more and more of a problem. Keep the capsules, whether new or used, out of reach.
  • Corn cobs are not digestible, and are dangerous, and corn cobs with the skewer attached are certainly worse. At a family cookout, Spencer stole a corn cob with attached skewer right off grandma’s plate. Before anyone could react, he swallowed the whole thing, which required surgical removal.
  • A 48 pound, 9 year old mixed-breed dog who had a history of occasionally getting into the trash became ill, and the caregivers elected exploratory surgery. A 35 inch segment of a 60 inch plastic tape measure was removed.
  • Radiographs of a female boxer revealed a large object in the stomach, and the surgeon removed not one, but two, rubber yellow duck bath toys. Because the plastic showed no chew marks, the patient had apparently swallowed them whole.
  • A dog caregiver who kept his spare change in a Planters Peanut can came home to find the can on the floor, the plastic lid chewed up, and change scattered on the floor. Their 8 month old dog acted sluggish and was vomiting. When the owner found a couple of coins in his stool, they took him to the vet. 80 pennies, 14, nickels, l0 dimes and 5 quarters were removed.

The simplest (but not easy) way to prevent pica is to keep your yard and house picked up. Clean up feces daily from the yard. If your dog likes to eat socks, don’t leave socks lying around. Be aware of what items tempt your dog. Provide positive attention, adequate exercise, training, and play. Tired, socially tended dogs spend less time expressing oral energy than their wired, lonely counterparts do. Be alert for symptoms that suggest your dog has swallowed something that may form an indigestible mass that might block the intestines. When symptoms such as pain, lack of bowel movements, abdominal distention or bloat are present, immediate medical evaluation is needed, so it is important to do all you can to prevent serious problems and keep your dog’s digestive system free of foreign objects.


Your Dog Ate WHAT?

As any dog caregiver knows, dogs can sometimes be less than discriminating about chewing and swallowing inedible things, including rocks, gravel, wood, string, pantyhose, and sometimes feces. The official name for eating non-edible objects is “pica”, and it is frustrating to the human, but it can be downright dangerous to the dog. Pica can cause broken teeth, intestinal blockages, vomiting, diarrhea, and possible death.

Probably the most distressing form of pica is coprophagy—a Greek word that literally translates “eating feces.” As humans we find it disgusting, but it is not unusual for dogs to eat their own stools or that of other dogs, or the deposits left in the cat’s litter box.

So why do dogs eat weird stuff? No one really knows, but many animal behaviorists offer these theories:

  1. Instinct…in the wild parent dogs consume the waste of their young offspring to keep their dens clean.
  2. Frustration or boredom. Mindless eating is sometimes a reaction to stress or anxiety. Dogs can’t refill their own food bowls when they are hungry or bored, so they may turn to the environment for something to eat.
  3. Nutritional deficiencies. Experts speculate that dogs eat things like rocks or feces in order to obtain some nutrient missing in their diets, but there have been no documented studies to support this theory.
  4. Chewing compulsions. Some claim that dogs who are avid chewers simply get carried away and swallow non-edible objects that they are chewing on.

Veterinary Practice News editor Marilyn Iturri created a contest in 2007 to showcase the humorous situations vets and pet caregivers face when dealing with dogs eating inappropriate objects, and the competition was a hit with readers, so each year they have a “They ate What?” Contest. Iturra said that dogs seem to often eat golf balls, small rubber balls, rubber ducks, and clothing items, plus a variety of metal objects not meant for consumption

The last contest included a 2-month old rat terrier experiencing with vomiting and stomach pain. Radiographs found a small metal clip, and approximately 14 inches of a bra and bra strap had to be surgically removed from the stomach and small intestine. Norris is thriving, but he is no longer allowed in the family laundry room.

Another entry was a Great Dane who started vomiting, and after exploratory surgery, the family was shocked to find out that their dog had eaten 43 socks… actually 43 ½ socks!

Colby, a l0-month old Golden Retriever, threw up for nearly two days before his owners took him to the vet where they discovered he had eaten a light bulb…an entire, intact light bulb. After a day of intravenous fluids, he passed the light bulb intact.

Hopefully your dog won’t eat items that could be hazardous to his health, but it is important to try to control your dog’s eating strange stuff.

  1. Visit with your veterinarian to rule out medical problems, and make sure your dog is getting good nutrition without a lot of fillers or chemical additives in their food.
  2. Manage the problem, by supervising the dog to prevent him from ingesting non-edible objects, and when you can’t be there, keep the dog in an environment free of weird objects that they might eat. Provide appropriate, inedible play and chewing materials.
  3. Provide positive attention, exercise, training and play. Tired, socially tended dogs spend less time expressing oral energy than their wired, lonely counterparts do.
  4. Treat the objects your dog is attracted to with something that has a bad taste. Listerine, vinegar, or commercial products like Bitter Apple will usually discourage her from eating them. When you do catch your dog eating a nasty thing, take the object away, and redirect her to an acceptable chew toy.
  5. Resist the temptation to scold, as this may be interpreted by your dog as attention and inadvertently reinforce the behavior…Never punish your dog for this behavior…It will only make him fearful or aggressive.

Be alert for symptoms that suggest your dog has swallowed a substance that may form an indigestible mass and has blocked the intestines. When symptoms such as pain, lack of bowel movements, abdominal bloat or distention are present, immediate medical evaluation is needed. Swallowed objects can present a medical hazard to your dog, (and can be very expensive) so it is important to do all you can to prevent serious problems and keep your dog’s digestive system free of foreign objects.