Dogs have a knack of getting into things they shouldn’t. Almost every dog owner around the world has exclaimed, “No! Don’t eat that!" to their pup at least once in its life.
If your dog loves to chew and swallow everything in sight—whether it’s people food, sticks, animal feces or even foreign objects like shoes or toys—it’s important that you put a stop to it right away. Not only can eating foreign things cause vomiting, diarrhea or even worms and diseases, but ingesting objects it can’t digest can lead to serious gastrointestinal problems like blockages.
But why do dogs eat things they shouldn’t, and how can you get them to stop?
A strange desire
Dogs are very curious creatures, and they often explore the world first through smell, then through taste. A dog can smell things almost 10,000 times as intensely as we can, so it’s understandable that it would use its nose and mouth to investigate its surroundings.
It’s not uncommon to see dogs chewing on things that aren’t food. However, when your dog starts swallowing things instead of just chewing, there may be a greater problem at hand.
If your dog is starting to truly eat things that aren’t food, a few things could be wrong. The two main issues are pica and coprophagia. Both of these conditions involve the ingestion of non-food items, and they can be hazardous to your pup’s health.
Pica: Eating non-foods
Pica is a condition characterized by the ingestion of items that contain no nutritional value, such as socks, bedding or gravel. The condition is relatively common in puppies, and some specific breeds are genetically predisposed to this behavior.
Pica can be very dangerous to your dog’s health, especially if it tries to eat items that are toxic or can lead to intestinal blockages. An accumulation of non-digestible items in your dog’s body could be fatal.
Pica may develop in dogs for many reasons. In adult dogs, pica sometimes develops because the dog is perpetually hungry—its body does not signal that it is full after eating. The dog might also be attracted to the way an item smells, especially if it has the scent of its owner, like a T-shirt or towel. Hormonal imbalances, parasites and some diseases like diabetes may also be to blame, as well as emotional problems like anxiety.
For these reasons, dogs showing signs of pica should be taken to the vet for an examination to see if there is an underlying health issue at hand.
Unfortunately, in the case of pica, there is not always a cure. If pica is found to be caused by an underlying health issue, your vet may be able to diagnose it and treat that, first, potentially stopping the behavior. Improved nutrition and feeding your dog a few smaller meals each day may also help curb the issue.
However, if the issue appears to stem from emotional or behavioral issues, the main treatment is active prevention. Pay close attention to the things your dog likes to eat and make sure your dog doesn’t have access to them. This may require you to hide towels or toys and ensure all clothes are put away immediately.
Some dogs will still require constant supervision, especially if they tend to eat things while outside. In some cases, dogs may require a muzzle to prevent ingestion while outside or on walks. Bitter sprays may also help deter your dog from eating objects.
Coprophagia: Eating poop
Some dogs won’t eat everything in sight but will eat poop. This phenomenon is called coprophagia, and it isn’t as abnormal as you think. In fact, to some dogs, eating feces is just fine.
Coprophagia is most common in puppies and their mothers, but adult dogs may pick up the habit, too. If your adult dog starts to eat feces, it may be suffering from nutritional deficiencies, health conditions that affect the appetite, anxiety or other behavioral issues.
Dogs usually won’t get sick from eating their own feces, but they can contract viruses or parasites like worms by eating poop from other animals like geese. This is where the real danger of the behavior comes in.
Regardless of the reason behind coprophagia, most humans find this habit repulsive and want it to stop. A visit to the vet can determine if coprophagia is due to a health issue or just a bad habit.
In order to put a halt to the problem, vets sometimes recommend adding a nutritional supplement to the dog’s food, if the problem is linked to nutritional deficiency. Treatment for the underlying health problem can also alleviate the issue.
For behavioral issues, additional training, such as “come" and “leave it" commands can be useful while on supervised walks. Always pick up your dog’s (or cat’s) poop as soon as possible to prohibit your dog’s access.
If your dog is constantly eating things it shouldn’t, don’t delay in visiting a vet. Your dog should not continue to eat things that could cause it harm, especially since the behavior could indicate another health issue that needs to be addressed.