We all know that dogs love to chew, and puppies have a notorious reputation for destroying your favorite pairs of shoes. Many dogs grow out of it. But for some, eating inappropriate items can be a lifelong habit, one that can really cause problems. This is especially true if they don’t just chew on the items but also swallow them. In some cases, they may pick up inedible items like rocks or bark out of the garden and swallow these, too.

This desire to eat substances, such as socks, shoes, rocks, or toys, that have no nutritional value, may be a part of a disorder called pica. Eating these non-food items may even be dangerous, as the item they swallow might be toxic, disrupt digestion, or get stuck in their intestines. 

Read below about some causes of pica, as well as solutions for what to do when your pet eats things that are not food. 

dog eating toilet paper

Causes of Pica

Dogs who love to chew can end up swallowing small bits by accident or as a neuromuscular reflex. Dogs that go out of their way to regularly ingest non-food items, however, are considered to have the aforementioned condition known as pica. 

Common culprits for being swallowed include bits of toys, toilet paper, plastic, bark and mulch, scraps of fabric, or other non-food items. Dogs with pica can eat anything from rocks to drywall, but items that smell like their owners are particularly popular — hence the socks. 

When dogs are pups, chewing and eating inappropriate objects is one major way they experience and learn about the world. Puppies go through their teething phase for approximately their first 6 months and chewing can give them some relief.

Boredom or loneliness can cause dogs to look for something to do. Dr. Kelly Black, faculty coordinator of veterinary technology at Cedar Valley College, says that separation anxiety can be a source of the habit. “We typically think of dogs with separation anxiety as being destructive, but in some cases, they are also eating part or all of the items they are destroying, and boredom will frequently cause dogs with high energy to seek out something to do.”  

Pica can also be caused by nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, or thyroid problems. Dr. Carol Osborne of the Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic explains that “dogs with pica often have some type of digestive disturbance as reflected in their abnormal dietary preferences, and improved levels of nutrition can help to reduce that behavior.”

No matter the cause, supervision is key to avoiding unwanted ingestion. You can fence off a play area in your yard, safe from rocks and garden objects like mulch. Give the animal lots of exercise, remove as many possible ingestible objects from reach as possible, and keep a vigilant eye to avoid new incidents.

A predilection for Poo?

Some dogs are particularly attracted to ingesting feces, whether that is their own or another animal’s.  This disorder is called coprophagia. 

According to Dr. Black, “with coprophagia, it is thought that some dogs simply find the fecal material appealing and actually like the flavor, which makes it a particularly hard habit to break once they get started.” 

Some vets say animals eat feces because they like the taste, but new research states it could be because it prevents them from getting sick.  Unfortunately, not many remedies for coprophagia have been found to be effective. The most effective solution is to train them to stop. Removing all waste from your yard on a regular basis can also help prevent the behavior, as can adding pumpkin to their diet.

What to Do If Your Pet Swallows Something They Shouldn’t

It can be scary when your dog swallows something odd, but the first step should be to take them to the vet. Some items, such as socks, can be treated with pain relief and water in order to pass the object. If an item gets lodged and causes an obstruction, endoscopy or surgery may be necessary. 

Here are some signs to look for that your dog has eaten something they aren’t supposed to: 

  • Lack of appetite 
  • Changes in behavior, such as depression
  • Vomiting 
  • Changes in bowel movements 
  • Lethargy 
  • Painful abdomen 

Pica is diagnosed by the behavior itself. There may also be possible underlying causes your vet will want to investigate, which can involve a blood, urine, and stool test to check for digestion problems, parasites, or hormonal imbalances. Treatment may require a two-fold approach that will treat the underlying issues and seek to curb the desire for the behavior. 

Dr. Osborne states that “adding an enzyme supplement, probiotics, and comprehensive supplements, such as antioxidants to the diet might also help.” 

Prevention is Key 

The best way to get your dog to stop eating foreign objects is prevention. Teaching dogs the appropriate things to chew can go a long way in preventing inappropriate ingestion. 

To stave off boredom, a rotating selection of chew toys may be enough to keep them out of trouble. It is also helpful for chew toys to be easily distinguishable from household goods. When your dog has destroyed an item, remove it promptly. Try to avoid items that can lead to pieces being swallowed. Common culprits include toys with plastics and stuffed fabric animals. 

Also, try to remove the temptation to get into undesirable edibles. Clean all child’s toys from the floor as soon as playtime is over. If the dog is eating socks or underwear, keep the hamper out of reach, or purchase one they can’t get into.  

Dogs that constantly get into chewing incidents should be supervised. You can keep them on a leash in the house, so they can’t sneakily swallow something. You can also put them in their crate for short durations of time throughout the day. 

If your dog is chewing items out of boredom or separation anxiety when you leave the house, it can be helpful to find a pet sitter or take them to dog daycare, if you will be away from them for several hours. 

Getting their energy out also helps. Chewing is often inspired by boredom and an abundance of energy. Plenty of physical and mental exercise can get your dogs the stimulation they need as well as tire them out, so they aren’t so motivated to amuse themselves with chewing. 

Puppy training from an early age can also help to prevent the behavior from progressing into adulthood. You can do this by teaching them the appropriate items to chew and including toys as part of their daily routine. Taste deterrent products that make items unappealing can be a helpful training tool. 

Remember that punishment probably won’t work. The Humane Society explains that “scolding or pulling things out of your dog’s mouth can cause behavior issues to develop.” Positive reinforcement methods are more effective. 

Keep in Mind Greenlin Is Here to Offer Safe Fun for Your Pet

If you have a high-energy pup that needs stimulation throughout the day or an anxious chewer, dog daycare can give you the peace of mind that your pet is safe while you are away from home. We have manicured outdoor play areas and indoor climate-controlled play gyms for supervised fun in all types of weather. 

Greenlin also offers dog training to help both dogs and owners seek out a routine and establish important boundaries. Working with a professional certified trainer as well as your vet can be a winning combination for severely curbing unwanted chewing and problematic object eating.

For more information please visit our website or call (717) 844-6569 to learn about our 6 locations in the Harrisburg Area.