Dogs are known for their willingness to eat just about anything they can get their hungry faces on. Although they’re technically carnivores, they’re scavengers at heart, and they can survive on a wide variety of food. But it’s not unusual for them to try consuming a lot of things that aren’t food. This behavior — compulsively eating things that aren’t food — is called pica, and it’s not so rare in dogs. If you’ve ever wondered why your dog loves to chow down on grass or even, ugh, his own poop, we’ll help you understand. Read on to learn what sorts of non-foods dogs commonly eat, and why they do it.
HELP! MY DOG ATE GRASS
First of all, don’t panic. Eating grass is a common behavior in dogs, and while there’s usually no good reason for it, it’s not necessarily harmful. What could be a cause for concern is if the grass is treated with any chemicals. If it’s your own lawn, you’ll know. If it’s someone else’s lawn, try to determine if it’s been treated. If you suspect it is,
you may want to bring your dog to the vet. Otherwise, there’s no need to worry as long as your pooch isn’t gobbling up so much grass that it’s making him sick. (Dogster)
HELP! MY DOG ATE POOP
Again, this probably is no cause for great concern. For dogs, coprophagy — the fancy word for eating poop — is very common, even normal. There’s no consensus as to why dogs engage in this behavior, but it’s probably nothing to worry about. Still, it can be unpleasant for you as an owner if your dog want to give you kisses right after he just finished feasting on dookie, so you may wish to help him kick the habit. Try sprinkling cayenne pepper on your pooch’s leavings to make them unappealing. If your dog is allowed to roam your yard freely, it’s up to you to clean vigilantly in order to remove the opportunity for Fido to snack on feces. (Humane Society of the United States)
HELP! MY DOG ATE GARBAGE
If your dog eats garbage, it could be pica rearing its ugly head, or it could be that your dog is attracted to the trash by its alluring melange of things that aren’t food combined with things that are. Dogs are pretty indiscriminate about what they eat, so if yours goes digging in the garbage for that chicken or beef that it smells, it’ll probably also end up kicking back some coffee grounds, paper products, plastic or who knows what else. In most cases, a dog who raids the trash just makes a mess, but depending on what you’ve thrown away, there’s the potential for injury or poisoning. Be careful about what you throw away, and train your dog to know that it’s not OK to go exploring in the garbage. (Loving Pets)
HELP! MY DOG ATE COINS
Eating coins can be very dangerous for your dog. He may pass them without incident, but depending on what kind of coins he ate and how many, they can be highly toxic and even deadly. Ingesting coins can lead quickly to zinc toxicity. The zinc cores of modern U.S. pennies, for example, can destroy a dog’s red blood cells and lead to liver and kidney damage, causing a swift death. This is exactly what happened to a West Highland White Terrier named Sierra just last month. If your dog swallows coins, bring it to a veterinarian immediately.
HELP! MY DOG ATE ROCKS/STICKS/CAT LITTER
Pica frequently appears in the form of dogs eating rocks and sticks. While a dog may pass these without incident, they can be very dangerous. Chewing rocks can cause damage to a dog’s teeth and gums, can choke a dog if big enough, and can lead to intestinal blockage if swallowed. Cat litter — which your dog may eat for its own sake, or while eating your cat’s feces — is a particular hazard because it can be swallowed easily and then clump into large, hard masses in your dog’s digestive tract. If your dog swallows any of these things, consult a vet immediately. (PetPlace.com)
HELP! MY DOG ATE MY SOCKS, UNDERWEAR, ETC.
Some dogs love to sift through laundry, and they frequently get their mouths on smaller items like socks and underwear, which can be swallowed easily. If you’re lucky, your dog will pass swallowed laundry normally, even if it takes a few days, weeks or even months. But if your dog starts vomiting or stops eating real food, it’s time to see the vet. Surgery may be required to remove the offending articles from your dog’s gut. (DogChannel.com)
Now that you have some idea of the various non-foods dogs love to try to eat, here are some of the root causes that may be to blame for the potentially dangerous behavior.
YOUR DOG IS BORED
It’s perfectly normal for your dog to want to chew on something. Does she have enough toys around to play with? Even the classics — a tennis ball, a rubber chew toy, a rawhide bone — can provide your pooch with hours of satisfying playtime and chewtime. Without these toys to play with, your dog may get bored and look for less safe alternatives to put her mouth on. (The Dog Trainer)
YOUR DOG WANTS ATTENTION
Toys aren’t all your dog needs to stay stimulated. Your time and attention are essential for avoiding behavioral issues. If your dog feels lonely or neglected, pica may be her way of acting out. Even negative attention counts as attention, so if your dog figures out that you’ll notice her when she eats things she’s not supposed to, she may continue the incorrect behavior in a desperate attempt to get close to you. Avoid this catch-22 by spending quality time with your pet. (The Dog Trainer)
YOUR HOME ISN’T DOG-PROOFED
Pica-proof your pet by pet-proofing your pad. This is especially important if you’re bringing a puppy or a newly adopted dog home, but there’s always the potential for disaster if you don’t keep your eyes open for potential hazards. Keep a lip on the garbage can. Put loose change in a container with a cover instead of an open jar. Watch out for any small items left on counters, tabletops or floors. You never know what that silly pooch is going to want to put his mouth on, so avoid trouble by making any potential hazards inaccessible. (Dogster)
YOUR DOG IS ANXIOUS
Compulsive behaviors like pica can result from anxiety in your dog. There are many reasons why your dog may become anxious. Increased anxiety may develop with age, or your dog may develop separation anxiety when you’re not around. Your dog could have a noise sensitivity, a medical issue or even be feeding off of your anxiety. If your dog seems anxious and pica is part of the manifestation of these feelings, try to pinpoint the source. If all else fails, consult your vet. (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)
Next: Human Foods OK For Dogs
YOUR DOG IS A PUPPY
As adorable as puppies can be, they also can be huge pains in the butt. Untrained and curious, they’re always making mischief and doing things they’re not supposed to, because they don’t know they’re not supposed to. That’s why it’s so common for puppies to eat things that aren’t food, and that can be hazardous. Puppies explore their world with their mouths, so you have to be extra vigilant to ensure that they don’t swallow something dangerous. Fortunately, most puppies outgrow this behavior on their own within six months or so. (ASPCA)