Why do dogs eat everything?

by PDSA | 12 May 2023 #Lifestyle

Dogs can eat the most bizarre things, from children’s toys and fluffy socks to garden stones and plastic bags!

It’s no secret that many of our four-legged friends love the taste of things they shouldn’t eat. Over the years, PDSA vets have operated to remove all sorts of weird and wonderful things from dogs’ stomachs, including rubber ducks, children’s toys, underwear, Christmas decorations, and even tent pegs! In most cases, these emergency surgeries are the difference between life and death.

 Why do dogs eat things they shouldn’t?

  • Curiosity: Dogs explore the world using their powerful sense of smell and taste. Because of this, they’re likely to chew and potentially swallow the things they pick up in their mouths, especially if they have a tempting smell.
  • Boredom, loneliness, or stress: If a dog is left alone with nothing else to do, they may fill their time by chewing on things and swallowing something they shouldn’t in the process. If your dog is stressed – perhaps because of separation anxiety or loud noises (e.g. fireworks) – they may also comfort themselves by chewing on random objects. Remember, though chewing is natural for dogs, they need options to do it safely and appropriately so they leave your prized possessions alone!
  • Age: Most puppies chew and swallow non-food items as part of their normal puppy behaviour and grow out of this phase (usually with the help of reward-based training).
  • Malnutrition: Although uncommon, dogs might search for random things to fill their stomachs if they aren’t getting the right nutrition. To prevent this, you should check that your dog is getting the right amount of nutritious food each day – feed a complete diet to ensure your dog is getting everything they need. For more advice about your dog’s diet, speak to your vet.
  • Medicines and health conditions: In some cases, excessive hunger as a side effect of certain medications (e.g. steroids) or health conditions can result in your dog eating strange things. Speak to your vet if you are concerned your dog is always hungry.
  • Pica: Pica is a compulsive desire to eat non-food items like rocks, oil, or plastic. Dogs with pica will repeatedly eat things they shouldn’t and it will likely interfere with their everyday life, so a one-off issue (such as swallowing a toy) isn’t usually considered to be pica. In most cases, the root cause of pica in dogs is a behavioural problem, but a medical condition can also cause it. If your dog has pica that stems from behavioural issues, a certified dog behaviourist may be able to help. If you’re worried that there may be a medical reason for pica, you should speak to your vet in the first instance.

Why do dogs eat poo?

Some dogs – particularly puppies – eat poo. This is known as coprophagia and is entirely normal behaviour – either out of habit or in response to your dog feeling hunger, stress, or boredom. While it might be gross to see your dog eating poo, it’s usually harmless. However, in rare cases, it can be because your dog’s diet lacks essential nutrients. If you’re worried, speak to your vet to check that your dog is eating the correct type of food in the right quantities.

Read more: My dog eats poo – help!

Why do dogs eat grass?

It’s a common misconception that if your dog eats grass, it’s because they feel unwell and are about to vomit. In fact, this is normal behaviour for dogs, and some choose to snack on it simply because they enjoy the taste and/or texture! Eating grass is usually no cause for concern and isn’t linked to health issues or dietary deficiencies. However, if your dog appears unwell, eats grass excessively, or only wants to eat grass (and not their usual food), you should seek advice from your vet.

What are safe things for dogs to chew?

Chewing is a normal, natural behaviour for dogs that helps keep their teeth and gums healthy. For this reason, you shouldn’t stop your four-legged friend from chewing but ensure they only chew on safe things.

Dog-friendly rubber chew toys are a great non-edible option because they’re durable but still gentle on your pup’s teeth. If you’re looking to treat your dog and give them something tasty to chew on, try giving them chewy dog treats. Just remember to be mindful of those extra calories.

For their safety, we recommend that your dog doesn’t chew on things that are a choking risk or could become lodged or break apart in their mouths, such as sticks or tennis balls. We also recommend avoiding bones, as these can cause tooth fractures and be a potential choking hazard.

How do I stop my dog from eating things they shouldn’t?

  • Training: Ensure your dog understands simple commands like ‘leave’ and ‘drop’ so you can stop them from eating something dangerous, even if you are some distance away. For more advice, read our guide to reward-based training.
  • Remove temptation: Take preventive measures by keeping risky items safely out of paws’ reach. It seems obvious, but if your cheeky pet goes for the same things (e.g. socks), then it’s best to store them well out of their way. To avoid any accidental mishaps, keep the floor clear of anything small enough for your dog to swallow.
  • Keep them physically and mentally active: If you suspect your dog’s eating things they shouldn’t because of loneliness or boredom, try increasing their physical activity and mental stimulation. Puzzle toys and mentally stimulating food dispensers are a great way to keep your four-legged friend entertained for longer periods of time.
  • Walk them on a lead or use a muzzle: If your dog gobbles things up on walks because they don’t know the ‘drop’ or ‘leave’ command yet, keeping them on a lead and using a muzzle can help to keep them safe. A simple basket muzzle is comfortable and should stop your dog from wolfing down anything hazardous whilst enjoying their daily walk(s). If your dog is not used to wearing one, take the time to muzzle train them first to help them get used to it.

Read more: Training dogs not to chew

What do I do if my dog has eaten something they shouldn’t?

If your dog has eaten something they’re unable to digest, a blockage can form in their stomach. Signs of a gut blockage include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Changes in typical behaviour (not interested in their usual activities or depressed)
  • Vomiting
  • Changes in bowel movements (e.g. diarrhoea or constipation)
  • Lethargy (tiredness)
  • Painful abdomen (tummy)

Usually, your dog will need a physical examination and X-ray or ultrasound to confirm if they’ve swallowed something. If the object they’ve swallowed is unsafe or cannot pass through naturally, your dog will need surgery to remove it from their intestines or stomach.


Read next: What to do after pets have surgery

Share this article on:  PDSA | 12 May 2023


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