Recently I have received several inquiries about a fairly common problem. A common problem that can prove to be fatal. I know first-hand of this. When Fritz, my miniature Dachshund was about a year old, he ate part of a rubber toy and got a blockage, requiring surgery. I almost lost him.
The common problem of which I speak is eating rocks. That’s right rocks. Many dogs do this. Many dogs require surgery to remove them. Some don’t make it. Why do dogs do it? Like most behaviors there is a variety of reasons. Experts refer to this behavior as “pica”. Eating non-food items. The exact cause has never really been proven, but speculation points to several things. Boredom, anxiety, vitamin deficiencies, digestive tract abnormalities, attention getting, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
If you notice your dog vomiting, losing weight or having diarrhea bring him into your vet at once for x rays and evaluation. Also eating rocks can damage teeth, breaking and chipping them. Sharp rocks can cause bleeding in the mouth as well as throat and digestive tract damage.
How can you prevent this? And how can you cure it, if your dog already has started this behavior? I hate to harp on this, but obedience training is always a starting point for many reasons. It builds confidence in the animal therefore reducing nervousness and anxiety. It also identifies who the leader in the pack is. My German Shepherd, Heidi, has been “Poison Proofed”. She will not take anything from strangers or anything she finds on the ground. I did this because she is my personal protection dog. She will only take rewards from me and if the food is in her dish.
Another way is diversion. Set the dog up. Put out some rocks that they like and be careful the dog doesn’t get to any of them. When you see the dog start to go to eat a rock, give them something else like a Kong stuffed with peanut butter or some other kind of chew toy that they fancy.
There are many chew toys out there. Be sure they are not too hard, or they will create excessive wear on their teeth. Rule of thumb, if you can drive a nail with it, it’s too hard. Kongs are great. Nyla bones come in many different harnesses. Make sure you pick the one that suits your dog the best.
Teach the “leave-it” command. This can be helpful in many other areas as well as this one.
Exercise. Nothing replaces good, longs walks. It’s good for them and it’s good for you. Remember, a tired dog is a happy dog. When on your walk, bring along a favorite chew treat. If the dog goes to pick something up, give a good sharp “no”, show them the toy and then divert them to it, breaking their train of thought.
Last but not least, consult with a good canine professional. Someone who is a trainer and behaviorist, to guild you through this time. If your dog does this, and you’re not sure how to deal with this, drop me a line and I’ll be glad to help.