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Ask A Vet: Why Does My Dog Eat Dirty Laundry?

Dogs like gross stuff. They sometimes eat poop or roll in dead things. We all know it and deal with it. We understand that it is a part of “dog-dom”. Vets everywhere have removed socks and underwear from dogs’ stomach and intestines.

Dogs live in a world of heightened olfaction and there are “scent messages” everywhere. They have the ability to perceive odors diluted several times more than we can and it is thought that although they share some similar genes for olfaction with humans, dogs seem to have further evolved to have even more dedicated olfactory receptors than humans.  This allows them to read the coded chemical messages even more specifically than we can.1


Even more important to your dog is the idea of resources. A dog’s ancestral family unit depended on its resources, like water, food and shelter. They sought and fought to keep a valued territory that provided these resources. Your dog looks to you to decide if something is valuable or not. If an item bears your intimate scent, your dog knows that you have marked it as a valuable asset item. But then when you tossed it aside, he assumes that you would never leave such an item, unless you wanted him to have it.

Canine individuals are left deciphering all of these messages for whatever information can be gained.  Sometimes the odor signifies food and sometimes a scent marker comes from another animal. But in the case of our dirty laundry, perhaps it is a bit of both. We are a familiar and beloved scent to our canine family members. Anything that has been close to us bears our scent and then becomes prized as a resource. Sweaty underwear or socks are more apt to be damp also, additionally promoting the odor molecules’ perception to your dog.

The item (that is offensive to you) bears your scent strongly and is labeled as highly prized in the eyes of your dog. He can’t stick it in his pocket and ask you about it later, so he figures that if you thought it was important enough to wear it, it should not be discarded and he eats it, or the part of it that bears human scent the most.

Probably he is just being a dog, but maybe he is reminding you to put your dirty laundry in the hamper right away and stay on top of the laundry chores!

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  1. Comparison of the canine and human olfactory receptor gene repertoires. Genome Biol. 2003;4(12):R80. Epub 2003 Nov 28. Quignon P, Kirkness E, Cadieu E, Touleimat N, Guyon R, Renier C, Hitte C, André C, Fraser C, Galibert F.

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Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm

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