Ask A Vet: Why Does My Dog Eat Things He Shouldn’t?

No one can deny that dogs love to eat. They eat what we feed them and anything else that they can find that seems edible to them. Dogs can eat items that we all consider food items and then they eat things that we do not consider food items (but they do) like cat poop, their own poop, and garbage. Sometimes eating trash or poop can make dogs really sick, but many times, they get away with it completely. Some dogs eat things that no one considers food items and these things can make them very sick. The repeated ingestion of things that are not digestible can even be a disorder called pica.

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Dogs seem to love to chew and sometimes the chewing naturally progresses to swallowing, almost as a reflex. This  may explain why dogs eat things like socks. Socks have an odor and since dogs have evolved as scavengers, dogs have learned never to waste resources. They start to chew on the sock to investigate and it is swallowed almost before you know it. Unfortunately, your dog does not understand his own risk for emergency surgery if he eats socks.

Dogs also think our trash can is a treasure trove of items that are not ready to be discarded. They don’t want to miss any chance that something might be edible. Since your dog is not human, his discretion for how to choose things that are not edible is flawed when compared to humans.  (see Why does my dog eat cat poop?)

Sometimes inedible items get eaten strictly by mistake. I once treated a dog for eating lava rocks discarded from a grill because they have hamburger meat juices on them. He thought they were hamburgers and by the time I saw him, he was very sick.

The disorder, pica, is a deliberate and repeated choice to eat things that are not able to be digested. Experts have suggested that pica might be a manifestation of canine compulsive disorder (CCD). In fact, Doberman Pinschers who have other compulsive behaviors, are very likely to also have pica1. True pica must be differentiated from other causes of eating items that acts as a gastrointestinal foreign body because the treatment is different for each cause.

If your dog eats something that cannot digest and move through his gastrointestinal tract, he is in danger and you should notify your veterinarian immediately. If your dog seems to repeatedly engage in pica, he needs help just as much since he is at high risk for becoming obstructed and requiring emergency surgery and he might damage his teeth, stomach or intestines. There are medications that can help dogs suffering from pica with or without other compulsions. It is important to ask your veterinarian to help.

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  1. Moon-Fanelli AA, Dodman NH, Cottam N.Blanket and flank sucking in Doberman Pinschers. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2007 Sep 15;231(6):907-12. PubMed PMID: 17867975.

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