Dogs like to chew and eat lots of odd and weird things. But one of the most dangerous things for a dog to eat is a rock. It’s important to stop your furry companion from eating rocks, which can cause him to choke or suffer from a perforated stomach or intestinal blockage.
Believe it or not, a dog can swallow or chew rocks for a range of reasons, even though they may damage their digestive systems, gums, and teeth. Here is some background as to why dogs eat rocks and also some tips to help your dog stop this damaging behavior and live a healthy life.
Why Does a Dog Eat Rocks?
According to Dr. Patty Khuly, VMD, MBA, A dog may eat rocks for behavioral, psychological, or medical reasons. If a dog is obsessively eating a non-edible object, he may have an eating disorder called pica, which is the result of diet and nutritional deficiencies. Dogs can also suffer from an undiagnosed medical disorder like tumors, worms or parasites, or diabetes. A puppy may also swallow, chew, or bite rocks if he is teething.
Dogs can chew on rocks to get your attention, or they could be frustrated, anxious, or annoyed. Similar to a human baby, dogs like to explore the world around them. Curiosity can cause dogs to chew on rocks as a part of tasting different things so that they can learn about their environment.
Smells can also be a part of the attraction to chewing rocks since they can be marked by another animal or have the remnants of food on them. Or he could be tired of his toys and routine. Boredom can be a big reason why a dog chews on something like a rock when they just don’t have anything to do.
Dogs have a high intelligence level and require physical and mental stimulation and to be challenged constantly. Just like human children, dogs will also get bored with their toys, and it’s important to either rotate their toys as well as introduce new toys.
Dogs can also have an underlying medical condition if they eat rocks. Pica is a medical issue that is the result of a low level of iron and red blood cells in their blood. Eating rocks can also be a sign of abuse or starvation as well as a behavioral issue.
So, what are signs that your dog is eating rocks? Besides actually seeing him do it, you may notice rocks in his feces. Keep in mind that the underlying medical condition may cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, or excessive sleepiness or weakness from anemia.
Typically, common causes of rock-eating are:
Anemia, or low RBC
One of the leading causes of pica, anemia is caused by a decrease in your dog’s red blood cell count and iron in his blood. This can be the result of blood loss or the destruction or lack of production of red blood cells.
Anemia can be either regenerative or non-regenerative. In the case of a non-regenerative type of anemia, there is no response of the bone marrow to his body’s increased need for red blood cells. In regenerative anemia, your dog’s bone marrow replaces the red blood cells, but they are either being lost a different way like through an intestinal bleed, or the cells are getting destroyed.
There are also some gastrointestinal issues that can cause your pup to eat rocks like IBD, or inflammatory bowel disease, an unbalanced diet, hookworms, or a stomach tumor. Any time your pup has a gastrointestinal issue, his brain can be tricked into making him believe he is starving, so he may eat whatever he sees including rocks. Intestinal bleeds can also cause a dog to eat rocks thanks to anemia.
Dogs that are bored or attempting to get your attention may do something strange like eating a rock. It’s just like a misbehaving child you will do anything to get attention, even negative attention. You should also consider that the behavior may be a compulsive disorder that is caused by a chemical imbalance in his brain.
Abuse or Starvation
If you have a rescue dog or have adopted an adult dog that has been starved or abused by a previous owner, then he may have picked up this habit. While it seems odd to you, a starving dog will eat rocks in order to survive. This can then become a habit that can be difficult to stop, even after he found a home that gives him plenty of food.
Since there is a possibility of a medical disorder, it’s important that you take your pup to the vet right away. Since eating rocks can cause an intestinal blockage, it’s doubly important to make sure your dog is checked out by a professional.
What to do when your Dog is Eats Rocks
When you see rocks in your dog’s stool or notice that your dog is eating rocks, it’s imperative that you take him to the veterinarian. While it may only be a behavioral issue, eating rocks can be dangerous, so your dog will need to have x-rays to ensure that he is free of intestinal blockages before your vet will be able to figure out if there is a medical reason why your dog is eating rocks.
At the vet’s office, your dog will undergo blood tests that can help determine whether your pup is dehydrated, which is an electrolyte condition, or anemic. He will also get a PCV, packed cell volume, test that will tell you whether your dog has any deficiencies. And your dog will be checked for intestinal disorders with a CT scan or ultrasound. If after all the tests, your vet is unable to determine if there is a medical cause, then you will want to focus on a behavioral treatment.
Preventing Your Dog from Eating Rocks
To prevent gastrointestinal issues and anemia, it’s important to feed your pup a balanced and healthy diet of proteins including chicken and beef as well as regularly visit the vet. When you see the vet once a year, it can help detect issues before they get too bad. Also, don’t feed your pup food from the table or other types of food other than those that your vet specifies.
A behavioral issue like a compulsive disorder along with bad habits tends to be harder to treat since you’re having to deal with your dog’s mind instead of his body. It’s important to spend a lot of time with your pup watching his behavior to see if you can figure out why he is eating rocks. Is he hungry or bored? Or is it a deeper issue that may have been caused by prior abuse or starvation?
No matter what the reason, you need to immediately take steps to stop his behavior. Your first step should be to remove all the rocks from your yard and any other dangerous items that are in your yard where are allowed to go. Always supervise your dog when he is outside until the behavior is stopped as well as attend an obedience class or see an animal behaviorist reverse this behavior. Also, spend more time with your pup and give him new toys to chew on instead.
The Cost of Eating Rocks
Expensive to treat, rock-eating can be both costly to cure if it’s a medical issue as well as a fix if your dog ends up with intestinal obstruction. With anemia, you can expect to pay up to $1,000 on treatment and medication while behavioral issues and repeat obstructions can run you over $5,000.
What to Do if your Dog is Eating Rocks
If your dog is eating rocks, see your vet right away. After performing a physical exam, your vet will be able to determine if there is an underlying medical issue or nutritional deficiencies with your dog. If there is a health condition, the vet will be able to give you advice, medication, and recommend a special diet. After medical have been ruled out, you will need to look at any possible behavioral issues. Attend obedience classes or consult a trainer.
How do I stop my dog from eating rocks?
When stopping a dangerous behavior like eating rocks, it’s important that your dog has basic obedience training as a first step. Your dog will need to understand two basic, but very important, commands “drop it” and “leave it” as the foundation of being successful in stopping this bad habit. These very beneficial commands will eventually be lifesaving for your dog.
The command “drop it” will teach your dog to release the rock safely from his mouth. Then the command “leave it” helps to reinforce stopping a bad habit. The right training needs to begin immediately when your dog is a puppy, but it definitely needs to happen when you discover the dangerous behavior of eating rocks.
Calmly tell your dog to “drop it” in a firm tone when you see him starting to eat a rock. You should also reinforce the “leave it” command when your dog’s nose gets near rocks. Do not yell at your dog and startle him because this can cause him to swallow the rock. Instead of yelling, redirect his attention with a treat or toy for a reward. Verbal and physical praise rewards your dog instead of or along with treats. Pets, belly rubs, praise, and hugs will tell your dog that he did well.
As your dog starts to understand these two commands, he will get better at dropping or ignoring rocks, which will also help him to avoid having expensive surgery or a serious health problem.
Along with basic command training, it’s important to increase your dog’s playtime and daily exercise to keep him from getting bored, which can play a part in the rock-eating habit. Think of activities that you can do with your dog like a tug of war, fetch, or long walks that will help tire him out, but also keep his mind and body active.
You may want to consider that your dog is also eating rocks to get your attention. Shared activities will also help with this issue, but you may want to try sports like herding that gives them positive attention and physical stimulation. When you train with your dog for one of these programs, not only will he master some basic obedience skills, but he will also get more attention from you, which can help him break his dangerous rock.
You may also want to get your dog a chew toy that he plays with the outside to help break him from attention-seeking. This toy will also help to occupy his time and prevent boredom. Remember that dogs that eat rocks need to be supervised all the time when in your backyard or at the dog park.
Why is my dog obsessed with rocks?
There are several reasons why your is obsessed with rocks, which can be the result of behavioral, psychological, or medical reasons. Dogs that obsessively eat rocks can have a disorder called pica, which is caused by diet and nutritional deficiencies. It can also be caused by a mental disorder or an undiagnosed medical disorder like parasites or diabetes.
Is it bad for dogs to eat stones?
Yes! Eating rocks can make him choke or end up with a perforated stomach or intestinal blockage. Your dog can also damage his teeth and gums from munching on rocks, so it’s important to stop this behavior and get your dog checked out by a doctor for injuries.
What is pica in a dog?
Pica is a medical issue that can cause your dog to eat rocks. This medical issue is the result of low iron or low levels of red blood cells in your dog’s blood.