Dogs are known to sometimes eat rocks and other non-food items, especially puppies. Dogs explore the world with their mouths and this can often time lead to eating things that are not on the diet plan!
Unfortunately, rocks are not only off the diet plan, the are not tasty or appetizing, if fact they can be quite harmful to your pet.
Chewing rocks is dangerous to the dogs mouth due to the sharp edges that can cut gums and the tongue; and to teeth that can crack and break. If the rocks are ingested it could cause vomiting, choking, diarrhea, obstructions, and serious issues to the intestines and digestive tract.
So why do they do it?
The simple answer is usually because the puppy is teething and/or bored. If however you notice this happening more often, it could be something more concerning such as a behavioral or medical issue that needs addressed.
There’s even a name for it!
The eating or ingesting of non-food items that have no nutritional value, such as rocks, is known as “PICA”.
It is a condition or behavior that has been noted in a variety of breeds, those of different ages and with both sexes.
Puppies tend to be more prone to this behavior because of their curiosity and need to explore with their mouths. If they accidentally ingest a small rock and enjoy it, they may continue this behavior, which if not addressed, could lead to potential health concerns.
Although there is no known cause, there are several reasons why a dog may exhibit this behavior. Let’s look at those reasons and see how we can address these concerns.
One of the reasons why a puppy or dog is eating rocks, is that they may have an underlying medical condition. It is important to take your dog to a vet as soon as possible to rule out this concern.
Once the vet rules out that your dog is not in any immediate danger from any rocks, a detailed history of your dog’s diet, behavior and blood samples would be completed. Your vet would most likely be looking for the following:
Anemia – low level of red blood cells (RBC) and iron in the blood
Diabetes – excessive sugar builds up in the bloodstream
Gastrointestinal tract disorders – vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, blockages, IBD, stomach tumor, an unbalanced diet
Neurological Disease – diseases of the nerves and brain causing unusual behavior
Nutritional/Vitamin deficiency – possible lack of calcium, magnesium or other vitamins and/or minerals; pups need more calories, protein, fats and nutrients
Parasites – some intestinal parasites elicit strange cravings
Thyroid Disease – hormone levels are off causing unusual behavior
Most of the above concerns can be diagnosed by conducting blood work, ultrasounds, CT scans and/or X-rays. Once your vet rules out the above concerns, we can look at any behavioral issues that may contribute to “PICA”.
One of the main reasons’ puppies get “PICA” is that they are bored. With everyone gone during the day, they do not get enough exercise and/or interaction. So, they look for things that will keep them entertained – like rocks. Besides boredom, these are a few other behavioral issues that a dog may have experienced.
Compulsive Disorder (exaggerations of normal dog behavior caused by conflict, stress and frustration - may need professional help in dealing with this disorder)
Lack of exercise
All of the above behavioral concerns, except compulsive disorder, can be attributed to your dog’s boredom. Your dog’s chewing and/or eating of rocks may be their way of seeking attention, acting out anxiety, frustration and boredom. Your dog may be bored and frustrated by the same routine he has every day – the same toys, activities, environment.
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change up the routine
provide mind-challenging activities (hidden snacks/treats inside)
do fun games such as fetch or throwing a frisbee (decrease thoughts of eating rocks)
have a variety of toys (especially chew toys and change them out)
exercise your dog at least 15 minutes two times a day (more for larger dogs)
Get their minds off of eating rocks! Any time your pup or dog picks up an appropriate item or toy, give them praises and treats to reinforce this behavior. Sometimes you just need to remove the temptation. Here are some steps to help train your pup when it comes to rock eating.
Breaking the Rock Eating Habit
Rake and remove all rocks from your pup’s environment or fence off rocked areas.
Use a basket muzzle when walking your pup so that rocks cannot be picked up
Teach your pup to respond to the command - “Leave it” so your pup will walk away from the rocks.
Teach your pup to respond to the command – “Drop it” in case your pup gets the rock in its mouth.
Do not yell at your pup, you do not want to give attention to the action and reinforce the behavior.
If you are consistent and use gentle discouragement, your pup should outgrow the behavior by 6 months of age. Some dogs may take up to three years or until they are fully matured before they stop the behavior.
Tips to Remember
If you see your dog eating rocks – go to the vet and have them checked out
Rule out all medical reasons by running test, getting ultrasounds/CT scans or X-rays
Prevent anemia and gastrointestinal problems by giving your dog a healthy balanced diet of animal proteins such as beef or chicken.
Look at behavioral issues – such as anxiety, boredom, frustration, and seeking attention.
Change up the routine – stimulate your dog’s mind and body
Exercise, exercise, exercise!
Remove the temptation – get rid of the rocks!
Train your pup and be consistent with older dogs.
Seek professional help for dogs with compulsive disorder.
Visit your vet annually.
Have you ever had a rock eating puppy? How did you handle it? Do you have any tips you can share below in the comments?