Do you have a dog who likes to eat rocks? If so, this is a behavior that you’ll need to be extra vigilant about, because it can pose a serious and potentially fatal threat to your dog.
In the worst-case scenarios, a rock can become stuck inside your dog’s intestines, which will not only cause pain and discomfort for your dog, but it can also cause a dangerous obstruction that will require surgery to remove.
Some common tell-tale signs that your dog has swallowed a rock will be if they’re no longer eating their food, vomiting, have a tender stomach, becoming lethargic, or generally acting unwell. If you suspect your dog has already swallowed a rock, then you should take your dog to the vet straight away.
Why Does My Dog Eat Rocks?
The eating of rocks usually falls under the category of “pica”, which is a disorder that relates to the eating of non-food items. This condition can lead to your dog trying to eat rocks, dirt, gravel, and many other non-food items which can be dangerous to your dog’s health.
While the precise causes of pica (eating non-food items) aren’t always known, many experts speculate that it stems from either nutritional deficiencies or boredom.
The nutritional deficiency theory claims that your dog may be lacking certain nutrients which they aren’t receiving from their regular day-to-day diet, and this can lead to them trying to find these nutrients by eating non-food items.
The boredom theory states that your dog is looking for entertainment, mental stimulation, or attention from their owner. Of course, it can be a very effective strategy for some dogs, because once their caring owner sees them picking up rocks, your dog quickly gains the attention they were looking for – even if it isn’t positive!
Lastly, some dogs may also develop this habit out of stress or anxiety, too.
The Dangers Of Rock Eating
While there are many behavior problems that can pose a risk to your dog, eating rocks is certainly one of the most hazardous, so you’ll need to address it as soon as possible.
If your dog is fortunate, then they may be able to pass a small rock successfully and without incurring any harm, but a larger rock can quickly lead to needing surgery, so it’s not worth taking chances.
It only takes one rock to get stuck in the intestinal tract and cause a painful, life-threatening obstruction. Even in less dramatic scenarios, a dog can still break a tooth or hurt their mouth by eating non-food objects like rocks and gravel.
Will My Dog Grow Out Of It?
Pica behavior can be fairly common in dogs, but especially during their first 6 months. During these formative months, a puppy will be highly curious and prone to investigating anything new in their environment and this can involve picking up non-food items such as rocks.
Fortunately, many puppies will later grow out of the habit, but it’s still wise to remain vigilant to ensure they’re not eating the various non-food items they pick up during their exploration.
Now that you’re aware of the potential causes and dangers that a dog’s rock eating can pose, it’s time to explore a few of the solutions that can help to eliminate or at least discourage the behavior, so let’s take a closer look at what you can do about it.
Check For Nutritional Deficiencies
The eating of non-food items may be caused due to various vitamin or nutritional deficiencies, so it’s useful to examine this possibility first.
If you suspect this to be the cause, then you can always take your dog to the vet and ask for your dog to be tested for these nutritional deficiencies, and you’ll also be able to get some expert advice on the best supplements for your dog to take in order to address the issues.
Additionally, the quality of your dog’s food can also play a role, and some owners find that their dog’s pica behavior disappears once they switch their dog over to a better brand of dog food.
Supervision Is Key
Carefully supervising your dog is vital when you have a rock-eater on your hands. If your dog tends to eat rocks when you’re taking them for a walk, then you’ll need to be wary of areas along the route where your dog may come across rocks or gravel.
If your dog isn’t quick to respond to you then you may want to consider keeping them on the leash, as you’ll find it easier to keep them away from any rocks they’re likely to discover.
Ultimately, careful supervision and being aware of the surroundings is the crucial first step whenever you’re dealing with a rock eater, because it will help you to prevent any opportunities for your dog to pick up or swallow a rock.
Sweep The Area
Does your dog pick up rocks from your backyard? If so, it’ll be crucial to sweep your entire yard area for any non-food items that may tempt your dog.
If you’ve thoroughly combed the area for rocks, then you should be able to prevent your dog from finding anything dangerous.
Address The Boredom
Once you’ve ruled out any vitamin deficiencies or health issues, you may want to consider whether your dog is eating rocks out of boredom. In fact, if you have a high-energy, curious dog who doesn’t get enough daily activity, then boredom may well be the primary culprit.
To begin with, making sure your dog gets enough regular exercise will go a long way towards reducing any boredom or restlessness they feel. The amount of exercise your dog needs can vary from breed to breed, but a tired dog is a dog that’s unlikely to cause themselves any trouble. If your dog is alone in the day, try to make more time for walks and general playtime when you’re around, or consider hiring a dog walker to give them more daily activity.
It’s also wise to offer your dog a selection of fun chew toys which may prove to be more interesting and engaging than the rocks.
In fact, it can be useful to buy several different types of dog toy so you can give your dog plenty of options until they discover their favorites. Furthermore, it’s good to encourage your dog to play with these toys instead, especially if you’ve noticed that your dog is investigating their surroundings and looking for something to do.
If your dog has already discovered a rock, then immediately take the rock away and give them a toy to play with instead.
You can also praise your dog whenever they play with an appropriate chew toy. Rewarding your dog for desirable behavior will help them to learn which items they should play with and which ones they shouldn’t, and redirecting their behavior in this manner can be very effective.
Teach The “Leave It” Command
Teaching the “Leave It” command to your dog is another essential step, and it’s one of the first commands you should teach to any new dog or puppy.
If you’re confident that your dog will follow your “leave it” command, then you’ll have far greater peace of mind whenever you’re letting your dog off the leash, and you can give them that extra freedom while being safe in the knowledge that they’ll put down any non-food items when you tell them to.
Create A Negative Association
Another effective way to discourage your dog from picking up rocks will be to provide them with a negative reinforcement whenever they pick up a rock.
An easy way to do this is to fill an empty plastic water bottle with stones or gravel, in order to make a simple shaker that makes a startling noise whenever you give it a firm shake.
The key to making this technique work is to get the timing right, so your dog associates approaching the rock with the noise of the shaker. It’s also better if your dog doesn’t see you shaking the water bottle, so they’ll instead learn that the unpleasant noise occurs when they approach or pick up the rock and associate those two things together, rather than thinking you had anything to do with the noise.
Consider A Basket Muzzle
If you’re struggling to prevent your dog from eating rocks or other non-food items and you can’t trust them to not do so, then you may need to consider using a basket muzzle, if only as a temporary measure.
While this may not be an ideal long-term solution, it’s still far more preferable than having your dog go through surgery due to swallowing a rock that’s too large for them to pass.