Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
It is not uncommon for dogs to eat rocks. It is more common in puppies who, just like babies, are more oral, and therefore like to stick things in their mouths as a form of exploration. As puppies grow, they eventually grow bored of this behavior as they become more interested in other things such as pee mail, rabbit poop and tasty blades of grass to forage.
As much as it may look funny to see a dog eating rocks, problems start when rocks are swallowed whole and they are too big to pass through the dog's gastrointestinal tract, leading to complications that may turn serious.
It’s never ideal for your pup to be eating rocks, especially if they are disproportionate in size to your dog. A big rock trying to pass through a tiny dog’s tummy is going to cause a lot more issues than a little rock through a big pooch’s digestive tract.
If a rock gets stuck somewhere along the dog's GI tract, they can potentially cause what's known as a dog blockage requiring often costly surgeries and potentially lengthy recovery times. Left untreated, blockages can cause the dog to stop eating, vomit repeatedly and even die.
Now, you might get lucky and your pup will either vomit up the rock or it will pass when they next take a poop. But there is a very real chance the rock may become lodged in your dog’s intestines.
This sounds scary and it certainly is not something you should avoid. If your pup hasn’t passed a rock you know they ate within a day or so, get yourself an appointment with your veterinarian. They may have to do x-rays, run exams with contrast and potentially even do surgery to ensure the safe removal of any foreign bodies inside your pup.
On top of the risk for intestinal blockages, you need to consider risks for your dog's teeth. Chewing on rocks and other very hard objects can wear down and even break off a dog's teeth, sometimes requiring dental surgery.
On top of this, not all rock-eating behaviors in dogs are created equal. If you find they are doing it on a repetitive basis or they express some compulsion to chew rocks, you’ll want to seek out some help from your veterinarian as it could be transitioning from idle boredom to a more complex disorder.
So a dog eating rocks is something that shouldn't be underestimated or taken lightly. The best way to deal with this issue is therefore to first find out why a dog is eating rocks in the first place.
If you have noticed your pup snuffling around in the grass and coming away with a mouthful of rocks, rest assured, you’re not alone. Now, while we aren’t puppy mind readers, we can at least deduce some of the reasons behind these quirky behaviors by studying our pooches' body language and other behaviors to get an idea into why your puppy or dog may be engaging this activity. So let's take a closer look as to why rocks draw your dog to them like magnets.
Young dogs don’t know any better when it comes to engaging in behaviors you find unsuitable for your pooch. They haven’t been around long enough to learn the ropes and understand what’s expected of them. And, if they are especially young, they are just learning about the world.
Like a baby puts everything in their mouth to learn what it is and whether it’s food or a toy, puppies will go through an “oral” stage which is much the same.
You’ll therefore notice them carrying around rocks and other small items and chewing on them to learn. Typically, dogs will grow out of this phase as they develop and find other more fascinating things to chomp on.
Most dogs are attracted to rocks because they simply like the texture and feel of them in their mouths. These dogs enjoy the act of chewing on rocks and feeling the clicking of rocks against their teeth. Sort of like some people like to crunch on ice. Rock-eating in dogs, therefore, is a very tactile activity.
Dogs are active creatures by nature and breeding (after all, depending on your dog’s breed, they may have been conditioned to hunt, guard or herd), so when they don’t get a lot of mental and physical stimulation, they feel compelled to engage in behaviors you may not want.
One of those activities, of course, can be chewing rocks. Now, not all dogs will progress to swallowing them, but as explained, many dogs enjoy the feeling of the rocks grinding against their teeth and so they’ll grab a rock to chew whenever they can.
Dogs, although domesticated, often carry out behaviors that are reminiscent of their ancestral past. Although we feed them kibble from bags and let the wear collars studded with rhinestones, dogs remain animals with strong instincts to hunt, chase and explore as part of their prey drive.
Rock chewing in particular stems from the"consummatory" phase of predatory behavior, points out Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman in the book: "The Well-Adjusted Dog, Dr. Dodman's 7 Steps to Lifelong Health and Happiness for Your Best Friend."
If your pooch is no longer a puppy and they are sufficiently mentally and physically engaged throughout the day, but they are still chewing and eating rocks, pebbles or gravel, they may be trying to soothe one of several disorders.
One of them is a condition called Pica. This condition, which also exists in humans, by the way, drives the behavior of eating non-food items. This can range from rocks to all sorts of other items you don’t want your pup to eat (or humans for that matter).
If you suspect that this may be the case for your pup, make an appointment with your vet to break this bad habit. Your pup may be trying to supplement their iron intake by eating rocks if they have an underlining deficiency in their diet.
Just as some dogs eat grass frantically, some dogs may try to ingest rocks to soothe stomach pain caused by a whole host of conditions from parasites to colitis to inflammatory bowel syndrome. So once again, a vet visit would be important to rule out this possibility.
If your dog just ate a rock, you may be wondering whether you should induce vomiting in your dog. Veterinarian Dr. Christian K. warns that there are dangers in doing this considering that rocks can do serious damage when being brought back up.
If your dog just ate a rock, Dr. Christian suggest feeding the dog his regular dog food mixed with canned pumpkin. The fiber in the pumpkin will provide bulk and help the stone pass through the intestines.
Signs of a dog's intestinal blockage consist of lethargy, lack of appetite, vomiting and/or abdominal pain. With a simple x-ray, the stone should show up very well on an x-ray.
Let’s do a quick recap of some of the main causes for rock-eating and some tips on how to help ensure your pup doesn’t go foraging for inanimate objects.
© 2020 Adrienne Farricelli
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on September 08, 2020:
We've had a few rock chewers. But sticks seems to be of more interest. From what I observed, it was more for curiosity.
I think the rocks that are more of concern are small pea gravel. They can swallow copious amounts of them. That's why we've used river rock in our landscaping. It's tough to swallow them!
Great tips, as usual!
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 06, 2020:
Thanks for sharing this information. The facts are very important for people with a dog in the family to know.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 06, 2020:
Of all the dogs my parents had, and the ones that my husband and I have had, none of them ever ate rocks. Dogs eating rocks is a new one for me! At least with this article, you are pointing out what to look for, possible reasons, and solutions.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 06, 2020:
Hi Liz, your neighbor was lucky that the Lab liked to carry rocks rather than eat them! Labradors are one of the breeds we used to see more often at the vet's office for swallowing things.
FlourishAnyway from USA on September 05, 2020:
Omg this just taught me so much, namely how I am unqualified to own a dog! I have cats and dogs are sweet but so different. They are like children.
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on September 05, 2020:
A former neighbor of ours had a black Lab, who didn't eat rocks, but was always carrying them around!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 05, 2020:
Hi Rochelle, your friend's strategy of keeping the dog's mouth occupied with a tennis ball is a good way to prevent the dog from eating rocks.
Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on September 05, 2020:
My friend had a dog that ate rocks. They had to make sure the yard was rock free and when going for a walk they always gave him a tennis ball to hold in his mouth.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 05, 2020:
I never knew dogs ate rocks. I have had a few dogs over the years but I never knew of them eating rocks. This is a very well-written, interesting article.
(Picture Credit: Getty Images)
The treatment for pica in dogs depends on whether the condition is psychological or caused by an underlying medical condition.
For psychological behavior issues, increasing physical and mental stimulation with exercise can reduce boredom and stress. Herbal remedies can also help calm some anxiety.
Doggy daycare may help with socialization and further prevent boredom or anxiety if no one is home during the day.
Durable chew toys can divert attention from objects that dogs may want to ingest. There are several sprays available on the market–as well as homemade sprays–that can deter dogs from eating non-food items.
Professional behaviorists may be more suited to help dogs with pica than vets when the cause is psychological. You should follow their instructions closely and not punish your dog or yell because these can increase anxious or attention-seeking behavior.
If the cause is medical, your vet will treat it accordingly. They can prescribe medication for infections or thyroid issues, for example.
If medication is causing the problem, then it should be discontinued. If there’s an issue with malnutrition or unbalanced diet, then dietary changes will be prescribed, and dogs may be tested for nutrient or vitamin deficiency.
Whether the cause is psychological or medical, it’s a good idea to remove objects from dogs’ environments that they feel compelled to eat. Supervising outdoor time, crating while you’re away, or muzzling dogs when they are not within eyesight are all potential options.
Pica can lead to gastrointestinal or respiratory blockage. If this is the case, then your dog may need surgery to clear the obstruction. However, sometimes an endoscope can remove smaller objects that get caught in the digestive tract.
Has your dog ever suffered from pica? How did you treat it? Let us know in the comments below!
If these solutions still don’t work, you might consider a behavior modification dog training class or training collar. And if your dog does swallow a wood piece, they might choke or get an upset stomach. So you will want to be prepared by learning how to give CPR to your dog and how to cure their upset stomach.
Has your dog eaten wood before?
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Many Dogs tend to eat a lot of strange things that, for most of us, make no sense. However bizarre your dog’s chomping habits may be, bear in mind that this is relatively normal behavior, particularly for puppies. But, normal or not, chewing rocks (or other non-food items) can be dangerous if ingested.
The Root of the Matter
First, chewing rocks is dangerous to a dog’s mouth and teeth. Sharp edges can cut delicate gums and tongues, and crunching down can break teeth. Additionally, swallowing rocks can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, intestinal blockage, and even choking if the rock is too large for the dog’s throat. As common as rock chewing is, it can be due to several possibilities ranging from medical to developmental.
1. To seek attention. Chewing rocks is one way for a snubbed pooch to get noticed. In this case, your dog may be acting out of anxiety, frustration, or mere boredom.
2. Medical problems. It’s also possible that a dog eats rocks because of an underlying medical condition. These can include intestinal tract disorders, nutritional deficiency, diabetes, or other illnesses. It is vital to rule out any medical cause by paying a visit to your vet if continued efforts to stop this behavior are unsuccessful.
Treating the Cause
Chewing rocks may be nothing more than just your pooch’s way to vent his chewing needs. If you suspect this is the case, try the following steps to curb his rock habit:
1. Limit his access to the rocks. Sometimes it’s just impossible to avoid rocks altogether, but try to supervise your dog when they’re around.
2. When you catch your dog eating rocks, distract him from the rocks and redirect his attention to something safe or fun, like playing fetch or chewing a safe toy.
3. Check your own schedule. Is your dog left alone much of the time? Perhaps, all you need to do is to spend more time with him.
4. Keep a lot of chew toys on hand, and rotate them every couple of days to keep him interested.
If rock chewing is due to a medical issue rather than behavioral, your veterinarian will be able to make a diagnosis and create a treatment plan. When underlying medical issues are handled, the rock chewing should end on its own.
Physically preventing scavenging usually means either keeping your dog on a short lead, or putting your dog in a muzzle.
Both these have their drawbacks
Unless you are a passionate long distance runner, it is going to be difficult to keep a dog well exercised on a lead.
Now no-one likes to see a dog wearing a muzzle. But using a dog muzzle to stop a dog eating everything in sight is not an unreasonable thing to do.
A lot of people are reluctant to try it. Often because they worry what others will think.