We have a huge old oak tree in our backyard. Every year, as soon as the weather starts to draw us outside, it begins dropping tons and tons of acorns. All of our dogs were interested at first, how could they not be?
Tiny little balls falling from the sky, pinging off of them, bouncing across the yard. They do look very enticing. Most of our dogs were interested just for a bit, but then quickly realized that they were not a tasty treat.
Emphasis on “most” of our dogs. One of them became obsessed! You could hear him crunching and crunching all the way across the yard. He would wait excitedly at the back door, and I knew it was so he could get at those acorns. He wasn’t known for wanting to eat everything (as with many other dogs) so it was pretty unusual.
Little did I know that what I was seeing was a potentially dangerous situation that I needed to stop immediately.
Wondering how to stop your dog from eating acorns?
Restrict your dog’s access to acorns while you reinforce that acorns are not food or toys and give them enrichments and other distractions from the acorns while they are outside. The techniques are not difficult but it requires consistency and time to stop your dog from eating acorns.
It is very important to realize that acorns pose a threat to your dog on several different levels. Not only are they choking hazards but you may be surprised to learn that acorns are in fact quite poisonous to most animals.
Not to mention, even if the dog does not choke or sustain symptoms of poisoning, the sharp, hard shells may cause them digestive problems as they work their way through the dog’s system.
The prospect of teaching my dog not to eat acorns was overwhelming at first, especially once I realized how dangerous that they could be.
However, I found some incredibly helpful resources and tried a few different tactics that, in the end, have worked. My dog is still interested in falling acorns, but he doesn’t chow down on them like he used to.
What works for your dog will probably be a little different than what worked for mine, but there is a lot of information out there that I combed through and have presented for you here.
Even if you have some ideas in mind for what to do, I highly suggest that you read on to get some important background information as well as handy dandy Pro tips.
Why Are Acorns Bad For Dogs?
Acorns contain high levels of a specific tannin, a chemical found in most plants, that are toxic to dogs when eaten. The size and shape make them choking hazards, especially to smaller dogs, and their shells splinter when chewed and digested, causing potential blockages or tears in the digestive tract.
So the threat they pose is threefold: poisoning, choking, and blockages.
The first threat that you’re dog is faced with when they eat acorns is a physical one: choking and other lacerations to the mouth and throat.
Small dogs are especially likely to choke on acorns. Acorns are small and round, making them perfect choking hazards. They also have a shiny, hard exterior that gets slick when it’s wet in their mouth.
This makes it easier for the acorns to slide down into their throat unexpectedly and pop back out again when they’re trying to swallow, causing them to choke.
Most dogs, however, won’t just pick them up and try to swallow them. My dog likes to chomp, chew, and crush all of the acorns before letting some down into his tummy.
While that crunch might sound satisfying, dogs can easily cut their gums and mouth on the sharp edges as the acorn shells shard in their mouths.
Your dog may not realize what is happening as they chew and will continue to cut up their gums on the acorns. You’ll pretty quickly end up with a bloody mess.
If they are able to swallow the crunchy bits, they still pose a threat to your dog as the little pieces work their way down their throats.
Because dogs can find basically limitless ways to hurt themselves, responsible pet owners should always have a first-response kit at the ready. If you don’t have one, consider this ready-made first aid kit on Amazon packed with potentially life-saving tools.
Signs Your Dog Is Choking On An Acorn
The most obvious and telltale signs that your dog is choking are coughing, ragged breath, gasping, and retching. These are the same types of symptoms you would expect to see when a person is choking.
However, your dog may also show some other signs that you may not immediately recognize as signs of choking.
Below are some of the less commonly recognized signs that your dog is choking on an acorn:
- Repeatedly swallowing or noticeable large gulps
- Pawing at their mouth, throat, or neck
- High pitched squeaking noises
- Discoloration of the tongue or gums (due to oxygen deprivation)
If your dog is choking, you need to apply first-response steps immediately.
Acorns are not the benign little nuts they seem to be. They contain the chemical compound gallotanin, which is a type of tannin, a word you may be familiar with.
Are Acorns Poisonous?
Tannins can be found to some degree in most plants. You humans will commonly encounter this particular complex compound in coffee and wine, which is part of what lends those beverages their deep, complex flavors.
The tannins found in coffee and wine, when consumed in portioned amounts, actually have beneficial qualities for humans and are loaded with antioxidants for humans.
The bitter taste of acorns caused by the tannins is usually enough to turn most dogs away from them as a snack. They may bite once or twice just for the chew of it, but most dogs should learn to avoid them on their own.
This is good because dogs are unable to process those bitter-tasting tannins.
This is why grapes and grape products (like wine and raisins), coffee, and coffee beans are dangerous to dogs and potentially life-threatening.
Acorns, rich with tannins, are poisonous and potentially life-threatening to your dog too.
What Happens If My Dog Eats An Acorn?
When your dog consumes acorns, the acorns break down into undigestible acids. These acids build up your dog’s liver and kidneys as they try to filter out the toxins.
If left untreated, your dog’s internal organs can quickly become permanently damaged or even fail (which could kill them).
How Many Acorns Are Too Many Acorns?
There is some debate about a specific amount of acorns that are” too many” for your dog to eat.
When your dog eats acorns, they have to process away toxins. These toxins will be present even if your dog eats a single piece of an acorn.
The main factor will be how your dog processes the acorn toxins and how many toxins are present in their system.
Your dog’s constitution, size, and overall health also play a factor in their ability to process acorn toxins or anything else for that matter.
Most experts agree though that your dog would need to consume roughly 6% of their body weight on average to face life-threatening effects from acorn poisoning.
Some dogs, more, some dogs, less.
Keep in mind that it’s much easier for a 5-pound dog to consume a measly 4.8 ounces of acorns (6% of their body weight) than it would be for a 120-pound dog to consume over 7 pounds of acorns.
It’s not a guessing game. Your dog’s life is literally on the line if they’ve consumed more than just a couple of acorns. Don’t think “Oh, they only ate 3 pounds of acorns, that article I read online said that’s OK.”
Eating 3 pounds of acorns is not ok!
Symptoms of Acorn Poisoning In Dogs
If your dog has eaten some acorns, they may be totally fine or they may show no signs at all for the first 24 hours.
If you know your dog has eaten a sizeable amount of acorns relative to their body size, you should not wait for symptoms to appear to bring your dog to the vet.
However, if you’re dog is showing some of the following symptoms, it may be that they are experiencing the effects of acorn poisoning and need urgent veterinary care:
- Panting and heavy breathing
- Lethargy (typically the first sign pet owners notice)
- Blood in the stool or urine
- Loss of appetite
- Signs of pain in the abdomen
This list may seem quite broad and like the signs of most illnesses in dogs. However, if you’ve recently had your dog around oak trees or if they were in a situation where they could have gotten into some acorns, you may have acorn poisoning on your hands.
The above signs are advanced stages of the poisoning. Your poor pup’s body is working hard and failing to process away the poisons they’ve ingested.
They need to see a veterinarian as soon as possible.
So if your dog is able to get the acorns through their mouth, down their throat, and stave off the effects of the toxins, they still are not out of the woods.
Acorns are perfectly shaped to lodge themselves in your dog’s digestive tract, causing a blockage.
Blockages occur when a foreign object becomes lodged in your dog’s stomach or intestines. If your dog is unable to pass the object, it may totally or partially block your dog’s digestive tract.
If it’s only a partial blockage, your dog may still be able to pass liquids but will not have solids in their stools. Or it may be that they are completely unable to poop.
This isn’t just a bad case of constipation. If the object does not dislodge itself, it may need to be removed surgically in order for your dog to return to normal.
If left unattended, your dog will become lethargic, and the build-up or pressure in its bowels overtime may stress, t, or even first their internal organs.
I cannot stress enough how terrible a blockage can be for your dog.
How Do I Know If My Dog Has A Blockage?
If you think your dog has swallowed something that it will struggle to pass, like a bunch of acorns, you will need to bring your dog to the vet. They will likely need x-rays to determine where the object is located and if they can get it out of your dog without having to go in surgically.
If you are unsure if your dog is experiencing the symptoms of a blockage, watch out for some of the following behaviors:
- Diarrhea, especially very wet and free of solid matter
- Loss of appetite
- Bloating and gas
- Pain in the abdomen
- Whining and general bug-eyed distress
There is nothing you can safely do at home to help your dog deal with the blockage. Once more, you need to bring your dog to the vet.
Eating acorns is a triple threat to your dog. If they don’t choke on the pieces as they eat them, the poisons may get them as they process the acorns, or your dog may experience blockages as they try to pass the objects through their systems.
What I thought was just an annoying behavior of my dog turned out to be an extremely serious issue and a dangerous habit.
Is Oak Poisonous To Dogs?
Surprised to find out during my research that oak is considered an irritant, poisonous to both dogs and humans. The highest concentrations of the toxins can be found in green leaves, soft new growth, and acorns, especially green, unripe acorns.
Humans have been safely consuming acorns for thousands of years. However, being humans, we would typically boil or otherwise process the acorns to remove some of the tannins and bring out some of the other flavors besides bitterness found in these protein-rich nuts.
Over time, the tannins disperse and the concentration diffuses to a safe enough level to be called benign. The bark of the trees still contains tannins, but not enough to pose a real threat to your dog.
The wood of an oak tree contains hardly any. So if your dog is chewing on oak tree wood or sticks, it is unlikely that they will it be poisoned. However, they are still likely to choke or experience blockages from the chips of wood and bark that they are consuming.
It’s also unlikely that your dog will munch on green leaves or new growth on an oak tree. After all, those are typically very high up and out of reach of your dog.
Similarly, most of the acorns that fall off of the tree are ripe and have fewer tannins and poisonous, toxic chemicals than the green acorns you would find higher up on the tree.
While green acorns have higher concentrations, acorns are still the most tannin-rich element on an oak tree. Eating any amount of them is not good for your dog but especially if they get ahold of some of the greener, less ripe acorns.
When Do Oak Trees Produce Acorns?
Oak trees are constantly producing acorns, but they typically have their largest bloom and “acorn drop” during September and October. Acorns drop their nuts before the winter so that the nuts are well-situated to germinate and sprout in the spring.
Outside of this season, it is unlikely that an oak tree will drop enough acorns to pose a threat to your dog.
However, during the season when the oak trees drop acorns, they drop a lot of them! Oak trees can produce up to 1,000 pounds of acorns in a single growing season.
That is plenty for your dog to get themselves into trouble several times over.
How To Stop Your Dog From Eating Acorns
All right, let’s get down to business. Your dog is an acorn-eater and you need them to stop before they kill themselves.
The factors at play here are going to be unique to everyone’s situation. If you have a neighbor who has an oak tree and your dog goes crazy when you go on a walk by their house, maybe just take a different route and avoid the problem altogether.
I have a big oak tree in my backyard, so there was no way to just avoid the problem.
You’re going to have to tailor the following steps to your specific situation and dog, but in general, this basic outline should give you the scaffolding you need to stop your dog from eating acorns.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a 1, 2, 3 step process. They all need to be done simultaneously or else your dog will back-slide and you’ll lose progress.
The first thing that you will need to do is to stop your dog from having free access to acorns. From now on, they do not get to eat acorns.
Ever. Never again.
Starting this process means that you have to consistently reinforce the same behaviors in your dog. If they are able to go outside whenever they want and chew on acorns, then it doesn’t matter what you do when you’re paying attention to them.
Normally, I would let my dog outside and go back indoors while he did his business. I’d go back in a few minutes and let him inside. I found that I could no longer do this because I wasn’t sure that my dog wasn’t eating acorns when he was supposed to be going potty.
When you let your dog outside, make sure you keep a close eye on them and stop them from eating acorns. Then bring them back inside. They have to be in an acorn-free environment unless they are under your direct supervision at all times, at least at first.
This is going to be a process to train your dog from eating something that he wants to eat, so be patient.
If you’re able to section off part of your yard for your dog to play in away from acorns, great. If you have a front and back yard, all the better. It is probably going to be easier to contain your dog by using a pen or a leash rather than to try to fence off a tree.
However, if you have a smaller tree or have a large space and you just need to isolate the one tree, there are a few products available to you to help you keep your dog from getting to the tree. Something as simple as some light garden netting will probably suffice to block your pooch.
For me, I just had to go outside with my dog and call him off of the acorns every time they tried to get at them. This was pretty annoying at first, but the next couple of steps help make it better.
The idea here is simply to make sure that your dog doesn’t cheat. It’s the same as if you were trying to go on a strict diet. No more acorns. No cheating!
If all else fails, it may be necessary for you to take drastic measures to prevent your dog from eating acorns. A muzzle like this one on Amazon is a great way to prevent your dog from getting things into its mouth that he shouldn’t.
Muzzles should only be used for short periods of time while under direct supervision. It’s not a great long-term solution, but it may help keep your dog alive during the couple of months of the year when they are tempted to eat acorns.
Physically separating your dog from the acorns is one thing, but teaching them to exist around the acorns and still avoid them is what the end goal of this whole process is.
Therefore, it’s important not to lose sight of that objective. Make sure that you are teaching your dog to avoid eating acorns, not just avoid the problem or distracting them.
I will talk about it a lot of positive ways to engage with your acorn-eating dog but make no mistake about this: eating acorns is dangerous and you are responsible for keeping your dog safe.
You need to be firm, consistent, and responsible for your dog’s well-being, and that means taking action, sometimes aggressive, steps to keep them safe.
Your dog is probably already familiar with some basic commands like sit and stay. They may have even more advanced obedience,. Most dogs can listen to people and pick up on a lot of their cues after all.
Your dog probably already knows how to come when they are called, so I won’t bother trying to tell you how to teach them that in just a few words.
Suffice to say that this is a very useful tool when trying to call your dog back from where you know there are acorns. Keep an eye on your dog and call them back frequently.
This reinforces the separation and prevents them from getting a mouthful of what they are looking for.
Teach Your Dog To Leave It
You’re probably familiar with this command. Hopefully, your dog is too!
“Leave it” will be an essential tool in your anti-acorn utility belt. Making sure your dog knows how to leave it is one of the most important commands a pet owner should know.
If your dog does not know a command to “leave it,” below are my quick notes on how to teach them this command
- Start with a treat. Use it to get your dog’s attention and put them in a sit and stay if you can or some other way to maintain their focus without them jumping up and down trying to get the treat from you.
- Hold the treat in your hand or, if you can, put it on the ground, but don’t let them have it.
- Tell them to “leave it” or some other specific command of your choosing. Just make sure it’s unique so they develop a unique behavior, don’t just use “No”
- Do not let them have the treat!
- This is where learning happens. You need to stress your dog ever so slightly. The point here is so that they learn that they cannot have the thing that you said “leave it” about until you give them the release command.
- Don’t overdo it, but make sure you are pushing the limits of your dog’s patience. This is a muscle we’re exercising after all
- Repeat “leave it,” maintaining eye contact and keeping your dog away from the treat. Repeat leave it often, especially at the beginning of teaching them so they associate the self-control they are learning with the words you are saying.
- Release your dog and let them have the treat using your release command. I use “You can have it” but again, it’s whatever works so long as it’s unique.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat, pushing the limits of how long your dog can “leave it.”
Once your dog knows this trick and is able to leave the object alone consistently, you can start to use toys and other things the dog likes in order to reinforce the “leave it” command.
Over time, this self-control and their ability to listen to you say to leave something alone will translate into the field when you are with your dog around acorns.
Telling them to come and then to leave it when around acorns is the best hands-on way to prevent your dog from eating them.
Teach Them To Drop It
Just like leave it, drop it is another useful trick that helps to teach your dog to listen to you and to do what you tell it to do when it’s holding something in his mouth.
If your dog is outside with a mouthful of acorns, you can tell your dog to drop it. A well-trained dog will spit out what’s in its mouth even if you are at a distance from it.
The process is pretty simple and easy to adapt if your dog knows how to play fetch. Below is a quick tutorial though in case your dog currently doesn’t know how to drop it.
Making sure your dog knows how to come, leave it, and drop it will come in very handy when you are outside with your dog around acorns, teaching them to avoid them.
There is a degree of negative reinforcement required to make sure your dog stops associating acorns with tasty snacks and fun playtime.
As I said, acorns are not very tasty. Like many poisons, their bitter taste is a signal to animals that cannot eat them not to eat them. If your dog takes one or two bites of an acorn, it’s probably not that big of a deal and they will learn to avoid them on their own.
If you are unable to keep your dog separated from acorns, and you are unable to command them to stop eating the acorns from a distance, you will need to come up with some clever ways to get your dog to stop and associate the acorns with negativity instead of positivity.
It may be helpful to use a collar that can give your dog a slight vibration, ring a bell, or, in the most serious cases, a slight shock if they are getting into acorns and not listening to your commands.
I have used for my dogs in the past. I don’t personally use the shock set in, but I found the little bell and the vibration setting was a great way to get my dog’s attention again even if they were far away.
Keep track of your dog and, if they approach the acorns, ring the bell or trigger the collar so that they are startled and avoid the acorns.
Another low-tech solution is to pick up a whistle that you blow into whenever your dog is thinking about snacking on some acorns.
The main idea here is not to punish your dog for going after acorns. Rather, the point is to stop them in their tracks before they ingest something dangerous.
If every time they walk over to the oak tree they hear a loud whistle and their pet parent shouting for them, over time, they will learn that they should avoid the acorns, less they get yelled at, whistled at, or like shocked.
It may sound overly harsh, but getting a mild startled every now and then is a far better outcome than kidney failure. Sometimes you’ve gotta play bad cop to keep your pups safe.
Give Them Something Else
Separating your dog from acorns and getting them less interested in general is only half the battle. Your dog is going towards the acorns because they are looking for something.
They’re probably munching them out of boredom since we know that acorns are not they’re tasty. While you’re keeping your dog from eating acorns, you should give them something else to interact with to keep them occupied.
Treats are the ultimate distractor for my dog. While all dogs go crazy for treats, my pup especially loves them.
When we would go outside, I knew that he knew that the acorns were there.
When I saw that he was starting to become interested in the treats, I would call him back and give him a piece of chicken that I had in a ziplock bag in my pocket.
He would come running back, forgetting all about the bitter nuts on the ground, and sit nicely for a treat.
Once I gave him a treat, he seemed much less interested in the acorns.
Mix up the negative reinforcement you are doing with the e-collar or your shouts of No by sometimes calling them back and giving them a treat. Mixing up the training will help flex your dog’s intellectual muscles and help them to learn to avoid the acorns faster.
But do not JUST give your dogs treats when they are thinking about eating acorns. If you do this, they will learn that if they walk over towards the oak tree, there is a good chance that they will get caught back and get a tasty snack, and now it’s a game of go over there, get corrected, get a treat, go back over there, yada yada yada.
If your dog is outside and is choosing to ignore the acorns on their own, give them a treat then too. This will help them to learn that dogs who avoid acorns and who do whatever it is that they were doing instead get treats.
Because you may need to give your dog quite a few treats to pull this off, make sure you stick with treats that are appropriate dogs and avoid people food like lunch meat.
Toys are another great distractor and, if your dog is very food motivated, an even better option than training them with treats because they can engage with the toys themselves and don’t need to keep coming to you to get reinforcement.
Your dog is probably trying to eat the acorns out of boredom, so rather than just hang out outside and let them find the acorns to entertain themselves with, bring a ball, frisbee, or another fun toy for them to play with to get their wiggles out when they are outside.
I found that this flirt stick was a great way to quickly get my dog’s attention and tire him out while he bounced around chasing the furry little bait at the end of the stick.
Another great thing about toys is that you can leave them outside. I left a big bouncy ball that my dog loves to play with outside, near where the acorns are.
When we would go outside he was too excited to play with and interact with big bouncy ball that he didn’t get to play with inside to pay any attention to the acorns.
Putting a toy outside that they only get to engage with when they are out there is a great way to distract them from the acorns and give them something else to do besides get up the trouble.
What Should I Do If My Dog Eats An Acorn?
If your dog eats a small number of acorns, watch for signs of choking and then monitor for acorn poisoning and signs of a blockage over the next 24 hours. If they show signs of distress, or if your dog has eaten more than 3% of their body weight in acorns, bring them to the vet immediately.
6% is the “that’s for sure too much” amount, so 3% is the “OK, I have a situation on my hands” amount.
Risks with acorns begin with choking, followed by poisoning, and then blockages.
If your dog is choking you need to perform the first response steps immediately. You do not have time to bring your dog to the vet.
Responsible pet owners should know how to do this just in case your dog chokes so you don’t have to immediately go to Youtube.
If you don’t know how to help a choking dog, even if your dog is not currently choking, watch this video. You should know how to do this in the case of an emergency:
Getting the object out of your dog’s windpipe and allowing oxygen to get back into their systems right away is crucial.
Your dog may or may not need to visit the vet after you’ve dislodged the choking hazard. Monitor them for discomfort and signs of continued labor breathing.
If your dog is showing any of the symptoms of toxicity after eating acorns that we discussed earlier, you need to bring your dog to the vet NOW.
Kidney and liver failure are serious and life-long or life-threatening damage can occur in only a few hours.
Unlike other toxins, do not try to make your dog vomit if they ingest acorns. Acorns are hard and sharp, and if your dog tries to vomit them up, they may cause more damage scratching up their esophagus trying to get them out of their bodies.
It is best for your vet to decide what the best first step should be in treating acorn poisoning.
It is likely that your vet will treat the acorns with activated charcoal and intravenous fluids to to ensure that your dog is properly hydrated and give them as much of a fighting chance to process the way the toxins themselves.
There is no way to detoxify your dog, they just need to process it themselves. Therefore, it is important for you to bring your pet to the vet so that the veterinarian can give them all the support they could possibly need to give them a fighting chance of staving off the toxins.
Unlike choking, which requires immediate intervention of the pet owner, poisoning and blockages will require veterinary intervention.
Again, if your dog is experiencing any of the signs of blockage, you need to bring your dog to the vet right away. You cannot help your dog with a blockage at home.
If your dog is unable to pass the acorns, it may be that surgery is required to remove them. Or it could be that your vet just needs to give your dog a laxative, IVs, and a lot of close monitoring to ensure that they are able to safely past the acorns that are blocking their digestion.
Dogs Eating Acorns
Eating even a small amount of acorns can quickly become life-threatening for your dog. The guidance is about bodyweight is just that: guidance. You are taking a risk by not seeking medical attention if your dog eats acorns.
If they eat one, two, just a few acorns, it may be worth the risk, betting that they are probably okay. There’s a good chance that they probably are OK.
However, when it comes to our pets, it is always best to play it safe and get your veterinarian’s advice when making medical decisions for your dogs.
The above steps should help you to get your dog to stop eating acorns for good. They worked for me!