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Have you ever seen a dog happily chewing on a toy only to swallow the whole thing minutes later? Dogs and puppies are notorious for eating things they shouldn’t. They’ll eat anything from toys to rocks and sometimes even trash.
Since so many dogs do this, it might seem like normal dog behavior, but it can actually be a serious problem. When dogs eat things they shouldn’t, they risk a range of issues from slight stomach upset to severe foreign body obstruction.
So, the question is – why do dogs eat everything?
While it can be normal dog behavior for dogs to eat items that smell like food, it’s not normal for them to eat inanimate objects, like rocks or sticks. Several reasons can cause dogs to eat something, like anxiety, boredom, and even severe medical conditions, like pica or nutritional imbalances.
Since this can be such a serious medical issue, let’s go ahead and dive into the reasons that may be causing your dog to eat everything.
Reason 1: Scavenging Instincts
The sense of smell and taste are two major senses for dogs. Dogs can smell up to 1,000 times better than humans, so dogs tend to follow their noses, which can get them into trouble. As a dog follows their nose, it usually leads them to things they think smell good, which means they inevitably want to put those things in their mouth.
In the wild, wolves are natural scavengers, so when their nose leads them to something that smells interesting, they inevitably eat it. Even though your dog at home may not really resemble a wild wolf, dogs in today’s world still have these hardwired scavenging instincts and still explore the world with their nose and mouth, which can lead them to eat things they shouldn’t.
In a nutshell, puppies and dogs explore the world with their mouths! They pick things up, give them a chew, and spit them out. Usually, this isn’t a big deal and just a natural dog behavior, but if your dog begins consuming the random things he’s putting in his mouth, that can be a problem.
Reason 2: Hunger
This is a similar reason to the above, but we all know that dogs get hungry! When dogs are hungry, they’re going to eat anything that is lying around- from cow patties to lizards most dogs aren’t picky.
Some dogs are chow-hounds, and they won’t stop eating. In fact, it’s estimated that 40-45% of dogs are obese because they just love food so much and can’t stop eating.
However, there are some underlying medical reasons that could cause a dog to be extra hungry. Steroids, like Prednisone, are often used to treat things like bad skin infections.
Just like in people, steroids make dogs extra hungry and thirsty, so don’t be surprised if you notice a drastic increase in hunger and thirst after starting your dog on a steroid.
Dogs with thyroid conditions can also be more hungry than usual. The thyroid hormones affect metabolism, so if a dog’s thyroid hormones are out of whack, they can feel hungry or thirsty regardless of how much food or water they’ve consumed.
If you notice that your dog has other symptoms, like lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea, along with the desire to eat everything, it’s essential to schedule an appointment with your vet.
Reason 3: Boredom
Dogs get bored quickly, and when they’re bored, they tend to get into trouble and do things they shouldn’t.
Like people, dogs have various needs that need to be met. This includes obvious, standard needs like food, water, shelter, and safety, but dogs also need exercise and mental stimulation.
How much exercise a dog needs depends on many factors, but on average, a dog needs about 30 minutes daily. They’ll be bored if these exercise and mental stimulation needs aren’t met.
When dogs are bored, they’ll do almost anything to pass the time. Dogs have a tendency to become destructive when they’re bored because they’re trying to get rid of their energy. That could the “classics” like flipping their food or water bowls but also even more frustrating habits like eating anything they can find.
So, if your dog is bored, it makes sense that they’re scavenging around and trying to occupy their time by eating and chewing on things.
Reason 4: Stress and Anxiety
Chances are you’ve probably heard of the term “emotional eater” about people. While we can’t ask our dogs exactly how they’re feeling, it stands to reason that they can turn to their natural instincts of scavenging for food when they’re feeling stressed or anxious.
In fact, one study suggests that dog owners do believe their dog’s emotional state influences their eating habits.
Dogs are creatures of habit, so they can quickly become stressed if anything changes in their environment. Seemingly minor things like a new houseguest, new furniture, or even a change in your work schedule that’s altering your daily routine are all reasons that could actually cause your dog to feel stressed and anxious. Of course, major changes like a new baby, a trip to the groomer, or a vacation can trigger stress too.
If your dog is feeling stressed or anxious, they may begin eating everything to cope, occupy their time, and feel better and less stressed.
Reason 5: Teething Puppy
If you have a young puppy eating everything, they could be trying to soothe their teething pain.
Puppies start getting their baby teeth as early as two weeks old, and their adult teeth begin coming in when they’re around 3-4 months old. By the time they’re about 6 months old, they should have all their adult teeth, and their baby teeth should have fallen out. This is a pretty long teething phase that they have to endure!
Dealing with baby teeth falling out and adult teeth erupting is painful and uncomfortable for your puppy, so they may begin chewing and eating everything to soothe their pain. Chewing helps to release the inflammation in their gums, and it can help baby teeth fall out. If your puppy gets carried away with chewing and starts ingesting the items, they could easily get in the habit of eating everything.
Reason 6: Nutritional Imbalance
Nutritional imbalances can also cause dogs to eat things they shouldn’t. However, dogs with nutritional imbalances tend to eat specific things, especially dirt. With a nutritional imbalance, dogs eat these weird things, like dirt and rocks, to obtain minerals like sodium, iron, and calcium from the soil.
Eating dirt is a serious concern. Dirt can contain toxins, parasites, and rocks. If your dog eats enough dirt, they’re also at risk of becoming constipated and even impacted. While it’s common for dogs to eat dirt when dealing with a nutritional imbalance, dogs that have a nutritional imbalance can eat a variety of inanimate or inedible items.
Nutritional imbalances can be confirmed by your vet performing a physical exam and running some diagnostic bloodwork. If your dog is eating dirt, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your vet to rule out these underlying medical causes.
Reason 7: Pica
Pica is a complicated medical condition that is defined as the persistent chewing and consumption of non-nutritional substances that provide no physical benefit to the animal. Dogs with pica can eat any range of objects, but they tend to eat inanimate objects, like rocks.
Most dogs with pica have underlying behavior issues – similar to the reasons we mentioned above, like anxiety and boredom. Pica is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, so it’s impossible to treat it without addressing the underlying behavior or medical concerns. In many cases, treating pica requires medication in conjunction with training.
Why Does My Dog Eat Everything Suddenly?
Some dogs are more prone to eating things than other dogs. This can be dependent on the breed type (you probably know that Labs are infamous for eating everything in sight), and sometimes it just comes down to the individual dog.
If your dog starts eating everything suddenly, that can be concerning and indicate that your dog may be having a problem. When your dog has a sudden change in behavior, it’s important to identify if there have been any changes in your environment. If that’s not the case, then ruling out underlying medical issues with your vet should be your next stop.
In most cases, your dog suddenly eating everything is going to be a result of your environment. Your dog may be bored now that you’re working longer hours, or maybe you just moved, and your dog feels stressed.
It’s also possible that something like a nutritional imbalance could have been a problem for a couple of weeks or months and is now finally having an effect and causing your dog to act oddly or have other symptoms. Anytime your dog is doing something new that worries you all of a sudden, you should start by scheduling an exam with your vet to ensure there’s no underlying medical condition.
How To Prevent Your Dog From Eating Everything
As we’ve discussed, eating things is part of normal dog behavior since they explore the world with their mouths. That leaves us with the question – how do you determine what normal dog behavior versus what a problem is?
While we should do our best to ensure dogs don’t eat anything they shouldn’t for their health and safety, distinguishing between what may be normal and what may be problematic can help you devise the appropriate plan to address the issue. If your dog is eating everything, start by scheduling an exam with your vet to make sure that your dog doesn’t have any underlying medical conditions.
Once your vet has ruled out any medical causes and helped you establish behavioral reasons causing your dog to eat things, you can create a management and training strategy to prevent your dog from eating everything.
Management Strategies For Preventing Your Dog From Eating Everything
Management is typically defined as arranging your environment to prevent your dog from doing bad behavior in the first place. When raising and living with dogs, it’s important that they repeat unwanted behavior as little as possible.
Tip 1: Limit Access to Items
Dogs are curious little creatures who can weasel their way into places and situations they shouldn’t be. The best way to prevent your dog from eating everything is to remove their ability to access the item.
If your dog tends to eat items off the kitchen counter, consider placing everything in cabinets or pushing everything to the very back of the counter. If your dog enjoys chewing on shoes, keep your shoes in a closet with the door shut. If your dog gets into the trash more often than they should, use trash cans with locking lids or keep them behind a closed door.
Sometimes, it might be best to use temporary physical barriers, like crates, x-pens, and baby gates. These contain your dog in one safe area while preventing them from accessing anything they shouldn’t.
Tip 2: Muzzle Training
Muzzles can have a bad stigma, but they are a fantastic tool! Using a muzzle does not mean that you have a bad dog. In fact, it means that you’re taking appropriate steps as a caring pet parent to train your dog to wear something to be safe and comfortable in his environment.
Muzzle training can help prevent your dog from eating things that they shouldn’t since it’s acting as a physical barrier on their nose and mouth. A properly-fitted basket-style muzzle can stil be very comfortable to your dog and allow them to pant and even drink water. Having your dog wear a muzzle on a walk means that he can’t pick up any trash from the ground.
Tip 3: Give Your Dog Something To Chew On
Dogs have a natural desire to chew on things. It’s essential that we give them opportunities safely and securely to perform this chewing behavior. If they never get to release this urge to chew, then that’s when their pent-up energy can become destructive.
Giving your dog chew toys when you can supervise them is a great way to occupy their time and allow them to safely get this natural desire out of their system.
Training Strategies For Preventing Your Dog From Eating Everything
The management solutions discussed above are considered passive solutions. You spend a few minutes modifying your environment to keep your dog safe indefinitely.
On the other hand, training requires you and your dog to consistently participate in improving your dog’s skills. Training dogs is a lifelong task, but training them to do a specific behavior (like not eating shoes) can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months.
How to Teach Your Dog to Leave It
You’ll want to focus on two critical training skills to prevent your dog from eating everything: “leave it” and “it’s your choice.”
“Leave it” is the classic cue in most standard dog obedience classes. This teaches your dog to ignore items after being told to leave them alone. It can be used for just about everything your dog may try to eat from cow poop and bird seed to live lizards and everything in between.
To teach your dog to “leave it,” follow these steps:
- Place a treat on the floor and be ready to cover it with your hand if your dog goes for it.
- When your dog stops moving towards the treat, say “yes” and give him a reward. It’s important that you keep the treat covered so that your dog can’t eat it.
- Increase this difficulty by placing treats closer to your dog and by dropping the treats from a standing position.
- Anytime your dog stops advancing toward the treat, reward him. If your dog stops going for the treat and looks up at you, reward that nice behavior heavily!
- If your dog can successfully perform these steps without going for the treat at least 80% of the time, add the “leave it” cue before you drop the treat on the floor.
The video below has some great examples of the dog’s small and subtle movements instead of moving toward the treat. In the beginning stages of training, a simple step back or look at you instead of the treat is worthy of a reward! In addition, you’ll see how important it is to ensure your dog doesn’t eat the treat!
How To Teach Your Dog It’s Your Choice
“It’s your choice” is a newer concept in dog training that improves your dog’s impulse control. Unlike the “leave it” cue, “It’s your choice” becomes second nature to dogs and teaches them to ignore items without being told to.
“It’s your choice” is similar to teaching your dog “leave it” with the same steps listed above. The main difference is that with “It’s your choice,” you aren’t going to add any cue to tell your dog what to do. You’re simply teaching them to respond to an item on their own.
To teach your dog the “It’s your choice” game, here are the steps:
- Place some food in your hand.
- Hold your arm out with your hand open. If your dog goes towards the food in your hand, close your hand. If your dog doesn’t make any movements for the food in your hand, then reward your dog.
- Repeat these steps and begin removing the treat from your hand and placing it on the ground.
As you’ll see in the video below, this life skill teaches your dog how to leave food alone without explicitly being told to. This is a great skill for all dogs to have.
There are many reasons that dogs eat everything ranging from simple reasons like being bored or stressed to more serious reasons that include underlying medical conditions like nutritional imbalances and even pica.
It’s essential to work with your vet to determine the underlying cause, but the good news is that between proper medical treatment, if required, and consistent training, you can easily prevent your dog from eating things they shouldn’t.