Muddy grass blades, small rocks, wooden sticks, cigarette butts, half-eaten doughnuts, another dog’s poop – there are not many things a puppy would not dare to put in its mouth.
But why do puppies eat everything outside? The simple answer is because they can. Puppies are adventurous and curious little creatures. They experience the world through their senses – sounds, smells, sights and tastes. Putting everything they find into their mouths is part of their investigation of the surroundings.
Watching your small puppy tenaciously chew on a none-edible item may seem funny at first. However, that inedible item can be dangerous. Therefore, puppies must never be allowed to eat random things, regardless of their edibility. For example, rocks and sticks can cause internal injuries, while grass and food leftovers can wreak havoc on the puppy’s sensitive digestion system.
This article will explain everything you need to know about puppies and eating random objects found in the great outdoors – from reasons through consequences to prevention methods.
WHY PUPPIES EAT EVERYTHING OUTSIDE?
The inclination to eat everything is relatively normal behavior that stems from the puppy’s instinctual nature. Chewing, mouthing, and even swallowing is necessary for the puppy to determine an object’s edibility.
Puppies and dogs, in general, do not have as many taste buds as we do. Because of that, they need to hold the item in the mouth for quite some time to judge its edibility. And since most of the taste buds are located further back in the mouth, by the time the puppy decides whether the item was edible or not, it is too late – the item is already swallowed and on its way to the stomach.
Eating everything outside is a behavior most puppies outgrow by the time they are one year old. Proper training as well gaining experience about their surroundings are essential factors in outgrowing this habit.
Is eating everything outside always a normal puppy behavior?
Eating everything outside due to untamed curiosity should be differentiated from the almost obsessive eating of non-edible items. This nearly obsessive eating is, in fact, a medical issue, scientifically termed as pica.
Pica is defined as an obsessive and irresistible urge to eat non-edibles. Some puppies with pica have strict preferences; for example, they eat only sand or only paper, while others would eat anything literally.
The underlying issues that trigger pica can be classified into two groups – physical and behavioral. The group of physical includes nutritional deficiencies and the presence of intestinal worms. The most common behavioral trigger is boredom, in which case the abnormal appetite is referred to as compulsive pica.
Pica is a serious condition because of two aspects:
- The underlying issue – certain nutritional deficiencies and worm infestations can have detrimental effects on the overall health
- The eaten non-edible – sharp ends, rough structure, contamination, presence of toxic compounds.
Unlike the curious chomping on non-edibles, pica is not something the puppy can outgrow or be trained to resist. In a puppy with pica, the abnormal appetite will only intensify and no amount of training will help. Instead, the pup should be thoroughly examined and the underlying cause adequately addressed.
THE DANGERS OF EATING EVERYTHING OUTSIDE
As mentioned, there are not many things puppies are not brave enough to taste. From naturally occurring items, such as rocks, sand, dirt, and sticks to human-made pollutants such as disposed diapers, used tampons, greasy wrapping papers, and cigarette butts – the list is endless.
The items mentioned above are gross but being a puppy parent includes dealing with appalling situations on a daily basis. It also includes knowing the dangers associated with the most common non-edibles.
It is not uncommon for puppies and adult dogs to graze on grass. In fact, dogs are genetically wired to munch on leafy greens occasionally – in the past, the dog’s wild ancestor would ingest plant material while eating its prey.
Today, modern dogs usually eat grass when they sense digestive trouble and want to make themselves throw up.
If this is normal, why is eating grass listed as dangerous? Well, eating grass can be extremely dangerous if the grass was previously treated with pesticides.
All pesticides are potent chemical compounds likely to cause severe poisoning. Considering most pups’ diminutive size, even a small amount of pesticide-treated grass can be enough to cause poisoning.
Wood sticks, branches and bark
Wood is a particularly dangerous item for dogs. That is because when chewed on, wood splinters easily and its shards can cause an array of issues.
Some issues like cuts in the mouth and lodging between the teeth are more minor while others, like gastrointestinal obstructions and choking are severe and life-threatening.
It should be noted that sometimes we unintentionally encourage our puppies to chew on wood by playing fetch with wood sticks. By doing so we positively reinforce the puppy’s association of play and wood sticks.
Dirt poses a danger to puppies because it can harbor an array of potentially toxic substances such as fertilizers, pesticides, lawn chemicals and other toxins.
Dirt can also be loaded with harmful parasites and bacteria. Finally, dirt can contain other potentially troublesome items, such as rocks or sharp sticks.
Chewing rocks can cause mouth injuries such as soft tissue cuts and teeth fractures. Inhaling rocks poses a choking hazard and swallowing rocks can trigger several complications, including, obstructions, perforations and internal injuries and bleeding.
Eating a small amount of paper is harmless but eating a more substantial amount is likely to trigger digestive upset.
Eating an entire paper plate / roll (not as uncommon as it sounds at first) may result in a gastrointestinal blockage.
Last but not least, some papers (like newspapers) are imprinted with colors that can be toxic to puppies.
Plastic bags are particularly dangerous because they cannot be dissolved and are likely to obstruct the intestines. Puppies are very tempted to eat plastic bags, especially if those bags contained food or something that smells nice.
Since the nicotine is mainly concentrated in the filter, eating a cigarette but is just as dangerous as eating the entire cigarette. Namely, if a puppy eats cigarette butts, it risks developing nicotine poisoning.
With the invention of electronic cigarettes, the frequency of nicotine poisoning has decreased significantly. However, cigarette butts are still common, especially in non-frequent areas.
Secondly, if the food leftover was greasy, ingesting it might trigger a bout of acute pancreatitis – a temporary but extremely painful inflammation of the pancreas. On the other hand, if the food was too salty, it can cause salt poisoning. Salt poisoning is a life-threatening condition.
Finally, if the leftover was already decaying, it will upset the puppy’s sensitive digestion system and lead to profuse diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, dehydration, and tummy ache.
The phenomenon of eating poop is so disgusting it deserves its own medical term – coprophagia. The main concern associated with puppies eating another dog’s poop is intestinal worms.
Intestinal worms or better said their eggs are passed via the feces, and by ingesting the poop, the puppy also ingests the eggs. Once consumed, the eggs will continue their development inside the intestines and grow into adult worms.
HOW TO PREVENT MY PUPPY FROM EATING EVERYTHING OUTSIDE?
The brick and mortar of raising a well-behaved adult dog is proper training. Proper training can eradicate all bad behaviors and habits, including eating everything outside.
However, training can be a challenge, especially with some dog breeds. Things are even more complicated if you are a first-time puppy parent and inexperienced in the training area. In such cases, it is best advised to hire a professional dog trainer.
Meanwhile, until your puppy is thoroughly trained and well-behaved, it is recommended to use a muzzle. Alternatively, you can use an Elizabethan collar or a cone. Keep in mind that these aids are temporary.
It is also a good idea to walk your puppy in clean areas where the chances of finding something to eat are small. Be extra observant of what your puppy is sniffing while walking, and do not let him off-leash unless in a dog-proof area.
1. How do I stop my puppy from eating everything outside?
From training and redirecting your puppy’s attention to muzzles and collars – there are many ways of preventing your dog from eating everything outside. Muzzles and collars are temporary solution and should only be used until your puppy is fully trained. Adequate training is the only long-term solution.
2. Do puppies outgrow eating everything?
Yes, the good news about puppies eating everything is that they eventually outgrow the habit. If your puppy is one year old and still obsessed with eating everything outside, you need to have him checked by your trusted vet.
3. At what age do puppies stop eating everything?
The eat everything phase ends when puppies are between six months and one year old. Some puppies are more mature and will stop sooner while others are more tenacious and will keep misbehaving until one year old.
4. Do puppies outgrow pica?
No, pica is a medical issue that cannot be outgrown. The only way of handling a puppy with pica is determining the underlying cause (deficiency, worms, behavioral issues) and eliminating it.
Puppies experience the world via their mouths – that is something every puppy parent knows really well. The good news is that your puppy’s attraction towards chomping mouthfuls of decaying food leftovers, wood branches, or dirt-covered papers is temporary. Unless there is a more serious underlying medical issue, most puppies stop eating everything outside by the time they are one year old.
However, just because it is temporary does not mean that eating non-edibles should be taken lightly. Quite the contrary – eating non-edibles is associated with a plethora of consequences. As a devoted puppy parent, it is your responsibility to prevent your puppy from eating everything outside.
If it seems like your puppy’s appetite is too big for you to handle, do not hesitate to consult with a licensed dog trainer or behaviorist.