Once I a friend of mine said, “It was not until I got my dog that I realized how much of the world is edible”. And this is true. Given the opportunity, dogs would put anything in their mouths.
One particular thing dogs are rather keen on eating is wood. But is this inclination safe? What happens if a dog eats wood? Eating wood raises several health concerns – from mouth scratches and infections to intestinal blockages and tears. Plus, if the eaten wood was part of your antique or high-end piece of furniture, the destructive wood-eating component is definitely worth mentioning.
This article will tell you everything you need to know about dogs’ habits of eating wood. It will review the reasons behind your dog’s wood-eating fondness and its potential consequences. It will also offer some valuable tips on how to prevent your dog from chewing and eating wood.
WHY DO DOGS EAT WOOD?
There are many reasons why dogs eat wood. Here are the most common ones.
Eating wood is natural to dogs
It is no secret that our canine friends experience the world through their mouths. Following that concept, it is not uncommon for dogs to be willing to put up anything in their mouths, including wood.
Plus, the dog’s wild ancestor used to eat wood bark and wood sticks to survive when other food sources were scarce. Additionally, teething puppies feel relieved when munching on wood because the wood’s texture soothes the sore gums.
All in all, it is safe to say that modern dogs are genetically wired to chew and eat wood.
Chewing and eating wood are positively reinforced habits
How many times have you played fetch with your dog using a wooden stick or branch? You throw it, your dog gets it back, and you reward it with praise. It is only normal for the dog to associate the wood stick with play and rewarded behavior.
By playing fetch with a wooden stick you unknowingly positively reinforce the wood-eating habit in your dog.
Eating wood due to boredom
Bored dogs can be pretty creative. And by creative, we mean – destructive. If your dog is alone and bored, chances are it will start chewing on your wooden furniture in an attempt to break the boredom and entertain itself.
Eating wood and separation anxiety
Separation anxiety is an increasingly common issue among modern dogs. We are raising them as family members, which messes with their independence mojo. That, combined with our hectic lifestyles definitely contributed to the separation anxiety’s frequency. Some cases of separation anxiety are so severe that dogs require calming chews to go through the alone period.
Dogs suffering from separation anxiety cope with loneliness by engaging in repetitive actions. Chewing on wood is the perfect example. Not only is it constantly available, but it also requires the dog’s undivided attention.
Basically, if your dog chews and eats wood only when left home alone, it is safe to assume that the habit is its coping mechanism with separation anxiety.
Eating wood as a result of pica
The medical term pica describes a condition that manifests with disturbed or abnormal appetite. Namely, affected dogs eat non-edible or even harmful objects, including wood, stones, dirt, plastic, paper, fabric.
There are many theories regarding what causes pica in dogs – from nutritional deficiencies to intestinal parasites. The exact trigger behind the condition is not known. However, pica is a potentially dangerous condition that warrants veterinary attention.
WHAT HAPPENS IF A DOG EATS WOOD?
As mentioned, wood chewing and eating are genetically wired habits in dogs. So… why all the fuss? Why can’t we leave our dogs to express their natural inclinations? Assuming we do not mind having our wooden furniture demolished or decorative garden bushes used as crunchy snacks, what is the problem with eating wood?
Eating wood can be dangerous and, based on the case – even life-threatening. This is because, while chewed on, wood tends to break apart and splinter. The splinters, depending on their size and sharpness, can cause an array of health issues. Some are minor and self-limiting, while others are serious and require prompt veterinary attention.
These are the most common dangers associated with eating wood.
Mouth injuries and teeth fractures
Gnawing on wood is likely to cause lacerations or cuts inside the mouth. The soft tissues inside the mouth are very sensitive, and even small physical force may injure them and cause bleeding.
These cuts are usually minor and tend to heal on their own. However, if deep and left untreated, they can easily get infected because the mouth is full of bacteria.
Another problem is teeth fractures. Dogs have strong teeth, but sometimes the wood can be more potent. In addition to being painful, fractured teeth may lead to a severe infection. Therefore, a broken tooth always warrants a trip to the vet’s office.
Finally, a wood piece or shard may get lodged in the hard palate or between the teeth. In such cases, the dog will gag, drool, and constantly paw at its mouth. The stuck shard will have to be removed. Based on the dog’s character, the removal process might require mild sedation.
Choking hazard and aspiration pneumonia
Sometimes a small wood fragment may pierce and lodge in the throat, causing impaired, difficult breathing or choking.
Worst case scenario, the splinter may accidentally be breathed in and end up in the lungs. Then, a condition known as aspiration pneumonia is likely to occur. Aspiration pneumonia is a life-threatening lung infection caused by a foreign object.
Both consequences – choking and aspiration pneumonia are considered emergencies and warrant immediate vet visits.
Perforations and obstructions within the digestive tract
If the wood splinter is swallowed it can cause two potential issues – perforations and obstructions. Perforations are most likely to occur in the esophagus and stomach and can lead to life-threatening infections and bleeding. The obstructions are most likely to occur in the intestines. Both problems may require invasive surgeries.
Last but not least, it should be accented that some woods can be toxic to dogs. The toxic woods list includes:
- black cherry
- red maple
- black walnut.
These woods contain naturally occurring poisonous compounds whose harmful effects vary from digestive upset and physical pain to liver damage and neurological deficits.
Wooden furniture is also likely to contain toxic compounds. This is because, during production, lumber is treated with chemical compounds containing arsenic. The chances of a dog getting arsenic poisoning from chewing on treated lumber are relatively small but worth mentioning.
HOW CAN I PREVENT MY DOG FROM EATING WOOD?
Now that we have explained the dangers of chewing and eating wood, it is time to say a word or two about prevention. The first step towards solving the issue is recognizing its trigger. It is essential to know why your dog is chewing and eating wood.
Once you know why you will be able to initiate a management strategy. There is no one-solution-fits-all strategy – it depends on the case. For example, if your dog eats wood because it is bored, you need to provide more entertainment sources; if it eats wood because it is anxious, you need to limit the alone time.
Here are some general tips on how to prevent your dog from chewing and eating wood.
Accepting your dog’s love of chewing
You need to understand that you cannot prevent your dog from chewing in general. Chewing is written deep into the dogs’ genetic code. However, it is your responsibility to focus the chewing tendency toward chew-appropriate objects, such as toys.
Just keep in mind that not all chew toys available in your pet store are appropriate. Each dog has its unique chewing needs and choosing the ideal toys might require consulting the salesperson.
Providing your dog with entertainment sources
As mentioned, to a bored dog, only the sky is the limit. Investing in interactive toys is a good way of ensuring your dog will not feel bored. The modern market offers plenty of choices – from puzzle toys to slow-feeders. Just find something that will keep your dog’s mind occupied and you will not have to worry about chewed furniture.
Do not leave your dog alone for too long
If you are working for most of the day, and your dog is prone to separation anxiety it is best advised to ask a neighbor or friend to frequently check on it. Alternatively, you can hire a dog sitter or enroll your dog in a doggy daycare.
Practice regular vet visits
As mentioned, the wood-eating tendency can be due to an underlying medical issue. Therefore, it is highly advisable to have your otherwise healthy dog checked at least twice per year. If your dog has chronic medical issues, you will need to visit the vet more than twice a year – preferably every month.
1. What should I do if my dog ate wood?
The most important thing is to stay calm and be proactive. Do not wait to see what will happen. Take your dog, and if possible, the wood your dog ate pieces of, to the vet’s office. The vet will examine your dog and explain what to expect, and for how long after the wood-eating incident, you need to monitor your dog.
2. What does it mean if my dog eats wood?
In general, dogs are naturally inclined to eat wood, sticks, and bark. However, some dogs may do this due to boredom, anxiety, or an underlying physical issue. All in all, if your dog eats wood, it is best advised to have your trusted vet perform a thorough physical examination.
3. Can a dog die from eating wood?
Yes, eating wood is associated with several life-threatening consequences. However, it does not mean that problems will accompany every dog and every wood-eating incident. Some dogs eat wood daily without experiencing significant health problems. Sadly, others can die after eating wood only once.
4. Can a dog’s stomach acid dissolve wood?
No, wood cannot be dissolved by the dog’s stomach acids. However, based on the type of wood, the acids may soften it enough to prevent further complications.
Chewing and eating wood might seem nonsense to us, but it is perfectly reasonable for our dogs – it is genetically wired, reinforced, and, most importantly, entertaining.
Nevertheless, from an objective point of view, the cons of eating wood outweigh the pros. The consequences of eating wood can be life-threatening. It is true that some dogs chew and eat wood their entire lives without experiencing even a minor health issue. However, it is also true that some dogs end up in the emergency room after one wood-eating event.
All in all, you should not disregard your dog’s wood-eating habit. If you have trouble dealing with the situation, do not hesitate to ask for professional help. There are excellent canine trainers and behaviorists that will be happy to help you.