Does your dog eat rocks? This can be a source of frustration for you as a dog owner as well as dangerous to the health of your pet. It’s easy to see how a rock can become lodged in your dog’s intestinal tract and set up a life threatening obstruction. Your dog’s habit of eating rocks is known in the veterinary community as pica which is simply the habit of eating objects not meant for the delicate digestive tract. This condition is seen not only in dogs but also, occasionally in humans who eat dirt and clay. It’s also more common in puppies and younger dogs than it is in older pets.
Why would a dog eat rocks? There are a variety of reasons why a dog could develop this dangerous and socially unacceptable habit. The most serious reasons are medical in nature and include undiagnosed nutritional deficiencies and brain disease. Although medical conditions should be ruled out, in most cases, none will be found and your dog’s habit will be attributed to a behavioral problem. This can be a challenge to treat in some cases. Another reason for rock eating in dogs are mental problems such as anxiety or stress. Sometimes simple boredom can even motivate a dog to devour rocks and gravel.
If your dog eats rocks, what is the best way to deal with the problem? After ruling out medical conditions, you’ll need to take appropriate steps to break the habit. Since this problem is frequently caused by anxiety, stress, or boredom, scolding or punishing your dog could be counterproductive. If you can catch your dog when he has a rock in his mouth, you can distract him by spraying his face with cold water from a water bottle. This will serve as negative reinforcement. When he drops the rock from his mouth, give him praise and remove it from his presence immediately.
The difficulty arises if your dog stays in a fenced in back yard with rocks when you’re not at home. He could develop an intestinal obstruction without your knowledge. Try to remove any rocks or gravel in the yard and leave your dog a variety of firm, chew toys to keep him occupied in your absence. Praise him when he chews on these toys in your presence. If this doesn’t work, consider keeping your dog indoors during the day where he doesn’t have access to rocks or gravel. Another option is to have your dog fitted for a basket muzzle which he can wear when he needs to be let outside. A basket muzzle will allow your dog to breath normally and drink water as usual but shouldn’t be left on for long periods of time.
If your dog eats rocks despite your best measures at breaking the habit, you may want to consider having your vet refer you to a canine behavioral specialist.