Why Do Dogs Eat Pine Needles? And How to Stop Them

Why do dogs eat pine needles? Because they are out there! Of course, this sounds like a very simplistic answer, but there's a lot of truth into it. If you remove the pine needles, your dog won't be tempted to eat them after all. As the saying goes, "out of sight, out of mind." Of course, this is easier said than done if you live in an area with lots of pine trees. Although a dog's habit of eating pine needles may seem rather innocent, something to consider is that pine needles can be harmful to dogs.

A Growing Phase

If your dog is a puppy, most likely you are dealing with that annoying phase where puppies want to mouth everything. Puppy owners are often pulling the hair out of their heads in desperation as they need to stop every 30 seconds to take a stick or piece of plastic or mulch out of their puppy's mouth.

Pine needles can be particularly attractive to puppies due to their smell and texture. They look similar to grass and may prompt pups to ingest them. Fortunately, most dogs outgrow this phase sooner or later. 

A Matter of Boredom

Dogs eat pine needles often because they have nothing better to do, and as the saying goes "idle paws are a devil's workshop."

 In other words, it's not like when your dog is bored he can make Play-Doh sculptures or draw murals on a sidewalk with colored chalk. Instead, he engages in behaviors that us dog owners may find annoying, odd and undesirable such as digging and barking in the yard, rolling in poop, or going on a treasure hunt ingesting pine needles!

However, a dog eating pine needles may sometimes do so for several other reasons, so it's always worthy giving him the benefit of doubt and explore other potential reasons. 

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A bored dog is more likely to ingest pine needles

Nausea Setting In

Is your dog gulping down pine needles like there's no tomorrow? Sometimes, dogs may get nauseous, and when this happens, they seek out grass. Dogs eating grass frantically, are indeed, often dogs who are feeling sick, and by ingesting grass in mouthfuls, they hope to stimulate themselves to vomit. 

This grass eating is much different than the leisurely grazing and nibbling of grass seen in dogs who eat grass just because they like it. Rather, dogs with nausea eat grass with a sense of urgency and they sometimes purposely pick the rougher types of grasses made of indigestible cellulose.

Dogs kept indoors will often start licking carpets, floors and upholstery to make up for the lack of grass, and when sent outdoors, dogs with no access to grass, may gulp down dried leaves, sticks, dust, dirt and debris and pine needles may be included too due to their roughage.

A Matter of Pica

Is your dog eating sticks, soil, rocks, pine needles, tree bark and other things on top of the pine needles? If so, you  may want to have your dog seen by a vet just to rule out a condition that is known as pica.

Pica is basically a condition that causes dogs to crave unnatural, non-edible items such as odd plant items. Although there are many potential causes for pica, the exact underlying cause remains for the most part unknown.

Your veterinarian will likely discuss your dog's diet so to determine whether there may be any deficiencies, especially in the area of trace minerals.

On top of pica, other potential causes for dogs eating pine needles rather ravenously are  medical conditions or side effects of medication that may trigger extreme hunger. Such conditions may include endocrine disorders such as Cushing's disease and diabetes. The administration of steroids (prednisone, dexamethasone and triamcinolone) is also known to cause excessive hunger as a side effect. 

Something to Consider

Certain species of pine contain toxins that can cause gastrointestinal (GI) upset. For example, the Australian, Norfolk, and Norfolk Island Pine are pine trees known for potentially causing toxicity, explains veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney. Ingestion of pine needles from these tress can potentially cause gastrointestinal signs and lethargy.

Even if a pine species doesn't contain any particular toxins, the pine needles can act as irritants, and due to their pointed ends, they risk traumatizing the delicate GI mucosa. Ingesting a large amount of pine needles may also predispose dogs to serious intestinal obstructions. 

As seen, eating pine needles may be risky. Sure, dogs many may eat them with no consequences, while others may get sick and some others may go onto developing serious complications, so why take the chance? 

If your dog ate pine needles, play it safe and consult with your veterinarian. Based on several factors such as how much your dog ingested, his size and how he is feeling, your vet may suggest doing nothing, giving your dog some medications to help settle his tummy or he or she may suggest a prompt veterinary visit. 

Did you know? The standing water found at the base of many Christmas trees can harbor a host of dangerous substances such as bacteria, molds and fertilizers which can cause dogs to become very sick. Also, walking on pine needles may irritate a dog's paws or get stuck in between the dog's toes.

"Ingestion of tree needles can be irritating the mouth and stomach, resulting in vomiting, diarrhea, and drooling. With large ingestions there can be potential for obstruction of the GI tract and possible perforation as the needles do not digest well."~Pet Poison Helpline

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Many dogs discover pine needles around Christmas time

Now That You Know...

As seen, eating pine needles is not a hobby you want to encourage in your dog. Your best bet is to find ways to prevent your puppy or dog from ingesting them in the first place. 

  • If your dog recently ate pine needles, it may help to feed him some whole wheat bread, suggests veterinarian Dr. B. The bread will coat the pine needles and ease their transition through the gastrointestinal tract.
  • If your dog is acting sick, your vet may suggest antacids to help sooth his tummy. There are several available over the counter and your vet can provide dosing instructions.
  • See your vet sooner than later if your dog is acting lethargic, weak and wobbly. Also, see your vet if your dog is vomiting blood or showing other worrisome symptoms. 
  • For Christmas, consider investing in a fake tree or consider some 'non-drop' varieties (make sure they are not a toxic species). These are trees known for retaining their needles longer than traditional Christmas trees. 
  • Alternatively, consider enclosing the tree within a dog exercise pen or placing it in a room with a baby gate across so that your puppy or dog doesn't have access to it. 
  • Vacuum the pine needles before your puppy or dog gains access to them.
  • If you have pine trees in your yard, consider raking as much as possible to remove them. There is a special tool known as "the comb" (sold by pinecomb.com) which is specifically made to remove pine needles.
  • Provide your dog with exercise, brain games, training and mental stimulation so to help reduce instances of boredom. 
  • When out in the yard, redirect your dog's pine needle eating habit with tempting foods. Scatter your dog's kibble around in a fun treasure hunt game or provide him with a safe long-lasting chew. 
  • Train your dog the "leave it" and "drop it" commands using positive reinforcement.
  • For desperate cases, dogs can be taught to wear a muzzle when going out so that they cannot ingest things that may be potentially harmful to them. Basket type muzzles in particular, allow dogs to pant, breathe, and drink water.
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