A Matter of Boredom
Most dogs are attracted to rocks because they simply like the texture and feel of them in their mouths. These dogs enjoy the act of chewing on rocks and feeling the clicking of rocks against their teeth. Some dogs progress to swallowing them, but most dogs fortunately tend to just chew them and spit them out at some point.
Often dogs who seek rocks are dogs who are under-stimulated and therefore plain bored. Not surprisingly, rock chewing and rock eating behaviors are often seen in dogs who are tied up or kenneled for a good part of the day.
Unlike us, dogs are not prone to being sedentary as they don't watch television, check their phones or play games of Sudoku. It is often forgotten that most dogs are active because they were selectively bred as working dogs and thrive on having a "job to do."
Depending on your dog's breed, your dog may have been bred throughout the centuries to herd cattle, retrieve downed birds, guard flocks of sheep or even kill small rodents. Looking up your dog's breed history may reveal some interesting facts on your dog's ancestry and original purpose. This can often explain a lot of his behaviors.
When dogs are given little to do, they can't just sit there and twiddle their thumbs so they will seek out opportunities for their own entertainment. This often leads to undesirable behaviors such as excessive barking, digging and bad habits such as chewing on sticks or rocks.
In some cases, rock chewing can start as a casual, fun habit and then progress on to becoming an obsessive compulsive disorder requiring the intervention of a veterinary behaviorist. If your dog seems fixated on chewing rocks, please consult with your veterinarian considering that rock chewing in dogs can cause harm.
"One method of deciding whether a repetitive behavior is compulsive or not is whether it causes harm. Rock chewing does. " Nicholas Dodman, The Well-Adjusted Dog: Dr. Dodman's 7 Steps to Lifelong Health and Happiness.
Puppies, in particular, are hard core rock chewers considering that they are curious about the world around them and explore the world through their mouths.
During this "oral stage" in puppies it is therefore quite natural and normal for them to discover rocks and wanting to carry them in their mouths. Fortunately, most puppies outgrow this behavior as they develop and discover more interesting things to mouth and chew.
A Digestive Disorder
Sometimes, dogs may show an interest in eating rocks when they are suffering from abdominal pain. If your dog started wanting to eat rocks out of the blue and he's not a puppy or young dog, then there are chances your dog may have a desire to ingest rocks as way of "purging" himself.
Abdominal pain in dogs can be caused by all sorts of problems such as inflammatory bowel disease, gastritis, pancreatitis, colitis. presence of parasites and so on.
A Matter of Pica
Pica, is a medical term used to describe the ingestion of non-food items. It usually has some compulsive, addicting component to it. Dogs with pica may eat the oddest things such as sticks, drywall and dirt. When rocks are the main item digested, it is called "lithophagia."
Pica has been attributed to a variety of underlying causes. Pica has been said to stem from nutritional deficiencies (in the case of rock eating, it may stem from an iron deficiency) or dogs may just develop it as a way to garner attention (dogs who are lonely and feel neglected enjoy attention, even if it's attention of the negative type), to release anxiety or frustration or just to obtain stimulation from the environment.
Why Chewing and Eating Rocks in Dogs is a Bad Idea
Dogs who chew rocks on a routine basis may wear down their teeth (even to the gum line in serious cases!) and may suffer a broken tooth.
On top of this, dogs who swallow rocks may develop scary complications under the form of intestinal disorders and even a blockage if the rock is large enough that it can't be vomited back up or passed along with feces.
Of course, whether an ingested rock turns out being or not a major problem depends to a great extent on the size of the dog. A large stone ingested by a small dog has a higher potential to get stuck somewhere in the stomach or intestines.
Blockages occur when dogs ingest foreign items and the items lodge somewhere along the dogs digestive tract. Affected dogs typically start showing signs such as not eating, nausea, vomiting, lethargy and abdominal pain (prayer's position).
A rock stuck in a dog's intestinal tract requires careful monitoring with x-rays, possible barium study and surgery when the rock is unable to pass and blocks food from passing through. Surgery for a dog's blockage is not without risks, and on top of that, can turn out being rather costly.
Preventing dogs from chewing and eating rocks is therefore paramount for a dog's health and well being. As the saying goes "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Did you know? Harley, a rock-eating pug won the 2011 Hambone Award, (a contest that honors the most unusual pet insurance claims of the year) for eating more than 100 rocks.
Now That You Know...
As seen, puppies and dogs may chew and eat rocks for a variety of reasons. Following are some tips to stop a dog from eating rocks.
- Have your dog see the vet if you suspect possible medical problems. And of course, see your vet if your dog ingested a large rock for his size or is showing worrisome symptoms possibly suggesting a blockage.
- If possible, avoid taking your dog in areas where there are rocks (this may not be feasible depending on where you live).
- Supervise your dog when nearby rocks.
- Make sure your dog is exercised and provided with plenty of mental stimulation.
- Provide plenty of chew toys to redirect the behavior. For puppies, make sure the chew toys are designed for puppies of their age. A stuffed Kong, safe chew bones or interactive toys such as a Kong Wobbler or Buster Cube may help distract your dog from chewing and ingesting rocks.
- Make sure to rotate your dogs' toys every now and then so that your dog doesn't grow bored of them. Look for toys of different textures.
- When you cannot supervise your dog, play it safe and bring him to an area where there are no rocks.
- Train your dog the "leave it" and "drop it" commands. These are life saving commands that every dog should know.
- For severe cases, keep your dog on leash, and possibly, let him wear a basket muzzle if necessary. "Muzzles can be life saving for a dog that eats rocks and other dangerous items on his walk," points out veterinary behaviorist Dr. Jeannine Berger.
- Finally, it may help to provide a high-fiber diet since this can increase bulk and reduce some of the need to ingest foreign materials, explains veterinary behaviorist John Ciribassi.