Odd eating habits in dogs

Most dog owners have been confused about their dog’s behaviour from time to time and that includes some of the strange things they decide to eat. These ‘off-menu’ dietary choices can vary from the odd to the downright disgusting.

So why do dogs make such unusual and unsavoury dietary choices and is there anything we can do about it? Below are some of the most common ‘snacks’ chosen by dogs.

Dirt/soil

Most dogs will from time to time sniff and dig in the dirt. They may enjoy burying a toy in the garden and then digging it up again. In the process they may eat some soil. In other situations your dog are actually not eating the soil but some food that lies in the grass. However, some dogs will actively eat the soil more regularly and this can cause problems.

For a start, soil can contain parasites from a number of sources including fecal matter from other animals.

One reason that some dogs eat soil is because their food is missing certain minerals. General though, if you are feeding a high quality balanced diet this is unlikely to be the problem.

Eating soil can also be a potential sign that something is the up with his stomach and bowel. If you notice that your dog is suddenly eating soil regularly or an unusual amount, you should consult your vet.

Another potential cause is boredom. Try increasing exercise and provide your dog with more toys to play with that will hopefully keep him distracted from eating dirt.

Animal Poop

This is probably the most upsetting, and certainly the most disgusting dietary extra your dog may indulge in. Eating poop is known as coprophagy and it’s actually pretty common. Female dogs will for example naturally eat their puppies poop for several weeks after birth to keep them and their home clean.

If your dog does eat his own or another animal’s poop there may be an underlying medical problem such as an enzyme deficiency, pancreatic insufficiency or intestinal malabsorption of nutrients. It can also signify GI parasites.

This behaviour is also more common amongst dogs that are eating a poor-quality, highly processed food. Often the stool from this type of diet can smell much the same as the original dog food and so your dog is encouraged to eat it twice!

Anxiety or stress may also be a factor. The best way to stop or at least curb this behaviour is to improve your dog’s diet to ensure he is getting all the nutrients he needs. Read the How to Identify Good Food blog series for more information. Seek to alleviate any sources of stress for you dog and make sure he has plenty of toys to stimulate his brain. You can also try and add 1/4 slice of canned pineapple to your dogs food. I can’t explain why it works but for some dogs it seems to do the trick.

Grass

Eating grass is remarkably common in dogs (and cats). If it occurs occasionally then it’s nothing to worry about. However, if your dog is eating grass frequently then he’s almost certainly trying to tell you something.

If your dog has a GI problem brewing or is experiencing an upset stomach he will instinctively search for a natural remedy. And, grass often does the trick. It is a natural source of fibre which can trigger vomiting or a bowel movement to help your dog expel whatever is causing the distress. That said, you need to consult a vet if this is happening regularly.

Also consider upgrading your dog’s diet as this may indicate your current food choice isn’t agreeing with your four legged friend or he is not receiving enough nutrients from it. Adding probiotics and digestive enzymes can also benefit dogs with “sensitive stomachs.”

Stone/gravel/rocks

In the wild coyotes and wolves chew on stones but it’s not ideal for domestic dogs. The stones can easily damage their teeth or get caught in their intestines which can lead to more serious problems.

Again, this behaviour can indicate that your dog is instinctively seeking to rectify a nutritional deficiency or imbalance (probably phosphorous or calcium).

It could just be a behavioural quirk or boredom – in which case increase your dog’s activity levels and introduce safe chew toys.

Other non-food objects

Eating non-food objects is known as pica and of course, all of the above are forms of pica. This section, however is directed specifically at man-made objects such as toys, clothing, garbage etc.

This behaviour can be part of play. Puppies especially will eat anything that smells interesting. But it can have dangerous consequences. These items are not meant to be eaten and may contain toxins that could poison your dog or cause a bowel blockage.

If your dog eats something odd occasionally then it’s usually nothing to worry about but consult your vet if it becomes a regular occurrence.