You’ve probably seen your dog eat the weirdest things, but have you ever seen her chomping away at rocks? While seeing your dog eating rocks might be a surprise, it’s also a dangerous habit that you’ll want to break as soon as possible.
The most common reason your dog might be eating rocks is a medical condition called Pica. The classic signs of pica are eating non-food items. In addition to rocks, dogs with Pica might also eat dirt, trash, plastic, metal or articles of clothing like socks. There is no known cause as to why dogs get Pica, but it is often linked to nutritional deficiencies.
Another reason your dog may start eating rocks is that he or she has a behavioral issue. Stress or anxiety in your dog may manifest into your dog eating rocks. Your dog might be seeking your attention when he puts rocks in his mouth or he could be anxious or bored.
What to do if your dog swallowed a rock
If you watched your dog swallow a rock right in front of you, then get her to the emergency vet right away. “It is always better to be safe than sorry, and a larger rock can cause internal issues,” Gurule said.
“If the rock is small enough and [has] no sharp edges, the best option will be for it to pass through the digestive system and out with your dog’s poop, but [your professional vet] should make this decision,” Lace said.
If you didn’t see her swallow it but suspect she might have, keep your eye out for these signs of distress:
Loss of appetite
If you notice any of these signs and suspect she may have swallowed a rock, get her to the vet ASAP.
While dogs always seem to do the strangest things, eating rocks isn’t one that should be reinforced. Make sure you train your pup not to eat rocks, and if you ever suspect she’s swallowed one, get her to the vet ASAP.
Why Eating Rocks Occurs in Dogs
Some of the most common causes of eating rocks in dogs include:
Anemia (low RBC)
Anemia is one of the main causes of pica and is caused by your dog having a decrease in the amount of RBC and iron in the blood, which can be from the lack of production or destruction of RBC, or blood loss. Anemia can be non regenerative or regenerative. In the non regenerative type, the bone marrow is not responding to the increased need for RBC. Regenerative anemia means the bone marrow is replacing the RBC but they are getting destroyed or being lost through a different source like an intestinal bleed.
Some of the gastrointestinal problems that can make your dog eat rocks are inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), stomach tumor, hookworms, and an unbalanced diet. When your dog has any type of gastrointestinal problem, it can trick his brain into believing he is starving and he may eat anything he can see such as rocks. An intestinal bleed can also be a cause of eating rocks due to anemia.
If your dog is bored or is trying to get your attention, he may eat strange things like rocks. Similar to children who misbehave for attention, they know that they will get some attention, even if it is negative. It may also be a compulsive disorder caused by an imbalance of the chemicals in the brain.
Starvation or Abuse
If your dog has ever been abused or starved by previous owners, or was homeless before you got him, this behavior may be a habit he picked up trying to survive. It may seem strange to you, but if your dog were starving, he may have tried to eat rocks to survive. Once this becomes a habit, it can be hard to break, even when he has plenty of food.
What to do if your Dog is Eating Rocks
If you notice that your dog is eating rocks or see rocks in their stool, you should call your veterinarian. Even if it is just a behavioral issue, eating rocks is dangerous for your dog and he will need x-rays to make sure he does not have any intestinal blockages before the veterinarian helps you determine the cause.
The veterinarian will be able to run blood tests to determine whether your dog has anemia or an electrolyte condition such as dehydration. A packed cell volume (PCV) test can determine whether your dog has either one of these deficiencies. Your veterinarian will also check your dog for intestinal disorders by doing an ultrasound or CT scan. If the veterinarian cannot find an underlying medical cause, you will need to focus on behavioral treatment.
Prevention of Eating Rocks
To prevent anemia and gastrointestinal problems, be sure to feed your dog a healthy and balanced diet of animal proteins such as beef or chicken, and visit the veterinarian regularly. Seeing the veterinarian at least once per year can help detect many problems before they get bad. Avoid feeding your dog table scraps or any food other than those specified by your veterinarian.
Behavioral issues such as compulsive disorder and bad habits are a little bit more difficult to treat because you are dealing with the mind rather than the body. You should spend a lot of time with your dog, observing them to see why they may be eating rocks. Are they just bored or hungry or is it a deeper problem that was caused by starvation or abuse? No matter what, you must take steps immediately to stop the behavior by clearing all the rocks and other dangerous items out of the yard where he is allowed access. Supervise him when he is outdoors until the behavior is corrected. Then you should work with an animal behaviorist or try an obedience class to reverse the behavior. If he is alone most of the time, spending more time with your dog and giving him new toys to play with may also help.