My Dog Is Eating Sticks
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Throwing a stick for a dog to retrieve must be one of the earliest games humans played with their canine counterparts. This is because dogs seem to have a natural fascination with wooden sticks and will often search them out on walks. It is common for them to chew on sticks seemingly to pass the time, but they are not food and do not provide nutrition for dogs. In fact, if a dog starts eating sticks, it can be a sign of a health problem and pose a threat to the dog's health on its own.
At AnimalWised, we find out the reasons why my dog is eating sticks. We look at the causes of this behavior and what you can do to prevent it when it is likely to cause harm to the dog.
Why do dogs like sticks?
As we stated in the introduction, dogs have a natural affinity for wooden sticks. While not all dogs will be as excited by them, there are several reasons why they get excited by such a seemingly mundane object. However, our understanding of the exact reasons why dogs like sticks is hard to conclusively determine.
Some people think that dogs like sticks because they remind them of bones. While there may be some truth to this possibility, sticks do not have the same attraction for a dog. Although their shape is similar, the smell and taste of a bone is very different to a wooden stick. Dogs will chew on bones just as their wild counterparts will have to ensure all the meat is removed.
It is this relation to wild dogs which can help us better understand why dogs chew on sticks. Without the toys and accessories provided in most domestic environments, a wild dog will need to use what is available to condition their teeth. Chewing sticks allows the dog to remove built up plaque and tartar, so it is likely domestic dogs chew sticks for similar reasons.
As with toys, sticks provide entertainment. Chasing and chewing sticks are ways to help them improve physical and mental well-being. However, wood is not digestible by dogs. Eating sticks is not something which a dog should be doing and it could cause harm by hurting their gastrointestinal system. It is something we should encourage our dog to avoid. Before you begin any behavioral modification training, it is important to identify why the dog is eating sticks.
Reasons why dogs eat sticks
Puppies and young dogs are very curious and explore the world through their mouths. It is normal for them to carry, bite or tear anything that catches their attention. Starting from four months of age, the dog's milk teeth will start falling out and teething will begin. During this period, dogs will often become destructive as they try to relieve the pain caused by teething.
Chewing on sticks will help the dog to relieve teething pain. As they are young, it is possible they may eat some of the sticks as well. If this is a small amount, it should not cause them much harm, but it may be best to try to replace them with a chew toy. We should never punish puppies for this behavior. It is a natural stage which they will eventually move past.
Read our article on when dogs lose their baby teeth to learn more.
Demand for attention
A very common mistake we can make when our dog picks up something with their mouth is to snatch it away from them. One of their favorite games is to take something we want away and encourage being chased. Trying to take a stick away may be interpreted by the dog as initiation of play. They may also learn that it is a way to get our attention so they will bite and eat sticks to draw us towards them.
Stress or lack of environmental stimulation
When dogs chew sticks for a long time and even start to eat them, it can stimulate serotonin and endorphin production in the brain. This produces a relaxing effect which the dog may use to cope with stressful situations. This is a similar action as to when dogs eat grass, although there are also other reasons why dogs do this. There may be an upset to their routine, a strange situation or some consistent negative stimulus which causes stress.
Another reason why dogs might eat sticks is due to a lack of stimulation. When they do not have enough to keep them cognitively stimulated, they will become bored and behavioral problems will ensue. Eating sticks is a common one since they are often available in yards or when outside on walks.
Pica is a behavioral disorder that consists of the ingestion of materials that are not considered food. This commonly includes plastic, stones or sticks. A dog can develop a pica problem for various reasons, including chronic anxiety, improper nutrition or organic pathologies.
For more information, look at a related symptom of pica syndrome when dogs eat dirt.
Is it bad for my dog to eat sticks?
For a dog, chewing on the stick they just found in the park, playing with it or completely destroying it can be a stimulating and fun activity. In most cases, it is a spontaneous or conditioned behavior, but it is not necessarily related with a behavioral disorder or with a pathology.
However, playing with sticks, stones, pinecones or any other similar element has its risks. When the wood splinters in their teeth, it is common for the dog to swallow a piece either deliberately or accidentally. As the stick fragments pass through the dog's gastrointestinal system, they can cause choking, organ perforation, stomach upset, intestinal blockage or even gastroenteritis. These are all problems which require veterinary attention.
Small splinters can also stick into the tongue, gums, palate or other areas of the dog's mouth without our being aware of it. This can result a lot of pain and any wounds created can become infected. This can cause a purulent abscess that must be treated by a professional. This is why we should generally avoid our dog chewing sticks and definitely avoid them eating any.
What to do if my dog is eating sticks
If we see our dog eating sticks, the best thing we can do is remove the stick from them. The dog will likely not enjoy this, especially if they are only doing it to entertain themselves. They may think you are punishing them by stopping their enjoyment. For this reason, you will need to replace the stick with something more suitable. Chew toys and other accessories are great as they are designed not to splinter.
When our dog searches out sticks when walking or when in the yard, we need to help train them out of this behavior. We should not scold or punish the dog for doing this. Instead, we need to use positive reinforcement and use basic dog commands to stop the dog eating sticks. If we are not able to do this, we should speak to a professional dog trainer or ethologist.
It is a good idea to carry a chew toy or kong when out walking. These are helpful tools when we want to train a dog to drop objects.
We will also need to ensure the dog is well-stimulated and lives in an environment free of stress. We need to ensure they have an enriched environment, they are played with regularly, they have enough exercise and all their basic needs are met. These needs will vary according to the individual, so you will need to ensure you are able to meet the responsibility of their care.
Finally, if our dog often eats sticks and we observe any sign of discomfort or pain, or the dog begins to perform strange behaviors, we must go to the veterinarian immediately. This way we can rule out or treat any physical injury which may have been caused by this problem.
If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Is Eating Sticks, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.