Chewing pieces of wood is a classic canine pastime often encouraged by owners who throw sticks for their pet to fetch. While this activity may seem relatively harmless, it can be dangerous for your pet depending on the type of wood. Pine can contain natural and artificial toxins, depending on the source of the material. There is also a risk of internal injury from ingesting broken shards of wood, which can have life-threatening consequences.
Hazards of Pine Wood
The Norfolk pine, Araucaria heterophylla, appears naturally in temperate forests and is cultivated throughout the United States. It is grown for landscaping purposes and is commonly sold as a Christmas tree. While the exact mechanism of toxicity is unknown, some dogs develop an upset stomach after eating pine wood. The poison is not considered fatal, although vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy may follow ingestion.
Wood used to build outdoor structures, furniture and other objects may be treated with chemicals to repel the elements. Pieces of treated lumber can contain toxic arsenic compounds, which are poisonous to dogs and humans. Chewing the wood is certainly dangerous, but your dog can become ill by eating food or drinking water from the surface, according to Partnership for Animal Welfare.
Common signs of arsenic poisoning in dogs include:
- Lack of stability while standing or walking.
- Severe digestive distress.
- Sensitivity to touch or pain, prompting aggressive reactions.
- Loss of consciousness.
As your dog gnaws away at a stick or chunk of wood, he will invariably break off tiny pieces. These fragments pose a serious health hazard, as they can become lodged inside his throat or stomach. In some cases, the splinters puncture the esophagus or digestive tract, which can be deadly without prompt medical intervention.
Take your dog to the vet immediately if you notice symptoms of internal injury, such as:
- Bleeding from the mouth, including the gums or tongue.
- Labored breathing accompanied by gagging or coughing.
- Blood in the stool.
- Whimpering, agitation or other signs of pain with no discernible cause.
- Avoidance of food or water.
Preventing Wood Injuries
Encourage your pet to play with safe toys that are designed for dogs. Try a few different types to find the ones your dog enjoys. Chew toys, rubber bones and balls are just a few of the many options available at your local pet store. Remove fallen sticks and branches from your yard on a regular basis to keep your dog from getting back into his old habit.
Diagnosing Compulsive Disorder
Some dogs develop compulsions to eat or chew on nonfood objects, a condition called pica. While chewing on random objects is a normal phase of development for puppies and dogs, the habit can become ingrained to the point of dysfunction. If your dog displays an insatiable compulsion to consume wooden objects, take him to the vet for a checkup.
Pica may result from a nutritional deficiency in your dog's diet, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It also can stem from infections, hormonal imbalance and parasites, as well as stress and neurological disorders.