If your dog eats rocks or stones, there are some symptoms for which to watch, such as vomiting, abdominal pain, or diarrhea. These may indicate your pup needs veterinary attention. Sometimes, eating a rock is a one-time occurrence, but if it becomes a habit, it can be very harmful to your dog. Determine why your dog eats rocks and teach them to stop in order to avoid any ongoing problems.
Why do dogs eat rocks?
It could be due to underlying medical conditions, boredom, lack of training, or teething. There are a variety of things that could lead to your dog ingesting rocks or other strange things like nonfood items.
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Dog eating rocks symptoms
If your dog eats rocks that are extremely small, they may pass through their system without a problem. However, larger rocks in a dog's stomach or too many small ones can cause serious digestive tract complications, so be sure to watch for symptoms of a foreign object being trapped in their system. In addition to causing an intestinal blockage, ingested rocks can perforate the stomach or cause your dog to choke while trying to ingest them.
Some symptoms for which to watch include
- Vomiting. If you're lucky, the dog may vomit up the rocks, but they may also just produce bile or froth if the rocks are too big or have moved past the stomach.
- Not passing stool. Look for whether they are actively straining but not producing any poop or haven't defecated in a longer amount of time than normal.
- Diarrhea. The strain on their gastrointestinal system may cause diarrhea.
- A painful abdomen. If they have an obstruction, their abdomen will be very painful to the touch. They may carry it tucked up and look very tight and hard.
- Loss of appetite. They may have no interest in food since they don't feel good.
- Lethargy. They may appear tired or disinterested in things that normally excite them.
- Behavior changes. Watch for anything deviating from normal behavior that may indicate your dog is in pain or not feeling well.
If you notice any of these symptoms, if you saw your dog eat dirt, or if you know they ate a rock, be sure to call your veterinarian or take your dog to the clinic right away.
What to do if your dog eats rocks
When you take your dog to the veterinary clinic, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam and take X-rays to confirm the rock was ingested and to determine where in the system it is located. In cases where it is not clear if your dog ate a rock, the veterinarian may also take blood to check for infections and other medical issues that may be causing symptoms.
Treatment depends on the size and location of the rock. If it is in the stomach, your veterinarian may induce vomiting. Alternatively, they may attempt to remove it by passing an endoscope into your dog's throat and down into the stomach. This will require your dog to be sedated. If the rock has moved into the intestines and is either too big to pass or is sharp enough to cause damage, the most likely treatment is surgical removal.
How to prevent your dog from eating rocks
If your dog's rock-eating is something your dog does on a regular basis, it is important for their health and your wallet that you determine and correct their eating habits. Rocks can not only damage your dog's digestive system, leading to expensive surgeries, but they can also cause broken teeth, and they may even choke if the rock is big enough.
Underlying medical condition
Pica is an eating disorder in dogs that may cause them to eat rocks. It is often caused by an underlying health condition, such as a nutritional deficiency, diabetes, or parasites. Your veterinarian can help determine the cause and offer treatment, which may be as simple as changing the dog's diet or giving them supplements.
Boredom or other behavioral causes
In other cases, eating rocks may be a behavioral issue caused by a compulsive disorder, teething, or boredom. Teething puppies may grow out of the habit but take steps to offer safe chew toys and create a safe space for your young dog. If boredom is the issue, make sure your dog is getting enough exercise and mental stimulation.
Research dog trainers and find a positive reinforcement trainer who can help you teach the dog training commands such as "leave it" and "drop it." A behaviorist is someone who is trained in understanding normal dog behavior and helping to change problem behaviors, so if your dog swallows things they shouldn't eat, you might consider getting help.
Controlling their behavior is not only useful for stopping the dog from eating rocks but the training process will also provide mental and physical stimulation for your dog and reduce their boredom. Crating your dog while you are away is a great management tool to prevent them from having access to the rocks unattended.
Create a pet-safe garden
Training and treating medical conditions can go a long way toward stopping rock-eating behavior, but it is still important to make sure your pup has a safe place to play. Consider putting up a fence to keep your dog away from any rocky areas or replace the rocks with a ground cover or pet-safe mulch, such as shredded pine. Training your dog to wear a basket muzzle while outside is also a helpful tool to restrict their ability to ingest rocks if fencing or replacing the rocks is not an option.
In addition, some dogs just like to eat ground cover, so check that the plants in your garden are safe for dogs in case your pup decides to chew on plants when rocks are no longer an option. Avoid toxic plants, such as tulips, azalea, oleander, and daffodils.
Eating rocks is a dangerous habit for a dog to develop. It can easily lead to large veterinary bills for you and life-threatening obstructions and surgeries for your dog. Your veterinarian may be able to diagnose the cause of the rock eating as an underlying condition, but it could also just be due to boredom or a developmental period in the dog's life. Management is required to be certain that the dog does not have unsupervised access to rocks.