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When dogs are puppies, it's normal for them to suck on things. But as they become older and they still suckle on objects, it could become an issue.
By finding out more about why your dog continues suckling, you can learn whether or not this is harmless and how you can stop him from doing it. Then, you can ensure he will be as healthy as possible.
When do dogs learn to suckle?
When puppies are born, they know they need to suckle on their mothers in order to get milk. They can usually nurse as much as they want and then at some point, their mother will start to rebuff them. At this point, puppies can probably begin eating a mixture of wet and dry food and then switch to dry food only when they're a bit older.
Even if puppies are eating dog food and their mothers have dried up, they may still go back to their mothers to suckle because it gives them comfort and safety. When a puppy goes to another family or the mother doesn't let him suckle anymore, then he may start suckling on other objects for comfort.
Why adult dogs suckle on things
Your dog may suckle on objects such as blankets or toys when he's an adult because he didn't get to suckle when he was a baby. Perhaps he was taken from his mother too soon, his mother had issues with her milk, or the other puppies pushed him out of the way and he wasn't able to access any milk. It doesn't matter if a human fed him a bottle; he could still develop a suckling habit.
Just like human babies, who suck on their blankets, pacifiers, or thumbs, a dog may suck on a blanket because it's warm, cozy, and soft, just like his mother. It also reminds him of her skin and fur. If a dog can't get ahold of a blanket, it may suck on his toys, his owner's clothing, or pillows instead. Unlike toddlers, they will not grow out of this habit when they become an adult.
Is it bad for your dog to suckle on things?
If your dog suckles on blankets and other objects from time to time, then it's not especially harmful. However, if he's doing what's called "flank sucking," then that could be harmful. Essentially, flank sucking is when your dog gets ahold of a section of flank skin in his mouth and holds the position, and it can be a compulsive disorder. It usually shows up in Dobermans. As long as the flank sucking doesn't lead to significant lesions and it doesn't seem like your dog's health is negatively impacted, then this is acceptable behavior. If you notice that your dog is compulsively flank sucking or suckling on objects, then you can take some steps to try and stop this behavior.
Addressing your dog’s suckling
If your dog is compulsively suckling, then he could have anxiety. Other signs that your dog has anxiety include chewing, barking, eliminating, tucking the tail, destroying things, cowering, and trembling. If your dog is not properly socialized, he may be anxious. You can slowly socialize him by taking him on walks and exposing him to different sights, sounds, and smells. You could also take him to the dog park to meet other pups, and invite over friendly people who will play with him.
Other causes of anxiety could include a traumatic event such as an injury or the loss of a human or another dog, moving to a new place, or meeting a new person. If you recently moved some furniture around or changed your dog's environment, that could also make him stressed out.
You could give your dogs his favorite toys, cuddle him, talk to him in a reassuring voice, use positive reinforcement and eliminate triggers, like loud noises, as much as possible. Then, your dog may stop his compulsive behaviors.
Helping your dog with suckling
You could also address your dog's anxiety by purchasing different products. For instance, many dogs calm down once they put on the Thundershirt Classic Dog Anxiety Jacket. It applies constant and gentle pressure to calm a dog when he is faced with environmental triggers like fireworks, separation, visits to the veterinarian, and travel. It has an over 80% success rate.
Another option is PetHonesty Hemp Calming Anxiety & Hyperactivity Soft Chews Dog Supplement. It's made without any sedatives and contains natural ingredients like ginger, valerian root, organic hemp powder, and chamomile, which are safe for your pup. It can keep your dog when he gets stressed out in the car, when there are thunderstorms, or when he's going to the veterinarian, and it doesn't contain any corn, wheat, or soy. It's also non-GMO and can be given to all breeds.
Dangers of object nursing
While watching your pooch nurse his favorite stuffed animal might seem strange, if it doesn't hurt him or become compulsive, let him indulge this behavior occasionally, but don't encourage it. You also want to keep those toys that are nursed washed and clean regularly. Unfortunately, object nursing can sometimes transition into a compulsion or even result in pica.
Pups who begin ingesting nonfood items, such as pieces of a stuffed animal while nursing it, might develop intestinal blockages that can even become fatal, according to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Some pooches even begin nursing on their own legs, a behavior known as flank sucking. Dogs who repeatedly do this to their legs can quickly develop open sores in the area and require veterinary attention.
Your dog may be suckling on things because he was weaned too early. If he's doing it compulsively, you can train him not to do it as well as give him the right tools and products to overcome it. Then, he will feel safe and comforted at all times.