While chowing down on kibble or the occasional table scrap is certainly normal behavior for your dog, ingesting paper-based products is not. If you notice your pup eating napkins, paper towels or even cardboard boxes, it's time to see the vet. A condition known as pica causes some dogs to eat non-food items, like paper products. There may be either a medical or behavioral cause for this odd behavior.
Not only does a pup with pica chew on or destroy things like paper towels, napkins or toilet paper, he ingests them as well, sometimes in large quantities, depending on how many he can get his paws on. Some dogs eat non-nutritious food items like paper because they are hungry and simply want to fill their stomachs. Speak with your vet about adjusting your pup's portions or switching him onto a high fiber diet to keep him fuller for a longer period of time, recommends the Humane Society of the United States.
Pica is a compulsive behavior that can sometimes stem from puppyhood, when a dog first explores his environment by chewing on the objects around him. If the pup finds that an object, like a paper product, has a texture that he finds pleasing, he'll continue to seek that type of material to eat, even if it isn't really a food and has no nutritional value. Other times, your pup may simply be bored and eats the items to entertain himself or may even suffer from an illness spurring him to eat the paper. At the first signs of pica in your canine companion, visit the vet to rule out a medical condition that could be the cause of his desire to eat paper.
Not only can paper products affect your pup's health by filling up his stomach with objects that are non-nutritious, they can even be fatal if they become trapped in his digestive tract. Such blockages may require treatment with stool softeners or even surgery in serious cases. If you suspect that your pooch has eaten a roll of toilet paper or a pack of napkins, bring him to the vet to have him examined. The vet can take X-rays and an ultrasound of the stomach and intestines to see if surgical removal of the objects is necessary. He can also check for a variety of health conditions that could be responsible for your dog's pica, including hyperthyroidism, diabetes, internal parasites or a nutritional deficiency, according to PetMD.
Dealing with Pica
If your vet has ruled out a medical cause for your pup's pica, a behavioral problem is to likely to blame. Exercise and spend time with your furry friend during the day so that he doesn't become bored or seek attention from you by eating paper products. Don't punish your pup for eating the paper as this can inadvertently provide your pup with the attention he seeks, even if it's considered negative attention, recommends the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Instead, teach your furry buddy the "Leave it" and "Drop it" commands to quickly get any paper he does pick up out of his mouth. Keep him on a leash outdoors to steer him clear of
any paper refuse you might come upon when walking him.
No Paper Allowed
To prevent your pup from eating any paper products around your home, don't allow him access to anything that might potentially look tempting to him. Put away napkins after eating in a kitchen cabinet secured with a child-proof lock, along with paper towels. Restrict access to bathrooms containing toilet paper or your office if it contains cardboard boxes or printer paper. Give your dog acceptable toys to chew on in lieu of any paper. Speak with your vet regarding behavioral medication to deal with your pup's pica if he continues to seek out paper to eat.
By Susan Paretts
Dog Channel: Eating Paper Is Bad for Dog's Health
American Animal Hospital Association: Why Does My Dog Eat Paper?
University of Saskatchewan Western College of Veterinary Medicine: Pica Behaviour in the Adult Dog
Vermont Veterinary Medical Association: Dog Swallows Non Food Items
petMD: Ingestion of Feces and Foreign Objects in Dogs
The Humane Society of the United States: Pica: Why Pets Sometimes Eat Strange Objects
PetPlace.com: Pica in Dogs
VetInfo: Pica in Dogs
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Pica (Eating Things That Aren't Food)
petMD: Pica: The Funny Little Word for a Potentially Serious Pet Behavior Problem
The Washington Post: Pica-Proof Your Pet
About the Author
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, crafts, television, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared in "The Southern California Anthology" and on Epinions. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.