Puppies are often clueless when it comes to what they put in their mouths, which means they may end up eating some strange things. Even as you're learning what to feed your puppy and how often to fill its bowl, it may insist on munching all sorts of odd, disgusting, or dangerous stuff that mystifies or nauseates you. Fortunately for both of you, your puppy may outgrow this puzzling habit, and there are steps you can take to help it along.
Why Do Puppies Eat Everything?
Puppies pick up objects and explore the world with their mouths. Chewing, mouthing, and sometimes swallowing stuff is their way of finding out what's edible and (ideally) what's not. Although this behavior stems from a natural instinct that puppies often outgrow—especially with the help of training—it can get them into trouble, even leading to blockages or poisoning.
Eating nonedible stuff is called pica. Puppies often accidentally swallow pieces of toys, but pica refers to an almost-obsessive urge to eat rocks or chomp mouthfuls of dirt, sticks, sand, or other nondigestible material.
Eating an inappropriate object can become tempting—even irresistible—when it's flavored or scented. Common problem items include grease-covered utensils from the kitchen, milky baby bottle nipples, and used tampons or soiled diapers.
Other problem items are those that tend to smell like you, such as worn socks or slippers, so it's important to keep all such items out of your puppy's reach until it learns that they're not acceptable chow.
Many dogs occasionally eat grass, which may provide vitamins that your puppy craves. Your pup might also simply like the taste. Besides, some canines seem to be omnivorous, so they may benefit from eating safe vegetables and fruits, like lettuces, apple slices, and blueberries. It’s not unusual for them to relish carrots or broccoli as well, so grass eating shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.
Dogs may also eat grass to stimulate vomiting when they feel bad. An empty tummy can prompt an upset stomach that encourages a pup to chew grass to soothe the feeling. If this continues for a couple of days, though, the illness may be serious and a trip to your vet is in order. Occasional grazing typically isn't a cause for concern unless it develops into gnawing on poisonous plants.
Dirt's Hidden Treasures
Some puppies seem to be drawn to different kinds of dirt or want to chew rocks. This isn't entirely odd because wild animals occasionally target soils, such as clay, that absorb toxins. Parrots in the wild, for instance, eat mineral-rich dirt to supplement their diet. It's not quite clear if that type of instinct is behind a puppy’s urge to target dirty delights, though.
It's possible that smell plays a role in the attraction. That's particularly true if some other critter has urine marked the area. Puppies may taste the dirt to better understand what the message says.
Some dogs may prefer specific areas, such as mulch piles that may have a mushroom-like aroma or taste. Too much dirt munching can stop up your puppy's innards, but an occasional taste probably won’t cause issues.
People whose dogs eat feces find it to be a disgusting habit, and it's very common in puppies. Pups may be particularly drawn to snack on cat box nuggets, cow patties, or horse droppings. Some of these animals don’t always completely digest their food, so there may still be nutrients left in their waste. This behavior should definitely be discouraged, though, because any feces may harbor harmful parasites. The good news is that many puppies grow out of poop eating as they mature.
How to Stop Your Puppy From Eating Everything
Part of your pup's basic training should include teaching it not to eat or chew anything other than its toys, food, or treats. Most puppies outgrow indiscriminate munching, but if your pup continues to vacuum up anything that hits the floor:
- Puppy-proof your home. It could save you veterinary bills—and your pet’s life.
- Keep an eye on your pup. Close supervision is critical when you're training your puppy to not eat things it shouldn't. Use a crate when you can't pay attention to your puppy.
- Correct your pup's behavior with a simple, firm "no" whenever you notice it mouthing something it shouldn't. You can also introduce your puppy to a command like "drop it" when it's chewing an inappropriate object.
- Follow the correction command with a distraction, such as a chew toy. In some situations, such as when you're outside, you can take a minute to work on a command you're currently teaching your puppy, such as sit or lie down. A puppy has a very short attention span, and by the time you're done with the quick lesson (including reward treats), your pup will likely have forgotten all about that irresistible nonfood nibble.
Before your training sinks in, your puppy may still eat something that's forbidden at least a few times. If this happens, there are some steps you can take to help keep your pet safe:
- In most cases, small objects pass harmlessly through the puppy's body and end up on the lawn within 24 to 72 hours. Other times, making the puppy vomit may do the trick.
- Be sure you know how to handle specific foreign objects or substances that your pup swallows. Some can be as dangerous coming up as they are going down, so it's a good idea to call your vet for some quick advice. She'll be able to tell you whether the puppy needs to come in for an exam or if you should induce vomiting or wait for the object to pass.
- If your vet advises you to let it pass, get a stick and wear gloves so you can poke through your puppy's droppings to be sure the object is out of its system. Feeding your dog a meal can turn on digestive juices, cushion the item, and help move it along too.