From socks to slippers and necklaces to knickers, our pets can – and sometimes do – eat the strangest of things. But what makes them think gravel will make for a scrumptious snack, or toys a tasty treat?
PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing said: “Dogs eating things they shouldn’t is actually more common than you might think. The name for this condition is Pica – a term used to describe the persistent chewing or eating of items which have no nutritional value. Interestingly, the name Pica comes from a Medieval Latin name for magpie, birds that are often considered to “eat anything”.
“Pica can be difficult to understand, and it’s thought that stress, anxiety or changes in the world around our pets, can set it off. In some cases, because dogs explore their environment with their mouths, they can even accidentally swallow the things they pick up.”
Chewing is a natural behaviour for dogs so as owners we need to make sure the toys and chews they have access to are undamaged, can’t be swallowed and don’t pose a risk if eaten.
Nina adds: “Dogs are intelligent animals and get bored easily. They might fill their time by chewing on things in the home and accidently swallow something they shouldn’t in the process. If your dog is stressed, perhaps by being left alone or by worrying sights or sounds, they may comfort themselves by chewing.”
There are steps owners can take to reduce the chance of their pet eating something they shouldn’t, which include:
- Training. Make sure your dog understands a few simple commands like ‘leave’ and ‘drop’ so if you see them going for something that could be dangerous to them you can stop this, even if you are some distance away.
- Removing temptation. Keep risky items safely out of reach, as well as those your dog is particularly fond of – you might even need to keep items in a locked cupboard. Get into the habit of keeping the floor clear of anything small enough for your dog to swallow.
- Entertainment. Keep your dog entertained with healthy treats, toys and stimulating games to keep their minds focused on positive things and not eating potentially dangerous items.
- A muzzle. If your dog gobbles things up on walks and hasn’t learnt the ‘drop’ or ‘leave’ command yet, a muzzle can help to keep them safe. A simple basket muzzle should stop them from wolfing down anything hazardous and they’ll still be able to enjoy their walk.
Nina concluded: “If you’re worried your pet has eaten something they shouldn’t, or seems unwell in general, you should always contact your vet for advice. The quicker they can investigate, the better the outcome is likely to be.”
PDSA is the UK’s leading vet charity. We’re on a mission to improve pet wellbeing through prevention, education and treatment. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information. www.pdsa.org.uk.