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Q: Does anyone know why a dog would start eating gravel?

August 14, 2008 | By Vivienne | 1 answer | Expired: 2214 days ago

Vivienne

My neighbor's dog is eating gravel.He has never done this before.Why?

Readers' Answers (1)
Vicki T.
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Aug 14, 2008

From azhumane.org, Arizona Humane Society Chief Veterinarian Kathleen Croteau:

Rock Eating May be Sign of 'pica'

"Regarding the gravel chewing, it sounds as if he is displaying the telltale signs of a condition known as "pica." Experts define pica as eating "non-food" items. Oddly, rocks are frequently the item of choice for dogs. Pica can be very dangerous, so you are correct to remove the rocks from your dog's mouth. Your pup is at risk for suffering severe - potentially deadly - intestinal damage. An ingested rock may cause a blockage that requires surgery. Keep a close eye on him; if he stops eating or going to the bathroom, vomits, becomes dehydrated or suddenly loses weight, seek medical attention right away. Chewing rocks will also cause severe damage to his teeth, and he could cut the inside of his mouth."

"According to Arizona Humane Society Chief Veterinarian Kathleen Croteau, the exact cause of pica is a bit of a mystery. Specific to rock chewing, many suspected that it stemmed from a mineral deficiency in the dog's diet; however, that explanation has never been proven. These days, Croteau said, the cause is thought to be behavioral and may even signal an obsessive-compulsive disorder."

"Pica may be the result of anxiety," Croteau said. "It's no different than a person displaying a nervous habit. The problem is that a rock-chewing habit is not safe."

"Some dogs may respond to training, attention or exercise to curb the habit. For example:

• If the rock chewing stems from boredom, your dog will benefit by getting plenty of daily exercise and having "fun" and "stimulating" projects to occupy his time.

• Consider purchasing a doggie toy that has openings in it to hide peanut butter or small pieces of kibble. Your dog will have to "work" to get the yummy treats out.

• If he enjoys the company of other dogs, consider adopting a playmate for him.

• When possible, include him in your family "pack." Walk him, talk to him, brush him and allow him to spend quality time with your family. Isolating him will only worsen the problem.

• Consider a "diversion tactic" by giving him something else to chew. Pet product retailers offer a variety of hard-rubber dog toys that are virtually indestructible. These toys are made specifically for the dog who loves, or needs, to chew.

"Unfortunately, many dogs with pica are fixated on a particular object and will chew only that object. And training does not always work. If that's the case, it's up to you to create a safe environment for him."

"In cases where a pet is focused on one particular item, the best bet is to remove that item from his environment and prevent him from coming into contact with that type of item," Croteau said.

"Depending on the amount of gravel in your yard, you may consider removing some or all of it and replacing it with grass. If you aren't ready to re-landscape your yard, you'll need to keep your dog indoors. Be prepared to supervise all of his outdoor excursions."

"Finally, talk to a professional behaviorist and consult your veterinarian. A behaviorist can assist you with training issues. Your veterinarian should do a complete examination and blood work to rule out a possible underlying medical condition. In severe cases, your veterinarian may prescribe medication to reduce your pet's anxiety level."

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