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Your Dog Ate What? Why Pets Eat Non-Food Items

XrayA few years ago, an owner brought her sick cat into BSAH.  Symptoms were poor appetite, diarrhea and lethargy.  X-rays were suspicious, so kitty went into surgery, where the doctor removed the source of the problem: a wine cork, blocking the intestines.

You may have seen the picture floating around Facebook of 42 socks surgically removed from the intestinal tract of a Great Dane.  The photo was from a xray contest run by Veterinary Practice News, and was actually the third place winner.  You can see all the other winning photos here.

Ingestion of a wine cork might seem like an unusual event, but cats and dogs eat non food items regularly.

1. Accidentally– cats are frequent accidental swallowers of things like rubber bands or string, when they play with them or chew them and then inadvertently swallow them.  Dogs sometimes eat grass when they feel nauseated and can accidentally swallow rocks.

2. Destructive Chewing–Dogs that chew furniture or other items might swallow small pieces.

2. Because they smell–We once removed several used Brillo pads from the stomach of a lab.  The owner had thrown them away in the kitchen trashcan, where the dog was probably attracted to them by the smell.

3. Boredom–Dogs that don’t have enough to do during the day sometimes turn to chewing and eating items to alleviate boredom.  Proving your dog with plenty of physical and mental exercise can help with this kind of chewing.

4. Various medical conditions–Occasionally, eating non-food items is a sign of a nutritional deficiency.  If your pet has never been a chewer and has developed this problem suddenly, ask your vet before changing diets.

5. Normal Puppy Behavior–A certain amount of chewing is normal in puppies as they explore and exercise their teeth.  Chewing is good for puppies but it’s important to make sure they have access to appropriate things to chew on.  Most puppies outgrow the mouthy stage around 6 months of age, but it may persist in some dogs.

6. Compulsive Behavior–Dogs that don’t outgrow puppy behaviors sometimes eat non-food items compulsively.  You may need to consult with a behaviorist.  Since compulsive eating of items is not likely to go away on it’s own, you will need to be vigilant.  Pick up clothes, lock up your trash can, or invest in a basket muzzle to prevent this behavior.

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