When a Dog Eats Non-Food Items, Like Metal, Rocks or Wood

Pica is not an abnormality of the digestive system — it’s actually a psychological abnormality.

My dog, Hobbs, died in 2007. He had eaten a large piece of wood that lodged in his gut.
My dog, Hobbs, died in 2007. He had eaten a large piece of wood that lodged in his gut.

Recently a Basset Hound puppy in Colorado was found to have eaten more than 2 dozen nails, along with her rabies tag and some pieces of vinyl.

I had a similar experience with my own Basset Hound several years ago. Hobbs would eat anything he could get his teeth on:

  • Rocks
  • Sticks
  • Wood
  • You name it, he had it in his mouth and was chewing on it

The Basset Hound puppy in Colorado was lucky. The veterinarian removed the rusty nails and other metal (after doing a few X-rays to confirm their presence).

In 2009 another Basset Hound, this time in Florida, consumed at least 130 nails. The metal objects were removed from the stomach, and the dog survived with none of the objects puncturing an organ.

My dog, Hobbs, wasn’t so lucky. He gnawed on a huge hunk of wood that necessitated surgery to remove the object from his intestines. Then the surgical site got infected and Hobbs had to be euthanized. I was devastated.

As you can see, even though these stories of dogs swallowing weird objects might seem trivial, it is a big deal — a serious health concern.

But back to the question: Why do some dogs eat anything they can? And more important, can you train your dog to stop eating weird stuff?

It’s Called Pica, and There’s No Real Cure

The term used to describe dogs who eat non-food items like rocks and metal or wood is pica.

Of course, bassets aren’t the only dogs affected by this. Pica is not an abnormality of the digestive system — it’s actually a psychological abnormality. So it’s not caused by a shortage of vitamins or nutrients in the diet. It’s a habit, more akin to an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

How to cure pica? There’s no real cure, unfortunately. But you can try these things:

  • Provide plenty of suitable chew toys (KONGs are perfect).
  • In serious cases, a muzzle may be necessary. Do not use a muzzle if your dog is by himself.
  • Speak with your vet for more ways to control pica.

Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Dave Baker, founder and publisher of Petful, is a journalist and editor who has worked at The New York Times and The Nation magazine. He was also part of the Pulitzer Prize–winning team at The Times-Picayune newspaper of New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where Petful is now based. A longtime advocate for pet food safety, Dave has been passionately tracking pet food recalls for the past decade. He has a bachelor’s degree in English from Clemson University in his home state of South Carolina. Dave has cared for a number of dogs, cats and other small pets over the years.

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