Why Does My Dog Eat Sticks?

helloBARK!
By helloBARK!
Updated on 22 April 2021
Expert Content

Is your dog obsessed with sticks?

If your dog is anything like my Alaskan Klee Kai, you’ll spend lots of time trying to get your pup to leave sticks alone.

My mini huskies manage to find every stick in the garden before sitting happily in the sun and having a good chew.

This appears to be an instinctual behavior where dogs are concerned.

But are there any risks associated with your dog chewing sticks?

We spoke to five experts, ranging from dog behaviorists to vets, to find out why dogs like to eat sticks.

Your Dog May Be Bored

Dr Sara Ochoa, Small Animal And Exotic Veterinarian, Veterinary Consultant For Doglab.com

• Your dog may be bored – Your dog may chew on sticks due to boredom. If you spend a lot of time away from home your dog may become bored and start chewing on sticks that they find in the yard or even some of your things in your house. Dogs love to chew on shoes, clothes, furniture, and whatever else they can get in their mouths.

• It may be instinctual – The act of chewing on things is not necessarily them trying to be destructive it is a natural innate behavior that stems from their ancestry. Dog’s have not always had veterinary appointments for teeth cleanings. Way back when dog’s had to chew on bones of prey or sticks to maintain tooth health. They knew if they couldn’t use their teeth to bare down then prey might slip away, so it was important to keep these tools in tip-top shape.

• Your dog may be teething – Puppies will chew on things much like an infant when new teeth are coming in. Chewing on things will help decrease the pain in your dog’s mouth and possibly help the baby teeth fall out. Teething can be uncomfortable so it is recommended to provide soft toys to chew on to help ease the discomfort and may keep your shoes or furniture from falling victim.

• Improper or lack of training – Sometimes when a dog seems to be misbehaving it is because he or she really has no idea they are doing anything wrong. Take advantage of the time you spend with your dog by playing with them and teaching them which things are okay to chew on and which ones are not. They really have no idea why you are yelling at them not to chew on sticks or the furniture so it is best to speak kindly and redirect them to something they can chew on.

Furthermore, it is always best if you can start training as a puppy. Puppies are just little sponges and soak up everything you teach them. One downside is they are easily distracted which makes training kind of fun. The earlier you start training your pup then typically the better they will behave in the future. Teach them early on about what is right and what is wrong to chew on.

And you can never be too excessive with praising them. It is important to reward them with praise and maybe a treat here and there when they have done well.

Dog smiling with a stick (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Dog smiling with a stick (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Natural Enrichment

Amber LaRock, Licensed Vet Tech And Veterinary Consultant For CatPet.club

Chewing sticks is an ingrained canine behavior that can be traced back to their wild ancestors. Sticks served as a natural enrichment that helped to promote dental health, along with offering endless entertainment. This natural canine behavior still exists in our furry friends, making it challenging for our dogs to pass up a stick while outside. Though this is a normal desire, it is not a safe chewing option for our canine companions.

Chewing sticks can lead to complications such as damaged teeth, gum injuries, intestinal irritation, and even intestinal blockages. This is why it is important to offer your dog plenty of other safe chewing options, as this will help to steer them away from chewing on sticks.

Some Sticks Are Toxic

Dr Wooten, DVM, CVJ And Vet Expert At Pumpkin Pet Insurance

Most dogs chew on sticks because it is fun. Moreover, dogs can associate sticks with playtime (fetch!) and may chew on the stick and throw it around to get you to play. If your dog loves chewing on sticks and has chewed them without incident then there is likely no problem with that.

However, there are a couple of safety concerns:

• Some sticks are toxic to dogs. Oak, apple, walnut, black cherry, locust, buckeye, and chestnut are a few trees that are considered toxic to dogs.

• Chewing a stick can cause a choking hazard or trauma to the mouth in the form of splinters or larger pieces getting stuck in the gums or lacerating the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach).

• If a stick is swallowed it is not easily digested and may cause a gastrointestinal obstruction. Some dogs will chew sticks because they have an underlying medical problem, such as nutritional imbalances, hunger, behavioral issues, or anemia.

If your dog eats sticks and shows any other signs of illness (excessively tired, vomiting, diarrhea) then get your dog checked out by a local veterinarian.

Australian Shepherds play with a stick (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Australian Shepherds play with a stick (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Compulsive Disorder

Nicholas DeRoma, Veterinary Technologist, Canine Behavior Specialist And Consultant For CatPet.club

Why does my dog eat sticks?

Eating things that provide no nutritional value, such as mulch, sticks, and rocks is medically termed “pica.” Pica can occur for a variety of reasons, some of which indicate underlying disease and others that indicate more of a behavioral ailment.

Medical Causes

Some of the medical issues include dietary and/or metabolic insufficiencies such as hypothyroidism and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.Others, include ailments such as Zinc toxicity.

Behavioral Causes

Behaviorally, dogs can eat sticks for several reasons as well. Some common behavioral causes of this behavior include boredom and lack of mental and/or physical stimulation. Additionally, this can be a conditioned behavior as well. For example, if the owner has the dog fetch sticks, stick snow hold significance to the dog. Further, eating sticks routinely may also be a compulsive disorder. A compulsive disorder is an aberrant behavior that is performed out of context usually due to underlying conditions such as anxiety, stress, and frustration.

Risk

Whenever dogs ingest foreign material, there is always the risk of a foreign body obstruction. Additionally, by eating sticks, dogs risk causing facial or oral trauma, as well as gastrointestinal trauma such as perforations. There is also the potential that a dog can choke.

Conclusion

Ultimately, since dogs do not have the ability to talk, it is important to rule out medical conditions before determining that the cause is behavioral. This is especially true for behavioral changes that are more abrupt than gradual. Once a veterinarian sees the pet and determines that there are no underlying conditions contributing to the behavior, the behavior can be counter-conditioned if it is a learned behavior, or it can be treated by a veterinary behaviorist if it is a compulsive disorder.

Sensory Chewing

Dr Stephanie Lantry, DVM Affiliated With AirVet

Dogs eat sticks for a variety of reasons.

First of all, they are very easily accessible and often contain lots of smells from living things in the outdoors. Our most common underlying cause are puppies that are teething. They need that chewing outlet as they are getting their adult teeth in and losing their baby teeth.

Dogs don’t always outgrow this need for sensory chewing but it tends to diminish as they grow older. It can help them clean their teeth and exercise their jaws. Occasionally, dogs will have some stomach upset or imbalance that causes them to eat foreign objects (especially plant material outside).

More often, they are hungry, bored, curious, and have energy to burn and stick chewing fits the bill.

Pet owners need to use caution and monitor their dogs carefully. Sticks can cause splinters that can be in the mouth and cause pain and infection.

However, they can also migrate into the esophagus and cause more serious perforation. They can also contain toxic substances on them like molds or pesticides.

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