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DON’T EAT THAT!

Posted by Susan Bero on

Does your Greyhound eat things that are not food or even edible?  Some dogs have a taste for all kinds of things that could, if left unchecked, harm them, resulting in costly veterinarian bills.  This time of year, wrapping paper, ribbons, tinsel, garbage that smells like food, and other easily accessible trash can be particularly alluring. This interest or even obsession with non-food items is called Pica.  This does not include grass or poop eating – those are different topics for another day.

Muzzle with stool guard

Puppies and young dogs, usually less than 2 years old, explore the world with their mouths.  Typically, they will put something like a rock or stick in their mouth, roll it around, and spit it out.  When they swallow it, that’s when it can become a problem.  Hopefully, older dogs will leave that behavior behind, but sometimes it can become an addiction.  Why does this happen and what to do about it?

If your adult hound has been fine and suddenly starts this behavior, that’s cause for concern.  See the veterinarian ASAP.  In any case, if you have a dog with pica, the first thing to do is see the vet to rule out medical or nutritional causes.  If it is determined that this behavior is because of a nutritional deficiency, parasites, or certain diseases that cause increased appetite or digestive upset, these conditions can usually be treated with supplements, diet changes or medications.

The difficulty is when health issues have been ruled out: it is tricky to find out the reason this is happening.  Pica can be triggered by emotional issues, such as separation anxiety and stress, even boredom.  Anxiety in all its forms alters the normal way a dog behaves and reacts, so some calming techniques can help.  Cuddling, calming chews, DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) diffuser or spray, medication, or if all else fails, time out, but not as a punishment. Punishment does not help compulsive behaviors .  Put the dog in his crate in a quiet place with a bone or other treat.  Exercise and plenty of chew toys (too big to swallow) also can help with anxiety and boredom.  Food toys are great as a combination of nose work and play.  Just be sure to allow for the calories in relation to the hound’s whole diet if they are prone to weight gain. Other possible psychological causes could be attention seeking, depression or frustration. The above strategies could help with these too.

Perhaps we have ruled out health and behavior problems as the cause.  Sometimes we just don’t know why.  In that case, management of the environment is key.  We had a Greyhound named Sunny, who loved to eat dirt.  We were never able to find out why he started with this oral obsession, so we had to manage it as best we could.  No real house plants indoors, and outdoors we resorted to a basket muzzle with stool guard at all times.  Not an elegant solution, but at least he never had health problems because of eating dirt.

Maybe the items your hound prefers are things that could be sprayed with bitter apple spray or gel (numerous brands) as a deterrent.  If underwear and socks are his preferred indulgence, try getting a hamper that he can’t get into, and make sure the whole family puts their clean clothes away and dirty clothes in the hamper.  If trash is a problem, waste baskets with lids will nip that in the bud.

If the problem happens mostly outside on walks, leash walking with you scoping out the way ahead for hazards, may be the way to go.  Teaching the command “Leave it!” is ideal, but will be difficult if the target item is too compelling.

If all else fails, you can consult a Veterinary Behaviorist – find one near you at https://www.dacvb.org.

Most often, we don’t know why dogs engage in this psychologically compulsive behavior, but with some investigation and ruling out health causes, we can manage the risks if we are diligent.  Any other suggestions you have are welcome – please leave them in the comments.


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