Q: Why do many dogs eat rocks, roots, grass, dog and cat feces, coins, jewelry, TV remotes and moldy trash?
A: Dogs that eat unusual or inanimate objects account for close to half of the patients in most veterinary emergency hospitals. While it is unpleasant for dogs and their owners to deal with the aftermath of these gastronomic choices, there is a related issue of job security, for many veterinarians - who gratefully acknowledge that these dogs will continue to explore outside their culinary limits.
The dietary indiscretion, and lack of internal appetite control, may be one of the imponderable questions in veterinary medicine. Rarely is there a scientific reason for their dietary waverings. Theories regarding nutritional deficiencies, mineral imbalances and hormonal disease abound, but no scientific studies have documented a consistent disease that can explain this behavior.
Ultimately, most overeating and inappropriate eating is probably behavioral and may be related to competition with another dog, attention-seeking behavior, or just an instinctual drive to eat anything available in case there is no food available tomorrow.
In most cases of overeating and the resultant abdominal swelling, gas and discomfort, it is best to just wait it out, as in the case of the dog who ate a whole bag of red licorice. If your dog’s heart rate appears to be increasing to about 150 beats per minute (you can get a pulse on the inside of a back leg), the food bloat may be more severe and require immediate veterinary attention. Large breed and deep chested dogs can be at risk for GDV, or gastric dilatation and volvulus, as a result of overeating, and require close monitoring. Signs of GDV include increasing abdominal swelling and retching (vomiting without producing anything).
Rock eaters often end up in the veterinary hospital for abdominal surgery, so consider putting a cage muzzle on these dogs when they are outside or have access to rocks. Sock and underwear eaters are similarly at risk.
In the meantime, keep sending in your stories and questions about the crazy dietary preferences of your dogs, and thank them, on behalf of small-animal veterinarians, for helping keep us in business!
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