Dogs eating things they shouldn’t is a regular source of stress for pet parents. Most of the time, the worst consequence will be an upset tummy. But eating things they shouldn’t can also cause intestinal blockage and life-threatening illness.
Vets refer to dogs eating things they shouldn’t as dietary indiscretion. It may be grabbing something tasty or disgusting out of an overflowing litter bin. Or raiding the laundry bin for socks and other tempting goodies. The danger arises when whatever they’ve eaten is poisonous or can’t be digested. Talk to a vet as soon as possible if you think your dog has eaten something they shouldn’t.
What to do
What to do if your dog eats something they shouldn’t
A lot will depend on what it is that they’ve eaten:
- Remove anything that’s left to prevent them from eating any more
- Find out what they’ve eaten and how much if possible
- Call a vet immediately if it is poisonous or if it’s a non-food item that could cause a blockage
- Talk to a vet immediately if you’re not sure
Why do dogs eat things they shouldn’t?
For some dogs, eating things they shouldn’t is a one-off. For others, it’s practically a way of life.
Reasons for these dietary indiscretions can include:
- Overexcited play: most dogs love to chew; toys, rubber balls and socks are all favourites. Swallowing them whole or in bits is an optional extra.
- Hunger: underfed dogs or dogs on the wrong diet for their age and lifestyle.
- Genetic (inherited) abnormalities: some dogs lack a gene to tell them they’re ‘full’.
- Dietary deficiencies: if something is missing from your dog’s diet, they may unconsciously try to find it from other sources. Vets call this pica.
- Certain illnesses: dogs who lack enzymes to digest and utilise their food properly. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, liver disease, diabetes.
- Parasites: heavy burdens of internal worms steal your dog’s nutrition and make them hungrier.
- Boredom or stress
When to worry
When to worry if your dog has eaten something they shouldn’t
Call a vet immediately if your dog has eaten:
- Something toxic or harmful to dogs: chemicals, rat bait, some human foods
- Something that can’t be digested: toys, bedding, food containers, clothing, stones
- Something that can burn the insides: batteries, caustic substances (bleach, spirit)
- Sharp items that could pierce the gullet or intestine: cooked bones (chicken)
- Things that can cause the intestine to concertina up and lead to serious damage: string, rubber bands, wool or ribbons
Joii can help with:
- Treating upset tummies: diarrhoea and vomiting
- Advising what items are harmful
- Safe toys and treats for dogs
- Dietary advice for weight control and hunger management
- Identifying and managing other illnesses
The Animal Poison Line is also available 24/7 for pet owners. They have expertise in the harmful effects of plants, foodstuffs or chemicals. There is a charge for this service.
Tips to prevent dogs from eating things they shouldn’t
It isn’t always easy to prevent your determined canine friend from supplementing their diet with unsuitable treasures. Or playful pups from chewing anything in sight.
But there are some measures which may reduce the risk of harm:
- Avoid leaving food unattended on tables or anywhere in your dog’s reach.
- If your dog is a chewer, find toys and bedding that are, or at least claim to be, indestructible. And check their reviews to make sure it’s true.
- Use a diet that leaves your dog feeling fuller between meals especially if they’re on a diet or always looking for food. Hills Prescription Diet metabolic ® is ideal for dogs who need to lose or control weight, without being hungry all the time.
- If your dog has something like a sock, stone or food wrapper in their mouth, distract them with a favourite toy or tasty treat. Don’t try to wrestle it from them. Dogs see this as a great invitation to play tug-of-war. Then they cheat by eating the rope. But for rope read sock.
- If all else fails, keep your dog on the lead and/or muzzled when outside on walks or if you’re visiting a house where you can’t control what’s in dog-reach.
- Provide walks, stimulation, and lots of cuddles for your dog to reduce boredom or stress.
Warning signs that your dog has eaten something they shouldn’t
- Upset tummy: vomiting and diarrhoea
- Not eating and being abnormally tired
- Gagging or retching if something is stuck in their throat or gullet
- Signs of intestinal blockage: bringing up undigested or partially digested food after eating. But often still looking for food.
- Abdominal (tummy) pain: hunched, quiet, lying in odd positions
- Trouble passing poo: when something gets stuck in the large bowel or rectum (stones and bones)
Home care when your dog’s eaten something they shouldn’t
If your dog has eaten anything that may be harmful or likely to cause a blockage, call a vet immediately.
The result of dietary indiscretion is usually an upset tummy.
For mild upsets:
- Give the tummy a rest, but ensure your dog continues to drink to prevent dehydration.
- Offer 24-48 hours of light, frequent meals.
- Call a vet if vomiting persists or if your dog seems duller or quieter than normal.
- Feed your dog 2-4 pieces of wholemeal bread if you discover they’ve eaten chicken bones too late for emesis or removal by endoscopy. The bread will help to wrap around the bones and reduce the risk of splinter damage as they pass through the intestines. But call a vet immediately if anything changes.
Vet treatment when dogs eat things they shouldn’t
Vet treatment when your dog eats something they shouldn’t depends on what they’ve eaten and how recently they ate it.
If it’s just happened, treatment may include:
- Giving your dog an injection to empty their tummy (inducing emesis) £-££
- Giving a specific antidote to a poison if there is one
- Giving gastric (tummy) protectants
- Giving charcoal: this absorbs toxins from the intestine before they cross into the bloodstream
Your vet will not make your dog sick if any of the following applies:
- Your dog has eaten something sharp or caustic, as it’s likely to cause as much harm coming up again.
- Toxic effects have already begun and include problems with balance, weakness, seizures or vomiting.
- If it’s been more than 1-3 hours since your dog ate the item or substance.
Vet treatment for poisoning without a specific antidote or for severe tummy upsets:
- Supportive care – hospital admission for monitoring, fluids, special feeding.
- Treatment for symptoms – anti-sickness medicine, seizure control, liver and intestinal protectants. £££
Vet treatment for foreign bodies in the stomach:
Recently eaten items – either not removed by emesis or outside the 2-3 hour timeframe.
- Removing the object by endoscopy- using a special camera to look into your dog’s tummy. The camera is fitted with a grasping tool that can hold the foreign object and remove it. £££
Foreign bodies too big to remove by endoscopy or too far down the intestine:
- An operation to remove the foreign body. The vet will open up your dog’s tummy to examine the intestine and find the blockage. The vet opens the intestine and removes the blockage. The blockage is removed. The vet will also try to repair any damage it has caused. Finally, the intestine and tummy are stitched together again. ££££-£££££
Removing a blockage from the tummy is a major operation. It carries risks. And surgery will also be very expensive.
Are some dogs more likely to eat things they shouldn’t?
Any dog might eat something that upsets their tummy, but there will be some groups more at risk than others:
- Young dogs: puppies and young dogs like to play and explore the world through their mouths.
- Certain breeds: Staffies, Dachshunds, Springer spaniels – are all likely to chew and eat things they shouldn’t. Labradors are renowned and rather indiscriminate foodies.
- Dogs with other illnesses: Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, liver disease, diabetes
Other rare causes of dogs eating things they shouldn’t
- Brain disorders: cancers, partial seizures