All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dog Eats Inappropriate Items

Dear Marie,
Our 10 month old Labrador retriever, Rocky, just spent a very expensive week at the vet’s which included major surgery. We are bringing him home today and he is doing fine but I don’t want a repeat of this incident. Here’s what’s been going on. He has always eaten inappropriate stuff. He has taken charred wood out of our fireplace and chomped it down. He eats plastic items. He’s even eaten part of our carpet. But this time, the thing that landed him in the hospital was rocks! I can almost understand the other stuff…but rocks? I can handle the fact that he’s ruined some of our things. They are just things. But he is our dog and we love him. Next time, he can eat something that kills him, especially if we don’t catch it on time. Please help us figure this out.
Rancho Santa Margarita

Dear Celeste,
Rocky’s inappropriate eating behavior is not unusual, but he has definitely taken it to an extreme with his latest menu items. And as you have pointed out, this can be life-threatening.

Being a young dog, Rocky is still in his teething phase, so it is possible that he was chewing rocks to satisfy his teething urge. It is very important that he has plenty of sturdy, well-made chew toys in every room of the house and outside in your yard. The reason for having multiple toys everywhere is that he’s not going to think about where he left his one and only plaything and will pick whatever is close when the chewing urge strikes.

I am sure Rocky is a huge dog and seems like an adult. But he is, and will be a puppy for at least another year. This means he needs constant supervision or he is going to get into trouble. Needless to say, no one can watch their pets 24-7. However, you can make sure he is in a safe environment when you can’t be around.

I have advocated the use of crates for many behavior issues, and this is a perfect example of where a crate comes in handy. Contrary to popular opinion, crates are a place of comfort and security for dogs. They just need to be used appropriately. For Rocky, make sure you get a crate that is big enough for him to stand up and turn around in easily. Put his dog bed inside (unless he eats dog beds!) and give him a fun toy once he enters his crate. Praise him when he goes in and make the whole experience positive.

As soon as you are able to watch him again, let him out. You don’t want him to be in a crate for hours on end. It should only be used when he cannot be directly supervised.

Make at least one room in your house “puppy-proofed.” This could serve as his safe space for when you go to work or have to be away for long periods of time. But keep in mind that boredom may be the underlying reason for Rocky’s odd eating habits. You might want to look into a doggy day-care if you are gone long hours each day. If you have a friend or neighbor who already knows and loves Rocky, you can even see if that person wouldn’t mind being a dog-sitter.

Did your veterinarian discuss pica disorder with you? That is the scientific term that basically describes the craving and eating of things that are not food. Sometimes it is triggered by dietary imbalances. I’m sure your vet ran a number of blood diagnostic tests before your dog’s surgery and those results would have indicated if there were any underlying conditions that may be responsible for this disorder.

In any case, schedule a follow-up visit with your vet. Talk about diet and behavior modification. There are some new prescriptive medications for dogs that may be very helpful in treating this disorder if your veterinarian believes behavioral medication is necessary. Hopefully, this is just puppy chewing behavior that can be monitored and directed until he grows out of it. Best wishes.