Chowing down on puppy food is normal for your growing pooch. Chowing down on rocks definitely isn't. Eating such nonfood items is common in curious puppies for a variety of reasons, though it's definitely undesirable because of the risk of your little one developing potentially fatal intestinal issues.
Curiosity and Medical Issues
When a pooch eats nonfood items, a rock for instance, he is suffering from a condition known as pica. Young puppies are prone to this condition because they tend to explore the world around them with their mouths. If your curious puppy finds a rock, he might try to test it with his mouth and accidentally ingest it. Should he enjoy the experience, he'll likely eat more, leading to a potentially fatal intestinal blockage or perforation. For safety's sake, you want to immediately get those rocks out of your pup's reach; then get him to the vet. Even if he can't access rocks anynore, the fact that he's eating them in the first place might mean he's sick. Your vet can rule out an underlying medical cause for pica, like malnutrition, vitamin deficiency, parasites, thyroid disease or anemia.
One of the primary causes for puppy pica is boredom -- which is usually a lack of exercise and interaction. With nothing to do and nobody around, he might turn to eating rocks to entertain himself. Provide your pooch with a variety of toys, especially chew toys, for him to play with during the day. Puzzle toys, filled with kibble and peanut butter, give the dog something to do that stimulates his mind. Any time your pup picks up a toy or other acceptable item, give him praise and a treat to positively reinforce the act. Dog owners should exercise most breeds for at least 15 minutes, twice each day, Dr. Susan Nelson told ScienceDaily. Larger dogs and those with lots of energy require more. Engage him in fun games of fetch, or throw a flying disc for him to catch, to decrease his desire to eat rocks. Regular exercise and interaction helps a pet thrive and eliminates many behavioral issues such as eating rocks.
Hunger and Dietary Deficiencies
If your growing pup is hungry, he might turn to eating rocks to fill his tummy if no kibble is around. Puppies need more calories, protein, fats and nutrients than adult dogs because of their growing bodies. Remember to feed your puppy food that is developed for the dog's life stage, to prevent issues with proper nutrition. Food specifically formulated for puppies provides the proper amounts of nutrients they need to stay satiated. Try hiding handfuls of your pup's kibble around the house to make it an adventure to find it, tackling both boredom and hunger at once.
Break your pooch of his penchant for eating rocks by raking up and removing all rocks from his environment. When walking your pup, use a basket muzzle to prevent him from picking up loose rocks. Teach him to respond to the Leave It command so he'll walk away from any rocks you come across. Another useful thing to teach your pooch is the Drop It command, in case he gets his little mouth around a rock before you can lead him away from it.
Grow Out of It?
Most puppies that have problems with rock-related pica tend to grow out of this behavior, with gentle discouragement, by the time they reach 6 months of age, according to the ASPCA. Some pooches may take up to three years to fully mature before they stop the behavior, though, according to DogChannel.com. Remember to avoid yelling at your puppy for rock-eating behavior; he could interpret your yelling as desirable attention, reinforcing the behavior and prolonging it into adulthood.
- Cesar's Way: Ask the Vet: Rock-Eating “Pica” Pup
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Pica (Eating Things That Aren't Food)
- The Washington Post: Pica-Proof Your Pet
- petMD: Ingestion of Feces and Foreign Objects in Dogs
- ScienceDaily: Vet Says Owners Should Exercise With Their Dogs Based on Specific Needs to Prevent Obesity
- The Humane Society of the United States: Pica: Why Pets Sometimes Eat Strange Objects
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.