Dog parenting is a gruesome and yet fulfilling job. You’re signing up for plenty of heart-pounding experiences. Time and again, you’ll have agonizing moments when your Fido chows down all the wrong things, from rocks to rabbit poop and toilet paper. You name it. If you thought you’d seen it all, you spot your furry friend trotting across the yard with a large stick in its mouth.
A favorite pastime activity for most dogs is picking and gleefully chewing or eating sticks. Dogs and sticks are like cats and strings. But stick eating is not a hobby you want your dog to indulge in; habitually eating them can signify something isn’t right.
Twigs and wood can break into several sharp splinters that can damage your dog’s gums and GI tract. Then why does your dog like eating sticks? And how can you make your dog stop this unhealthy habit? That’s where we come in. We will let you in on all you need to know about dogs eating sticks.
Let’s jump in!
Why Does My Dog Eat Sticks?
Chewing is a primal instinct for dogs that helps keep their jaws sparkling and healthy. Dogs also explore their environment by chewing; your yard is their playground.
Understanding the root cause of their bizarre habit will help you address the issue effectively.
Dogs find chewing sticks extremely satisfying for several reasons. They include:
1. Instinctual Behavior
Your dog munching on sticks doesn’t necessarily mean he has a behavioral disorder. Chewing is a dog’s innate genetic behavior from their ancestry. Way back, there were no vet appointments for teeth cleaning.
So dogs had to chew on bones of prey or twigs to maintain their teeth in top shape while entertaining themselves. Canines had to take good care of their dental health to ensure they successfully pin down their prey.
2. They’re Tasty
Oddly enough, Fido may find the twigs in your yard tasty and maybe eat them for dietary pleasure. So, next time you find your dog snacking on the tree, don’t be surprised. It probably tastes like food.
Dogs have a “eat first, question later” approach to food. Some of the tasty trees for dogs include mulberry tree, red maple, figleaf palm, big shellbark hickory tree, cactus, and dogwood tree, among others.
3. Tooth Pain
One of the growing pains that puppies and young dogs go through is teething. Chewing is one effective way for your puppy to soothe its gums. The discomfort will make your dog chew on anything, including sticks, to alleviate the pain and help the baby teeth fall out.
Also, if your canine has gum disease or cavities, they can eat sticks to relieve the pain. Unfortunately, this may worsen the condition.
We recommend chewing toys of different textures and shapes. Rawhide bones, chew sticks, bully sticks, and ice cubes can provide relief to your teething pooch. Alternatively, get a puppy teething chew toy for your furry friend and schedule regular vet visits for teeth cleaning, to keep his pearly whites in top shape!
4. Nutritional Deficiency
If your dog lacks certain nutrients, especially vitamins and minerals, they will most likely find these missing nutrients in other foods.
Nutritional deficiency can result from malnutrition, an unbalanced diet, or malabsorption. Most low-quality dog food contains artificial preservatives and additives, which can interfere with nutrient absorption.
If your Fido eats more treats than meals, they are also at risk of nutrient deficiencies. So, your pup will eat non-food things like dirt, poop, or chew on sticks to get nutrients. Adding supplements and multivitamins may help with nutrient deficiency.
5. Medical Conditions
The following medical issues can cause your dog to eat things that don’t provide any nutritional value, like sticks and rocks:
- Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
If your pup is not getting enough food to curb his appetite or doesn’t like the food you’re giving him, it can lead to chewing and eating sticks to feel full.
If hunger is the cause, the solution is simple- increase their portions during mealtimes. Also, with the help of a canine nutritionist, you can modify their diet and add tasty foods.
7. Digestive Disorder
Another reason why your furry friend keeps chewing on sticks is digestive disorders. Several digestive disorders can hinder the absorption of nutrients and cause pica in dogs. These include:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Stomach inflation
When your dog has digestion problems or an upset tummy, it is not uncommon to consume weird things like sticks.
If your canine eats non-food substances such as paper, dirt, rocks, sticks, and poop, he may have pica. This compulsive disorder has a variety of underlying causes. These may include:
- Increased appetite
- Vitamin deficiency
- Thyroid disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Neurological disease
It’s a good idea to have your vet rule out the root cause of your dog’s pica before assuming your dog is being destructive for no reason.
Related: Why Does My Dog Eat Everything?
9. Stress and Anxiety
Stress and separation anxiety can cause a dog to develop destructive habits. Separation anxiety feels like a panic attack to a dog. Your dog is either afraid of being separated from its owner or has been previously abandoned by his family.
The feeling can be overwhelming for your dog, and they’re likely to exhibit behavioral problems like severe anxiety. If your dog has severe anxiety or a compulsive disorder such as OCD, it can engage in obsessive behaviors. These include:
- Tail chasing and spinning
- Barking incessantly
- Eating odd things like sticks and twigs.
Bored dogs tend to behave in mischievous ways while looking for ways to keep entertained. Your dog needs a variety of boredom busters to keep its mind and body preoccupied. Without proper mental and physical stimulation, it will indulge in destructive behaviors such as excessive barking, digging holes, and chewing inedible things like toilet paper and sticks.
Is your dog an ardent stick chewer? You need to get your pup to the vet for a physical examination. The vet will run blood tests to check for mineral deficiency or anemia and x-rays to rule out digestive disorders. We recommend you talk to a canine behaviorist if it’s a behavior issue.
What Happens If My Dog Eats Sticks?
When your dog chews on a stick, their teeth crush the wood into numerous tiny sharp pieces that can wreak havoc on their health. And not forgetting the expensive trip to your vet.
Sticks and wood are tough, so your dog must exert some force to crush them. While being it, chewing on the tough exterior can cause a tooth to chip or break. A broken tooth causes discomfort, severe pain, and possible infection, leading to a dental abscess.
When your pup chews on sticks and wood, they are crushed into hundreds of tiny pieces, which can get lodged in the gums causing infection beneath the tissues. The infection can fester and form a painful and swollen abscess in the affected area.
Damage to the Esophagus
Wood splinters are pretty abrasive and can damage your dog’s esophagus causing severe pain. They can also get lodged in the esophagus and cut airflow.
If you suspect your dog has swallowed a stick, look for signs such as drooling, pawing at the mouth, coughing, retching or gagging, rubbing their face against the ground, and wheezing.
Trees like buckeye, chestnut, locust, and oak are poisonous to dogs. If your furry friend chews or eats a stick, wood, or bark of these trees, it will need immediate medical intervention. Symptoms of poisoning include agitation, convulsions, pale gums, tremors, drooling, diarrhea, and difficulty in breathing.
Related: Plants Poisonous To Dogs
Sticks are not easily digestible, so if eaten, they can block the gastrointestinal tract decreasing blood flow and nutrient absorption while damaging sections of the intestines.
GI obstruction will require prompt care and medical intervention to prevent fatal consequences. Symptoms include weakness, vomiting, dehydration, diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, and hunching.
All these complications can be excruciating and cause severe infection, which can be fatal if left untreated. Plus, they can rack up a substantial bill, especially when surgery is involved. If your dog has eaten a stick and you suspect any of the above scenarios, call your vet ASAP.
My Dog Ate a Stick. What Now?
If you just saw your canine companion swallow a stick, phone the vet or rush them to the emergency vet. In most cases, the vet will suggest a “wait and see” approach.
But, depending on your dog’s condition, your vet may recommend bringing your furry friend in ASAP. While you’re monitoring your pup for any complications, keep an eye out for the following:
- Straining to poop
- Bleeding from the mouth or rectum
Don’t attempt to induce vomiting unless your vet permits you. Even if your dog swallowed a stick without it causing any visible injury, inducing vomiting is risky. The stick might cause more issues like irritation of the esophagus while coming up. Also, many “at-home vomit-inducing” techniques are dangerous for your pup.
Help! My Dog is Eating Sticks and Throwing up
One of the most common signs of dogs eating sticks is throwing up, which can be a cause of concern for any dog owner. However, it can be a good thing if your dog is vomiting without being induced. Your dog might be trying to flush his system of all the bad stuff.
If your dog has eaten sticks and is throwing up, we advise you to contact your vet.
How Can I Stop My Dog from Chewing and Eating Sticks?
Once you’ve figured out the root cause of your dog’s behavior, you can devise a plan to stop it. Your vet can offer the best medication to address this problem if it’s health-related.
The other causes can be addressed using training and management strategies.
Clear Areas with Mulch
You’ll often find shreds of sticks and large chunks of wood in places with mulch. Dogs also find the earthy smell of mulch very tempting and will happily devour it.
So, it’s best to clear out any areas in your yard where there’s mulch to ensure you have a stick-free backyard.
Provide Alternative Entertainment
To effectively train your dog to avoid chewing sticks, you’ll need to offer them a safer and more exciting alternative to chew. Offering them an outlet for their boredom can hopefully deter your pup from the risks of stick eating.
Some helpful options include puzzle games, rope toys, frisbee, kongs, and Nylabones. Provide plenty of options, including games that teach them new skills and tricks, so they’re no longer tempted to return to their old habits. Whatever you get for your pup, ensure it can withstand constant powerful chewing.
Don’t Encourage the Habit
If you’re trying to get your dog to stop chewing sticks and wood, ensure you don’t use twigs during gameplay. Playing fetch at the park using a twig will only confuse your dog. Your canine won’t understand why sticks are acceptable in certain instances and not in others.
Training your dog to follow the rules can help stop unwanted behavior like chewing on sticks. Teach your dog to obey cues like sit, leave, lie down, come or drop, among others. If possible, start training your dog at the puppy stage. Puppies are like sponges and easily soak up everything you teach them.
Reward your dog with treats and praises when they follow your commands. This teaches your pup that good things come when it follows your instructions, provides mental stimulation, and strengthens your bond. Avoid yelling, punishing, and scolding your dog, as it will lead to more behavioral problems.
Exercise and Physical Stimulation
When dogs have excess pent-up energy and no outlet, they often act up in odd ways like ripping apart items or resorting to anxious chewing of sticks.
A tired dog is a well-behaved dog. So spare some time to play with your dog, go for walks, play fetch, and do other engaging activities to entertain and engage your energetic four-legged best friend.
If your dog’s chewing of sticks borders an addiction, you might need to use a device to stop this habit and keep your pup safe. Consider using a basket muzzle, but you’ll need first to teach your dog how to wear it because they are likely to find it unpleasant and resist putting it on.
Another solution is a device known as Outfox. Although it’s meant to prevent your pup from getting foxtails, it can also prevent “grazing.” Alternatively, you can get an Elizabethan collar like the one dogs use post-surgery. Choose one longer than your pup’s snout to prevent it from picking things on the ground.
Use Anti-chew Sprays
To restrict Fido, you may need to spray unpleasant-tasting sprays on the things he likes to eat. Not to worry, the liquid is bad tasting but harmless and won’t hurt your dog. Something like bitter apple spray can help discourage this behavior. And hopefully, your dog will lose interest.
Make a Trade-off
You can train your dog to trade items with you (sticks and wood in this case) for toys and treats. This way, your dog will be eager to bring you sticks instead of eating them. You can then stash or dispose of the sticks safely, away from your pup’s reach.
Start by giving your dog a better incentive than what he has. Of course, you can’t tell if your dog likes his sticks more than your reward. But once you figure out their favorite toy and snack, you can start the trade. Win-win!
Some dogs eat sticks because of a vitamin or mineral deficiency in their diet. No matter the food you’re feeding your canine, whether grain-free, low carb or raw, make sure it contains the essential vitamins and minerals for a healthy, well-balanced diet.
This habit is often due to a lack of calcium, phosphorus, or manganese, so check for these in their foods or consider using supplements. Dividing your dog’s meals into three or four smaller meals is a good idea if your furry friend has a fast metabolism. Regular feeding can help distract them from eating sticks.
Stick eating can seem like a harmless pastime for Fido, but it can quickly become an emergency. It would be best if you didn’t let your dog develop a habit of chewing on sticks or wood. Ensure you watch your furry friend and nip this behavior in the bud!
Chewing sticks can cause health complications such as gum injuries, damaged teeth, GI irritation, and intestinal blockage. So you must provide your dog with plenty of chewing options to help steer them away from this dangerous habit.
Canines are creatures of habit, and changing a habit takes time and effort. You need to be patient when guiding and correcting your dog. Do not yell or wrestle your dog for the stick since you’re likely to promote sneaking and hiding behaviors. Worse, your canine companion is also likely to start guarding his sticks.
Can my dog eat sticks?
Although it’s an innate dog behavior to chew on sticks, it can cause serious health consequences. You should, therefore, discourage this behavior.
Why does my dog like eating sticks?
There are several reasons why your dog likes snacking on sticks, including anxiety, boredom, medical conditions, and nutritional issues.
What happens if my dog eats sticks?
Your dog can eat sticks and show no signs of distress, but sometimes they may suffer from complications such as choking, splinters in the gum or roof of the mouth, a perforated esophagus, and general GI discomfort.