What are Eating Rocks?
Dogs that eat rocks may have an underlying medical problem such as Pica, which happens if your dog has low levels of red blood cells (RBC) and iron in the blood. This can also be a sign of a behavioral issue or even from starvation or abuse. Signs that your dog is eating rocks include seeing rocks in your dog’s feces or witnessing your dog eating the rocks. However, the underlying condition can also cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain from gastrointestinal issues or weakness and excessive sleepiness from anemia. Some of the most common causes of eating rocks are:
- Anemia (low RBC count)
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Behavioral issues
- Starvation or abuse
Because of the possibility of an underlying medical disorder, you should see your veterinary provider right away. There is also the risk of intestinal blockages so it is important to get your dog checked out.
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Why Eating Rocks Occurs in Dogs
Some of the most common causes of eating rocks in dogs include:
Anemia (low RBC)
Anemia is one of the main causes of pica and is caused by your dog having a decrease in the amount of RBC and iron in the blood, which can be from the lack of production or destruction of RBC, or blood loss. Anemia can be non regenerative or regenerative. In the non regenerative type, the bone marrow is not responding to the increased need for RBC. Regenerative anemia means the bone marrow is replacing the RBC but they are getting destroyed or being lost through a different source like an intestinal bleed.
Some of the gastrointestinal problems that can make your dog eat rocks are inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), stomach tumor, hookworms, and an unbalanced diet. When your dog has any type of gastrointestinal problem, it can trick his brain into believing he is starving and he may eat anything he can see such as rocks. An intestinal bleed can also be a cause of eating rocks due to anemia.
If your dog is bored or is trying to get your attention, he may eat strange things like rocks. Similar to children who misbehave for attention, they know that they will get some attention, even if it is negative. It may also be a compulsive disorder caused by an imbalance of the chemicals in the brain.
Starvation or Abuse
If your dog has ever been abused or starved by previous owners, or was homeless before you got him, this behavior may be a habit he picked up trying to survive. It may seem strange to you, but if your dog were starving, he may have tried to eat rocks to survive. Once this becomes a habit, it can be hard to break, even when he has plenty of food.
What to do if your Dog is Eating Rocks
If you notice that your dog is eating rocks or see rocks in their stool, you should call your veterinarian. Even if it is just a behavioral issue, eating rocks is dangerous for your dog and he will need x-rays to make sure he does not have any intestinal blockages before the veterinarian helps you determine the cause.
The veterinarian will be able to run blood tests to determine whether your dog has anemia or an electrolyte condition such as dehydration. A packed cell volume (PCV) test can determine whether your dog has either one of these deficiencies. Your veterinarian will also check your dog for intestinal disorders by doing an ultrasound or CT scan. If the veterinarian cannot find an underlying medical cause, you will need to focus on behavioral treatment.
Prevention of Eating Rocks
To prevent anemia and gastrointestinal problems, be sure to feed your dog a healthy and balanced diet of animal proteins such as beef or chicken, and visit the veterinarian regularly. Seeing the veterinarian at least once per year can help detect many problems before they get bad. Avoid feeding your dog table scraps or any food other than those specified by your veterinarian.
Behavioral issues such as compulsive disorder and bad habits are a little bit more difficult to treat because you are dealing with the mind rather than the body. You should spend a lot of time with your dog, observing them to see why they may be eating rocks. Are they just bored or hungry or is it a deeper problem that was caused by starvation or abuse? No matter what, you must take steps immediately to stop the behavior by clearing all the rocks and other dangerous items out of the yard where he is allowed access. Supervise him when he is outdoors until the behavior is corrected. Then you should work with an animal behaviorist or try an obedience class to reverse the behavior. If he is alone most of the time, spending more time with your dog and giving him new toys to play with may also help.
Cost of Eating Rocks
Eating rocks can be an expensive disorder to treat, depending on the cause and if he has any intestinal obstructions. If the cause is anemia, medication and treatment can run about $300 to $1,000. For behavioral problems and repeat obstructions, the cost can quickly add up to more than $5,000.