What are Eating Sticks?
It's common to see a dog with a stick in their mouth, either playing fetch or just chewing on it like a bone. In fact, if you have a puppy who is under six months old, you will likely see all sorts of non-food items in their mouth at one time or another.
However, if your dog is actually eating the sticks, this could be a problem. First of all, it is dangerous because some sticks are poisonous if eaten in large amounts, such as oak, chestnut, apple, locust, and buckeye. Second, eating sticks of any kind can cause choking, blockage in the intestine, or the sharp edges can actually perforate the mouth, esophagus, or digestive tract. Sticks can also lodge in between teeth or in the roof of the mouth.
Then there's the fact that eating sticks can be a symptom of a medical problem, for example anemia, nutritional deficiency, or dental issues. So if you have a dog that is eating sticks and displaying other symptoms — such as sleeping more than usual, weakness, and lack of appetite — you should take them to see a veterinary professional as soon as you can.
Why Eating Sticks Occurs in Dogs
There are several reasons why dogs eat sticks. Let's take a look at the most common causes.
When a dog has a low red blood cell count (low iron), it can result in a condition called pica, which causes your dog to eat non-food items. Anemia can be caused by many different factors, including an intestinal bleed, parasites or even leukemia.
Nutritional or mineral deficiency
Some poor-quality commercial dog foods contain artificial fillers and preservatives that can make it difficult for your dog to get enough nutrients. If they fill up on these non-essential ingredients, they may not be getting all the nutrients they need. This can also occur if your pet is fed an unbalanced home made diet or eats more treats than meals. A nutritional or mineral deficiency could be the result, and your dog may try to access nutrition from other sources such as sticks.
There are many different digestive disorders that can cause difficulty absorbing nutrients and pica. Some of these include:
Dental or oral issues
If your dog has any kind of dental disease, such as gum disease or cavities, they may be chewing on sticks to try to alleviate the discomfort. However, doing so will likely only make the problem worse.
If your dog has not been eating properly, if you have other pets that may be eating their food, or if you're feeding your dog less than they need, they could be eating sticks out of hunger.
There are many types of behavioral issues that can cause your dog to eat non-food items. Some of the most common ones include:
- Anxiety or fear
- Looking for attention
What to do if your Dog is Eating Sticks
Your veterinarian will give your dog a physical examination and run some blood tests to find out if your dog is anemic and determine the cause, if possible. They may also be able to tell from the blood tests whether your dog has any kind of nutritional or mineral deficiency.
Digestive disorders are usually discovered with blood tests and an abdominal ultrasound. If necessary, the veterinarian may also decide to do a scope, biopsies, CT scans or an MRI.
Dental or oral issues are easy to find by doing an oral examination. Your vet may refer you to a veterinary dentist if your dog has anything serious that requires expert treatment.
Behavioral problems require a different approach. If the problem is serious, your vet may refer you to an animal behaviorist. In many cases, however, you may be able to take simple steps at home to help minimize the behavior.
Prevention of Eating Sticks
To prevent anemia, you should make sure your dog is eating a diet with plenty of iron and visit your veterinarian for regular health check-ups. Routine blood work is usually how anemia is discovered in most dogs. Keep your dog up to date with parasite prevention.
A nutritional or mineral deficiency can also be discovered by blood tests and a physical examination. To make sure your dog is getting enough vitamins and minerals, check the label on the dog food you are feeding. If you're not sure whether it provides complete and balanced nutrition for your dog, speak to your veterinarian about changing your pet's diet or adding vitamin and mineral supplements.
Digestive disorders can be improved by always providing your dog with a balanced diet and plenty of fresh water. There are also diets that have been specifically formulated for dogs with sensitive stomachs, so speak to your vet about the best nutrition for your pet.
To prevent dental or oral issues, check your dog’s teeth on a regular basis. Brushing your dog’s teeth is the best way to ensure good dental health, so find out what kind of dog toothpastes and toothbrushes are safe for your dog.
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Finally, if behavioral issues are behind your dog eating sticks, it's important to get to the bottom of the cause of those issues. Your dog may need to be assessed and treated by an animal behaviorist, or you may be able to manage these issues by making some simple adjustments to your dog's lifestyle.
For example, by providing adequate exercise and mental stimulation for your pup, you'll reduce the likelihood of them eating sticks out of boredom. If they chew sticks due to stress, discovering the cause of their anxiety and removing it will help prevent the problem.
Cost of Eating Sticks
Treating your dog for eating sticks may cost as little as $5 for a bottle of nutritional supplements or as much as a several-thousand-dollar major surgery for an intestinal blockage.
Anemia can cost up to $1,200 for tests and medications, but expenses vary depending on what is causing the condition. An intestinal obstruction can require major surgery in some cases, which could leave you with a treatment bill of $5,000 or more. Dental problems may cost you up to $2,000 depending on the cause.
The cost of treating behavioral issues varies depending on the nature and severity of those problems. If your dog requires long-term treatment from an animal behaviorist, the cost is approximately $500 to $1,000 for an initial consult, and then the cost of subsequent visits can vary quite a bit.
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Eating Sticks Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
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