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What are Eating Sticks?

It is common to see a dog with a stick in his 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 his 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 such as oak, chestnut, apple, locust, and buckeye. Also, 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. In addition, eating sticks can be a symptom of a medical problem such as:

  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Nutritional or mineral deficiency
  • Digestive disorders
  • Dental or oral issues
  • Hunger
  • Behavioral

If you have a dog that is eating sticks and shows other symptoms such as sleeping more than usual, weakness, and lack of appetite, you should bring him to see a veterinary professional as soon as you can.

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Why Eating Sticks Occurs in Dogs

Anemia

When a dog has a low red blood cell count (low iron), it can cause them to develop a condition called pica, which causes your dog to eat non-food items. Anemia can be caused by many different reasons such as intestinal bleed or even leukemia.

Nutritional or Mineral Deficiency

Some commercial dog foods contain artificial fillers and preservatives that can make it difficult for your dog to get enough nutrients. If he fills up on these fillers or preservatives, he has no room for the nutrients he needs. If your dog has a nutritional or mineral deficiency, he may try getting it from other sources such as sticks.

Digestive Disorders

There are many different digestive disorders that can cause enough irritation for your dog to eat sticks. Some of these include:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Tumors
  • Worms
  • Gastritis
  • Stomach inflammation

Dental or Oral Issues

If your dog has any kind of dental disease such as gum disease or cavities, he may be chewing on sticks to try to alleviate the discomfort. However, he is likely making the problem worse.

Hunger

You may or may not have noticed that your dog has not been eating all his food. If your dog has not been eating properly or if you have other pets that may be eating his food, he may be hungry. It may just be that he does not like the food you are giving him and he would rather eat sticks.

Behavioral Issues

There are many types of behavioral issues that can cause your dog to eat non-food items. Some of the most common include:

  • Boredom
  • Anxiety or fear
  • Looking for attention
  • Habit

What to do if your Dog is Eating Sticks

The 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. The veterinarian will be able to tell from the blood tests whether your dog has any kind of nutritional or mineral deficiency as well.

Digestive disorders are usually discovered with radiographs (x-rays) and an ultrasound. If necessary, the veterinarian may also decide to do CT scans or an MRI.

Dental or oral issues are easy to find by doing an oral examination. Your dog may refer you to a veterinary dentist if your dog has anything serious that he cannot treat. Behavioral problems require a lot of patience and hard work. The veterinarian will talk to you about your dog’s behavior and may refer you to an animal behaviorist.

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 regularly. Routine blood work is usually how the anemia is discovered in most dogs. Also, a nutritional or mineral deficiency can 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 him. If you are not sure if it has enough of the nutrients your dog needs, speak to your veterinarian about changing his diet or adding vitamin and mineral supplements.

Digestive disorders may also be prevented by always providing your dog with a balanced diet and plenty of fresh water. In addition, he needs to exercise daily to prevent obesity. To prevent dental or oral issues you should check your dog’s teeth daily. Speak to your veterinarian about brushing your dog’s teeth and to find out what kind of dog toothpastes and toothbrushes are safe for your dog.

Cost of Eating Sticks

Treating your dog for eating sticks may cost as little as $5 for a bottle of nutritional supplements to a major surgery for an intestinal blockage. Anemia can cost up to $1,200 for tests and medication depending on what is causing the anemia. An intestinal obstruction can be up to about $2,000 for surgery. Dental problems may cost you up to $2,000 depending on the cause. The cost of treating behavioral issues may be the most expensive and aggravating since they sometimes require long-term treatment and plenty of patience. The cost of a behaviorist is approximately $500 to $1,000 for a consult and then the cost of subsequent visits can vary quite a bit.

Eating Sticks Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Ace
Labrador Retriever
1 Year
Fair condition
1 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Does not always eat all food

I have a 1 year old lab that has seizures. I have him on the medication and it has helped, but then I realized that he eats a lot of sticks when he plays with them. I know that when dogs try to eat sticks there could be something wrong. Do you think he is missing something that causes him to have seizures, and then trys to eat sticks? Hopefully that makes sense..

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2981 Recommendations
You’re wondering if eating sticks is Ace’s way of trying to get some nutrition he is missing from his diet? Whilst this is the case for many cases of consumption of nonfood items, it may just be boredom or another cause. If Ace has a complete high quality diet suitable for breed, age and weight he shouldn’t be missing anything; however, if there are other symptoms apart from the seizures you should bring them up with your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Bingo
Great Pyrenees
4 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Chewing

Our boy, Bingo, is a St. Bernard/Great Pyrenees mix, mostly Pyrenees from the look of him I’d say. He normally chews on sticks when he’s outside relaxing with us in the backyard. Until recently, I didn’t realize that was an issue. He has no other sx, just the activity of chewing on sticks. He finishes all of his food easily, and he doesn’t act any different. I wondered if it could be because of the taste of sap in the wood, but it’s just an idea. He does battle anxiety, which we’ve known since we rescued him. Although it’s improved considerably in the last year. Could that be the cause since there are no additional physical sx? What types of wood should we look out for? I’d hate to take away something he loves unless it’s an actual detriment to him.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2981 Recommendations
Chewing on sticks is a past time of dogs, however there is always the risk of injury to the oral cavity or the ingestion of a large fragment of wood which may cause a perforation of the gastrointestinal tract; I would try to replace the sticks with toys or chew products intended for canine consumption. In reality a dog may chew and eat a thousand sticks without any issues whilst another may have a medical emergency on the first stick they chew on. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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