How To Stop Your Dog From Eating Wood, Sticks & Debris

We’ve all seen the pictures of the dogs trotting through the yard, large stick in mouth, enjoying their time spent chewing. What you don’t immediately see is the dangerous aftermath of this habit, and the havok it can wreak on your furry family members well being.

If your dog is consistently eating wood or other debris, this can definitely cause issues ranging from small to severe.  Some common issues include tooth problems that may cause your pup to need a root canal, or other digestive issues depending on what it is that they actually ingest.  Alternatives you can provide your pup include teething toys for puppies or tougher toys for grown adult dogs.

Do twigs and wood really pose a serious threat to your dog’s health? In this article we will discuss the potential dangers of wood chewing, and ways to get your pup to stop!

Why Dogs Chew Things

Chewing is a normal behavior for a dog. Their need to chew goes back to their primal instincts, and their own unique way of keeping their teeth healthy. While our furry companion is no wild dog, their domestication has not removed their desire to chew and bite the objects in their presence. A dogs’ love to chew is instilled in their DNA!

Chewing is also a dog’s way to explore the world around them. “Chewing, for a dog, is like a human opening a door and looking into a room,” says the chairman of the U.K. Canine Behavior Association. Your yard is essentially their playground to explore, and sticks and wood are an extremely satisfying object for a pup to chew during their adventures.

While we can’t eliminate the need to chew in our pups, we can understand the reasons behind the desire, and try to provide them with safe chewing options!

Reasons Your Dog May Be Chewing Wood

There are several reasons as to why your pup might be resorting to chewing sticks and wood in your yard. This instinctual behavior can be enhanced by other conditions, so it’s important to educate yourself on the issues behind canine chewing. Ranging from teeth pain to boredom, here are a few of the most common reasons below:

Tooth pain: This is an especially common reason in young puppies and growing dogs. Just like children, puppies will experience pain with growing teeth. The shifting and growing of their teeth can cause major discomfort, where chewing on objects can help to alleviate this pain. It provides the same relief for them as a cold teething ring does to a teething toddler.

Boredom: Boredom can cause our dogs to engage in destructive behavior. When your pup is overcome with boredom, he may look for something to occupy his time. Chewing on a stick might be the perfect solution to that problem, no matter how risky it is!

Separation anxiety: A lot like boredom, separation anxiety will lead a dog to participate in destructive behavior. A stressed pup may feel the need to chew, and the chewing and eating of wood may act as their outlet for stress.

They like the taste: Oddly enough, your dog may find the twigs and bark in the yard incredibly tasty. They very well might be eating the bark for their dietary pleasure. Some kinds of bark are known to be tasty to dogs, so don’t be surprised if your pup seems to enjoy snacking on your tree.

Need to chew: Some dogs just have more of an inclination to chew than others. Some dogs require constant chewing stimulation, and will chew anything they can get their paws on without a proper distaction.

Pica: Pica is a condition that drives dogs to eat non food items. Truly, anything can cause a dog to experience pica. Nausea, stress, anxiety, hunger, or underlying medical conditions can cause this strange disorder. If you find your dog constantly chewing and eating random objects, you may need to talk to your vet about this possible disorder.

Why It’s Dangerous

When dog’s chew wood, their teeth break the wood into several sharp pieces that can cause damage to their body in a number of ways. Think of these pieces as hundreds of little splinters, looking to wreak havoc on any part of the body that they come in contact with. Something similar happens when your dog plays with foxtails and trips to the vet get extremely expensive. Some of the risks of chewing wood include:

Tooth damage: When a dog is chewing on sticks, they may be putting great force behind each bite. Chewing something with a tough exterior such as wood, can cause a tooth to chip or break. Broken teeth can cause pain, and possible infection. This can even lead to dental abscesses.

Abscesses: When sticks and wood are chewed, hundreds of tiny pieces are floating around the mouth. These tiny pieces can become lodged in the gums, causing an infection to brew under the tissue. If these splinters remain in the mouth, the infection can grow to the point of an abscess. Abscesses are incredibly painful, and can cause severe swelling in the area that is affected.

Damage to the esophagus: Pieces of sticks and wood can be incredible abrasive to the esophagus when swallowed. This can cause damage to the esophagus, and severe pain. Imagine swallowing a large chunk of wood, and how uncomfortable that would have to be!

GI obstruction: Wood and sticks are not meant to be eaten, therefore, they are not easily digestible. Twigs can remin in a pets stomach or intestines, leading to GI obstruction. If not surgically resolved, a GI obstruction or blockage can be fatal.

Airway obstruction: Due to the irregular shape of the wood and sticks that your dog may swallow, pieces of sticks can become lodged in their throat. This can lead to extreme distress, and even difficulty breathing. Anything that affects your pups ability to breathe is a serious medical emergency.

Each of these complications can be incredibly painful, cause severe infection, and can even be fatal if left untreated. If you believe your dog has consumed wood or sticks and fear any of the above scenarios, contact your vet ASAP.

Block Off Areas With Mulch and Sticks

In the discussion about sticks and wood, we often forget about mulch. Many forms of mulch are filled with chunks of wood and sticks, and can be just as damaging for a pet when it’s consumed. Mulch can even be more tempting to a dog, due to it’s potent smell. It’s safest to block off any parts of your yard where mulch is present in order to prevent your pup from being tempted. Mulch poses as large of a threat as sticks and wood of other kinds.

Provide Other Entertainment

When it comes to training your pup to stay away from wood and sticks, you’ll need to provide them with a safer alternative to chew! By giving them another outlet for their boredom, or another object to relieve their mouth pain, you can hopefully deter your furry friend away from the dangers of stick chewing. Some helpful toys include kongs, rope toys, nylabones, and any toy that puts an emphasis on how indestructible it is. Give them plenty of options, so they no longer feel the need to turn to their old habits. If it can stand up to powerful chewing, then it is perfect for the job.

Clear The Yard of Sticks and Wood

Trying to teach your pet not to chew on wood, while having a yard filled with sticks is like torture! Imagine trying to stick to a diet, while being in a room filled with your favorite treats. It’s too tempting, and we can’t expect our pups to have that self restraint. Try your best to go through your yard and clear out any sticks and wood pieces so you can make your companion’s training process a bit easier. Repeating this process every few days is best for maintaining a stick free yard.

Don’t Encourage The Behavior

If you are trying to break your dog of the dangerous habit of chewing on wood, make sure to never use twigs as a form of play. It can be tempting to throw a twig at the park, but keep in mind just how confusing this could be. A dog will not be able to understand why a stick is acceptable to play with in certain places and not others. Training takes participation from both parties, so make sure you are making this learning experience as easy as possible for your furry friend.

I’ve also seen dog toys that are made to look and feel like sticks and chunks of wood. This seems too similar to the real thing, and could possibly confuse your pup when learning to stay away from the real threat!

Keep Them Active

Dogs tend to act up when they have an excess amount of energy. A bored dog with pent up energy is a recipe for disaster, and can resort to anxious chewing. A tired dog is much less likely to experience boredom or restlessness. Spending more time with your furry friend and helping to expel their energy will result in a more well behaved dog, who is less likely to turn to stick chewing. Taking your pup on walks, to the park, playing catch, and other activities that keep them moving are a great option to entertain an energetic companion!

Negative Reinforcement

If your dog is constantly chewing on wood, and does not seem to respond to other actions taken, you may need to include negative reinforcement. This can mean spraying furniture or wooden objects with bitter sprays, a noise maker that you can alert during these bad habits, and a firm no when you catch your pup chewing inappropriate objects. Everyone’s training style is different, so this can vary greatly for each doggo.

Story of A Dog Who Ate Wood

Below is a story of a beloved dog named Mervyn, who was lost to the ingestion of mulch, which also contained sticks. Mervyn’s family wants to spread awareness for this potential threat that could be in your yard, and hopefully prevent any heartbreak for other pet owners who weren’t aware of the dangers!

Mervyn was a happy, healthy hound mix.  Hounds are motivated by smell; Mervyn loved rooting around the backyard.  A small flower bed containing mulch provided hours of entertainment.  Mervyn wanted to catch the tiny lizards as they buried themselves in the mulch.  One day, he even dug up the sprinkler system trying to catch one.  It didn’t seem like a big deal when he walked through the dog door with mulch on his nose. We didn’t know he actually ingested the mulch.  The next day, he didn’t want to eat as much and seemed a little tired.  He started having diarrhea and just didn’t seem like himself.  By the time he went to surgery, it was too late.  His intestinal tract was too damaged to save.  The mulch caused severe irritation to his intestines; it rubbed through in several places.  His intestinal contents had leaked into his abdomen. Mervyn was euthanized on the operating table to end his suffering.  It was truly heartbreaking to lose such a special pet over something so common. Mervyn seemed like a normal dog wanting to dig for lizards, we never thought it would end his life.

-Lynn Barzyk

Mervyn experienced a devastating complication of wood ingestion affecting the gastrointestinal tract. His intestines were severely damaged by the abrasive sticks, and the obstruction that resulted in the build up of foreign material in his intestines. Though his owners rushed him to emergency surgery, it was too late for this sweet pup.

Mervyn’s story represents just how dangerous this hobby can be for your dog. We all want the absolute best for our four legged companions, so it’s important to make sure we are aware of the risks, and how to keep their environment safe!

Final Thoughts

Stick chewing can seem like a harmless pastime for your dog, but it has proved to be extremely dangerous for so many unknowing pups. When there are an array of alternatives for our furry friends to chew, it is never worth the risk to allow your pup to chew on sticks or wood.

Make sure to keep an eye on your pup in the backyard, and stop this dangerous habit in its tracks!

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