When Good Dogs Consume Bad Things

By Elizabeth Parker

When Good Dogs Consume Bad Things

An enjoyable jaunt around the neighborhood with your dog can take a decidedly unpleasant turn when your beloved pet enthusiastically buries his nose in garbage, rotten food or . . . something worse. Repulsed, you wonder, what's wrong with this animal?

The answer: probably nothing. As off-putting as this behavior is to us humans, it's normal for dogs, according to Tina Cheng, DVM of the Animal Clinic of Encino, Calif. "Dogs explore their world through their noses," she says. "They want to check everything out." That includes all kinds of garbage, waste products of other dogs or animals, rotten food and dirty water.

Why They Do It
For us, one of the most upsetting behaviors is when a dog eats its own stool. But even that, say experts, is normal and not necessarily harmful. One theory maintains that dogs do this so that predators will not find evidence that they're in the area, says Dr. Cheng. When dogs eat grass, they may simply need some fiber, she adds. Eating grass is not harmful for a dog.

Another reason why a dog would eat non-food items, such as wood or even rocks (a condition called pica), is that he may have anemia, diabetes or a digestive disorder. Talk to your vet about getting your dog tested if he or she feels it is necessary.

But even if there is no underlying illness at work, it is best to prevent your dog from eating and drinking outside of the proper diet you provide.

Keep Your Dog Safe
"Your dog could pick up parasites from another dog's feces, food poisoning from rotten food and could get very sick from drinking dirty water that has antifreeze in it," says Dr. Cheng. "Whenever you're on a walk, keep a tight grip on the leash." If you visit dog parks regularly, make sure that your dog keeps up with his vet visits. "Dog parks are like nursery schools for kids," says Cheng. Your dog will be exposed to many more parasites and could pick up more diseases.

Of course, dogs can find plenty to get into at home, too. They will drink toilet water and eat out of the kitchen garbage can. Dogs can eat all kinds of objects when they're bored, as well. "I've had dogs in this office who've swallowed gloves, socks, a bouncy ball, corn on the cob, a mango pit - you name it," says Dr. Cheng. Dogs will swallow something if they can, but if an object is too big to pass through the intestines, it can cause serious injury or death. Keep all such objects away from your dog.

Dr. Cheng suggests the following tips for keeping your pet out of trouble:

  • Provide high-quality dog food for meals and offer appropriate-sized chew toys
  • Play with your dog often, so he's not bored
  • Keep toilet seats down
  • Make sure garbage cans, indoor and outdoor, are latched shut
  • Always put your dog on a leash while taking a walk
  • Do not let your dog drink from puddles or eat any kind of garbage

Although you cannot keep an eye on your dog all the time, it is important to take these steps so that your canine's natural instincts do not get him into trouble. "It's perfectly normal for dogs to want to sniff everything, kind of like window shopping," says Dr. Cheng. "But you always need to watch what they get into and make sure they don't eat something that could make them sick."

Elizabeth Parker has written for The Boston Globe, Shape, Glamour, Viv and many other publications. She is co-author of Heeling Your Inner Dog: A Self-Whelp Book (Times Books) and currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, dog and two rabbits.

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Posted on February 19, 2010

me says: I think my dog accidentally swallowed my bouncy ball. What do I do? The bouncy ball was about 1.5 inches in diameter. Thanks

Posted on June 3, 2010

denise says: my boxer ate a mango pit, its been 24 hours he still hasnt passed the mango pit. he has had a bowel moment, & seems to be fine, but still no mango pit. will she be ok... ? she is about 70 pounds.

Posted on February 6, 2009

Susan says: my dog Hanna got into the recyling aand ate rotten food from cat food cans .well the reidue. what should i do?

Posted on March 27, 2009

a hos says: my 100 pound american bulldog threw up a wash rag which he has done a couple of times before,we try to make sure this does'nt happen, but this time he ate it again before i could grab it.will he pass it?

Posted on April 17, 2009

julie Solima says: My 6 month old 65lbs golden ate a small deflated ballon. He seems okay so for he is acting normal will he be okay.

Posted on November 19, 2008

carina says: My puppy love is 8 weeks old, we accidentally gave her too much d worming medicine? is she going to be okay

Posted on September 29, 2007

Olka says: My dog is 150 pounds (a saint bernard) he swallowed a bouncy ball a little smaller than a ping pong ball...will he be ok??

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