When a Dog Eats Non-Food Items, Like Metal, Rocks or Wood

basset hound eats wood rocks metal

My own basset hound died after eating wood.

Recently a basset hound puppy in Colorado was found to have eaten more than two dozen nails, along with her rabies tag and some pieces of vinyl. Why does this dog eat metal objects? Is there anything a basset hound won’t eat?

I had a similar experience with my own basset hound several years ago. Hobbs would eat anything he could get his teeth on… rocks, sticks, wood. You name it, he had it in his mouth and was chewing on it.

The basset hound puppy in Colorado was lucky; the vet removed the rusty nails and other metal (after doing a few X-rays to confirm their presence).

In 2009 another basset hound, this time in Florida, consumed at least 130 nails! The metal objects were removed from the dog’s stomach, and the hound survived with none of the objects puncturing an organ.

My own basset hound wasn’t so lucky. He gnawed on a huge hunk of wood that necessitated surgery to remove the object from his intestines; then the surgical site got infected and Hobbs had to be euthanized. I was devastated.

So these stories of dogs swallowing weird objects are odd and might seem trivial; but they’re a big deal, a serious health concern.

But back to the question: Why do basset hounds eat anything they can? (Including poop if they can get to it, and non-food items like rocks and nails.) What causes this odd behavior? And even more important, can you train your dog to stop eating weird stuff?

It’s Called Pica, and There’s No Real Cure

KONG Classic can keep your dog preoccupied with chewing something besides wood or metal. Learn more here.

The term used to describe dogs that eat non-food items like rocks and metal or wood is pica.

Of course, bassets aren’t the only dogs affected by this. Pica is not an abnormality of the digestive system — it’s actually a psychological abnormality. So it’s not caused by a shortage of vitamins or nutrients in the diet. It’s a habit, more akin to a canine obsessive-compulsive disorder.

How to cure pica in dogs? There’s no real cure, unfortunately:

  • Provide plenty of suitable chew toys (KONG dog toys are perfect).
  • In serious cases, a dog muzzle may be necessary. Do not use a muzzle if your dog is by itself.
  • Speak with your veterinarian for more ways to control this strange behavior.

book-cover-smallest1Does your dog have pica? Tell us about it in the comments below. If you enjoyed this article, you’ll love Pets Adviser’s email newsletter. It’s free to sign up, and you’ll be among the first to get alerts about major pet food recalls. New subscribers also get instant access to our 40-page ebook — which has “secrets every cat and dog lover should know.” Learn more here.

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From Around the Web

  • Yubely

    I have a year-old westie who has a taste for coins. She ingested 35 cents last June, and just today got out of surgery again for a quarter. She doesn’t chew on anything else, no leather, no wood… just metal. The way we are controlling it now is restricting her hanging-out areas when she’s alone in the house so she stops taking our money.

  • http://www.petsadviser.com/author/david-deleon-baker/ David Deleon Baker

    Yikes! Keep that dog away from under the couch cushions. Seriously though, she does have an appetite for eating metal, which of course isn’t healthy or safe. And the 25 cents you recovered from her tummy hardly covers the cost of surgery. So definitely keep a close eye on her.

    Anyone else have any tips on controlling this behavior? We’d love to hear from more readers about this problem.

  • Chloe

    My dog is Jake. He is a labrador mix. My mom was in Jamaica and I was at my dads. We found Jake dead in the shop. Why? He was chewing on nails. Swallowed them and then eventaully died from cutting his internal organs or something. We knew that becasue my step dad found a plastic box of nails chewed open and little drops of blood. I cryed for about an hour.
    *That is my story*

    • http://www.petsadviser.com/ Pets Adviser

      Chloe, so sorry to hear about Jake – that’s really sad.

  • Chris+Amanda

    We have a little Pekingese ShihTzu and she is obsessed with eating and chewing on meatal objects, my girlfriend never looses hair pins because this dog finds them everywhere…we know exactly what shes doing if shes not at our feet and hiding in the corner…screws, tacks, bobbypins even a little metal gear out of god knows what is fair game around this dog, we just pulled it out of her mouth 5mins ago just before I looked it up online to figure out why she is doing this and if it was common with dogs…obviously were not the only ones…

    • http://www.petsadviser.com/ Pets Adviser

      Yikes. Well, definitely keep your eye on this metal-eating pup. You need to think of this as a matter of life and death, and stay vigilant, even if it means crating her while you’re not around.

  • Leslie

    Our 14 week old Rhodesian Ridgeback has an obsession with rocks – pebbles and large rocks in our yard – and our yard is full of them. We are constantly on her and pulling them out of her mouth. She goes after metal objects too. She gets plenty of exercise and we crate her quite a bit. We are hoping this will stop as she grows and if we stay on top of it. Is there hope she will grow out of it? How can we ever turn her loose to play in the yard on her own with this habit?
    Leslie

    • http://www.petsadviser.com/ Pets Adviser

      Leslie, your puppy has probably found that the rocks soothe her gums and teeth. Once this teething stage is over, you’ll probably find that she has grown out of this nasty habit.

      Be sure to provide several appropriate toys that are good for large puppies that are teething. This Nylabone chew toy for teething puppies looks like a good bet; it should satisfy her urge to chew.

      Lavish her with praise when she chews on the toy; gently correct her when she picks up rocks. Over time this will teach her the boundaries.

      Best of luck.

  • watchful granimal

    Daughter’s bo terrier 4 months old just got back from vet where he was lucky enough to vomit approximately 20 assorted coins. He has tiny little teeth and doesn’t weigh 9 pounds. I am watching him closely for her, and he goes to any metal….perhaps it is the coldness, I don’t know. I have seen him eyeing and tasting a rock outside, so I am not sure what we will do! Could it be a vitamin deficiency?

  • Kristen

    Why does my chihuahua like eating plastic? Items such as a tooth brush, pens, and hair clips are irresistible to her. She has had quite a few medical problems (pancreatitis, kidney and liver issues do to high liver enzymes, and pyometra) and I’m wondering if there is something missing in her diet that causes her to go in the hunt for hard plastic items. She was on a prescription dog food diet call Id which was a low protein diet. I have taken her off of it well over 6 months ago and switch her to Blue Buffalo Basics Limited Ingredient diet but she is still eating plastic. I am afraid to give her any chew bone because of her health issues and don’t not want to get her plastic toy for fear that she will only eat these and not her food. She does have soft non-plastic toys and I do take her on walk and give her plenty of attention. I also have another dog that she plays with as well so I do not think this is a boredom thing.