Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
It is not uncommon for dogs to eat rocks. It is more common in puppies who, just like babies, are more oral, and therefore like to stick things in their mouths as a form of exploration. As puppies grow, they eventually grow bored of this behavior as they become more interested in other things such as pee mail, rabbit poop and tasty blades of grass to forage.
As much as it may look funny to see a dog eating rocks, problems start when rocks are swallowed whole and they are too big to pass through the dog's gastrointestinal tract, leading to complications that may turn serious.
The Indigestible Consequences
It’s never ideal for your pup to be eating rocks, especially if they are disproportionate in size to your dog. A big rock trying to pass through a tiny dog’s tummy is going to cause a lot more issues than a little rock through a big pooch’s digestive tract.
If a rock gets stuck somewhere along the dog's GI tract, they can potentially cause what's known as a dog blockage requiring often costly surgeries and potentially lengthy recovery times. Left untreated, blockages can cause the dog to stop eating, vomit repeatedly and even die.
Now, you might get lucky and your pup will either vomit up the rock or it will pass when they next take a poop. But there is a very real chance the rock may become lodged in your dog’s intestines.
This sounds scary and it certainly is not something you should avoid. If your pup hasn’t passed a rock you know they ate within a day or so, get yourself an appointment with your veterinarian. They may have to do x-rays, run exams with contrast and potentially even do surgery to ensure the safe removal of any foreign bodies inside your pup.
Hard on a Dog's Teeth
On top of the risk for intestinal blockages, you need to consider risks for your dog's teeth. Chewing on rocks and other very hard objects can wear down and even break off a dog's teeth, sometimes requiring dental surgery.
Not All Rock Eating is Created Equal
On top of this, not all rock-eating behaviors in dogs are created equal. If you find they are doing it on a repetitive basis or they express some compulsion to chew rocks, you’ll want to seek out some help from your veterinarian as it could be transitioning from idle boredom to a more complex disorder.
So a dog eating rocks is something that shouldn't be underestimated or taken lightly. The best way to deal with this issue is therefore to first find out why a dog is eating rocks in the first place.
Why Does My Dog Eat Rocks?
If you have noticed your pup snuffling around in the grass and coming away with a mouthful of rocks, rest assured, you’re not alone. Now, while we aren’t puppy mind readers, we can at least deduce some of the reasons behind these quirky behaviors by studying our pooches' body language and other behaviors to get an idea into why your puppy or dog may be engaging this activity. So let's take a closer look as to why rocks draw your dog to them like magnets.
The Puppy Inquisitive Stage
Young dogs don’t know any better when it comes to engaging in behaviors you find unsuitable for your pooch. They haven’t been around long enough to learn the ropes and understand what’s expected of them. And, if they are especially young, they are just learning about the world.
Like a baby puts everything in their mouth to learn what it is and whether it’s food or a toy, puppies will go through an “oral” stage which is much the same.
You’ll therefore notice them carrying around rocks and other small items and chewing on them to learn. Typically, dogs will grow out of this phase as they develop and find other more fascinating things to chomp on.
A Matter of Texture
Most dogs are attracted to rocks because they simply like the texture and feel of them in their mouths. These dogs enjoy the act of chewing on rocks and feeling the clicking of rocks against their teeth. Sort of like some people like to crunch on ice. Rock-eating in dogs, therefore, is a very tactile activity.
Relief From Boring Times
Dogs are active creatures by nature and breeding (after all, depending on your dog’s breed, they may have been conditioned to hunt, guard or herd), so when they don’t get a lot of mental and physical stimulation, they feel compelled to engage in behaviors you may not want.
One of those activities, of course, can be chewing rocks. Now, not all dogs will progress to swallowing them, but as explained, many dogs enjoy the feeling of the rocks grinding against their teeth and so they’ll grab a rock to chew whenever they can.
A Natural Instinct
Dogs, although domesticated, often carry out behaviors that are reminiscent of their ancestral past. Although we feed them kibble from bags and let the wear collars studded with rhinestones, dogs remain animals with strong instincts to hunt, chase and explore as part of their prey drive.
Rock chewing in particular stems from the"consummatory" phase of predatory behavior, points out Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman in the book: "The Well-Adjusted Dog, Dr. Dodman's 7 Steps to Lifelong Health and Happiness for Your Best Friend."
A Matter of Pica
If your pooch is no longer a puppy and they are sufficiently mentally and physically engaged throughout the day, but they are still chewing and eating rocks, pebbles or gravel, they may be trying to soothe one of several disorders.
One of them is a condition called Pica. This condition, which also exists in humans, by the way, drives the behavior of eating non-food items. This can range from rocks to all sorts of other items you don’t want your pup to eat (or humans for that matter).
If you suspect that this may be the case for your pup, make an appointment with your vet to break this bad habit. Your pup may be trying to supplement their iron intake by eating rocks if they have an underlining deficiency in their diet.
Other Medical Problems
Just as some dogs eat grass frantically, some dogs may try to ingest rocks to soothe stomach pain caused by a whole host of conditions from parasites to colitis to inflammatory bowel syndrome. So once again, a vet visit would be important to rule out this possibility.
Help! My Dog Just Ate a Rock; What Should I do?
If your dog just ate a rock, you may be wondering whether you should induce vomiting in your dog. Veterinarian Dr. Christian K. warns that there are dangers in doing this considering that rocks can do serious damage when being brought back up.
If your dog just ate a rock, Dr. Christian suggest feeding the dog his regular dog food mixed with canned pumpkin. The fiber in the pumpkin will provide bulk and help the stone pass through the intestines.
Signs of a dog's intestinal blockage consist of lethargy, lack of appetite, vomiting and/or abdominal pain. With a simple x-ray, the stone should show up very well on an x-ray.
The Bottom Line
Let’s do a quick recap of some of the main causes for rock-eating and some tips on how to help ensure your pup doesn’t go foraging for inanimate objects.
- If you have a very young puppy, eating and chewing on rocks is part of their development as they use their mouths to learn about the world. Typically, they grow out of this oral phase as they mature and will lose interest in eating rocks. You can also consider getting them some interestingly textured chew toys to give them another outlet for their chewing.
- Doggy boredom can lead to a great many undesirable behaviors. If your pup isn’t properly stimulated and engaged both mentally and physically throughout the day, they may be more prone to chewing rocks. Be sure you give them enough attention and make sure they have enough exercise and mental stimulation to keep them occupied.
- Your pup may be suffering from disorders such as Pica if they continuously seek out and eat rocks and other non-food items.
- You may also notice they eat rocks to soothe stomach pain. In either case, be sure to see your vet or a behavioral specialist immediately to curb the behavior and treat any underlying medical conditions.
- Keep an eye on your fur baby if you notice are eating rocks and they haven’t vomited it back up or pooped it out relatively soon after ingesting it. It may be that the rock has become stuck in their intestinal tract and needs medical assistance to remove it and ensure there is as little lasting damage to your pooch as possible.
- If you have to leave your dog unattended for long periods of time, make sure they are in an enclosed space without access to rocks or other items you’d prefer they not eat to curb that behavior.
- Go on rock- inspection duty before letting your dog free in your yard to make sure you're not leaving any accessible to your dog.
- While training your pup generally, you can teach them commands such as “drop it” or “leave it” to make sure they don’t pick up or keep unwanted items.
- Keeping your dog on a basket muzzle may be necessary if your dog swallows rocks.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2020 Adrienne Farricelli
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on September 08, 2020:
We've had a few rock chewers. But sticks seems to be of more interest. From what I observed, it was more for curiosity.
I think the rocks that are more of concern are small pea gravel. They can swallow copious amounts of them. That's why we've used river rock in our landscaping. It's tough to swallow them!
Great tips, as usual!
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 06, 2020:
Thanks for sharing this information. The facts are very important for people with a dog in the family to know.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 06, 2020:
Of all the dogs my parents had, and the ones that my husband and I have had, none of them ever ate rocks. Dogs eating rocks is a new one for me! At least with this article, you are pointing out what to look for, possible reasons, and solutions.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 06, 2020:
Hi Liz, your neighbor was lucky that the Lab liked to carry rocks rather than eat them! Labradors are one of the breeds we used to see more often at the vet's office for swallowing things.
FlourishAnyway from USA on September 05, 2020:
Omg this just taught me so much, namely how I am unqualified to own a dog! I have cats and dogs are sweet but so different. They are like children.
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on September 05, 2020:
A former neighbor of ours had a black Lab, who didn't eat rocks, but was always carrying them around!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 05, 2020:
Hi Rochelle, your friend's strategy of keeping the dog's mouth occupied with a tennis ball is a good way to prevent the dog from eating rocks.
Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on September 05, 2020:
My friend had a dog that ate rocks. They had to make sure the yard was rock free and when going for a walk they always gave him a tennis ball to hold in his mouth.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 05, 2020:
I never knew dogs ate rocks. I have had a few dogs over the years but I never knew of them eating rocks. This is a very well-written, interesting article.