Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Is Your Dog Eating Socks?
Dogs consume the strangest things. Veterinarians hear it quite often: "My dog just swallowed my socks! Is he going to die?"
There's ultimately nothing funny about dogs eating socks, no matter how comical things may seem: A dog who devours socks may encounter some serious and complicated medical issues (not to mention expensive veterinary bills). Especially those "sockaholic" dogs, those repeat offenders out there who have made it their favorite habit.
So why are dogs eating socks, and what could possibly happen to dogs that eat socks?
Talk About Losing Socks!
Did you know? A 3-year-old male Great Dane was found to have ingested 43 and 1/2 socks! The exploratory surgery was performed by a DoveLewis veterinarian and the patient was discharged home one day after surgery.
— Source: Veterinary Practice News
Why Is My Dog Eating Socks?
Why is my dog so interested in eating socks? It's not like socks are that flavorful and they are definitively not part of a dog's diet, so what gives? In order to understand a dog's fetish for socks, one must put himself in the paws of a dog and see things from a canine perspective.
While socks appear to be quite uninteresting items that are found laying around the home, many dogs are savvy enough to discover that, at least from the point of view of their beloved dog owners, socks seem to have some special meaning.
If Rover is the type of dog who enjoys attention and interaction with his owners, or perhaps is a tad bit bored, he may casually or, perhaps more intently, notice how holding a sock and taking off with it will immediately grab the owner's attention. Soon, a game of "keep away" takes place and oh, the game is so rewarding! At some point, as the owner gets closer and is within an arm's reach from gathering the sock, Rover decides to swallow the sock so to safely store it in his stomach.
While many dogs may swallow socks because of boredom, or as part of a game, on a more serious note, some dogs may do so as a form of resource guarding. In this case, the dog perceives the sock as a valuable item, perhaps as valuable as bones, toys and other items they are particularly eager of having. Dogs who guard socks may engage in distance-increasing behaviors (behaviors meant to discourage other dogs or people from coming near) so that they don't feel threatened about losing their "resource." Growling, keeping the head lowered towards the sock, and snapping, are just a few behaviors of dogs who guard items like socks. Swallowing the sock may be part of the display, as the culminating effect once a person or animal gets too close. However, not all dogs follow this pattern, some dogs may decide to just swallow socks straight off the bat upon finding them just to store them out of reach from others.
On the other hand, sometimes swallowing socks may be a sign that a dog is experiencing a condition that's known as pica. Pica is the propensity to eat non-consumable objects. The list may include rocks, socks, leaves, dirt and so forth. The underlying cause for this behavior may not be identified at times, but there's belief that pica may stem from a behavior disorder, or perhaps a digestive or metabolic issue or some other underlying medical condition.
And then there are dogs who eat socks just because it feels rewarding. Perhaps, they like them because they retain the smell of their owners, despite several wash cycles.
Obviously, eating socks is big no-no as cloth has no nutritional value and on top of that, socks may cause a blockage which may end with the dog on the surgical table.
My Dog Ate a Sock. What Should I Do?
Not all sock eating though ends up on the surgical table. In the best case scenario, courtesy of a process known as peristalsis, the normal digestive process would push the the sock through the stomach, then off to the dog's small intestine, then off to the large intestine and finally out. Generally, by the time the sock has made it to the end of the large intestine, it's a pretty smooth ride out.
The most problematic transit areas are the many curvy, narrow areas of the intestinal tract where the sock risks getting really stuck. This is further aggravated by the propensity for the intestine around it swell, explains veterinarian Dr. Rebecca. At this point, there is nothing that can be done other than getting the sock out through surgery.
When caught on time though, there are some options that can save dog owners from an expensive vet trip. When dog owners used to call us at the vet clinic, asking us in a frantic tone of voice: "Help, my dog swallowed a sock, what should I do?" We were trained to ask them certain pertaining details as part of our triage such as "how long ago did your dog swallow the sock?" and "what size of sock was it?
If the dog owner reported that the dog just swallowed the sock in the last hour or two, we immediately reported to our vet for detailed instructions on how they could induce vomiting at home by using the right dosage of three percent hydrogen peroxide based on the dog's weight. We told them they could try a couple of times if it didn't work the first time around and then if that still didn't work, they had to call us as we could have provided a stronger emetic or our vets could try with endoscopy if the sock wasn't too far down.
If the sock was swallowed beyond two hours, then things got a tad bit more complicated. If the dog who swallowed the sock was large, like say an adult Labrador or a great dane, we would give the owner the option to just monitor the dog. This wait-and-see protocol included a detailed list of symptoms of an intestinal blockage to watch for, along with recommendations for careful monitoring that entailed watching if the sock was vomited or made it through the dog's stool in the next couple of days.
If the dog was still happy and eating and keeping the food down, there were likely good chances that the sock was moving along without complications. If the dog was not eating, and would start vomiting though, then the owners were to see us at once as this was often indicative of trouble.
However, if the dog was small or say a puppy, and more than a couple of hours had passed from ingestion, things were more critical, considering that it would be more difficult for the sock to pass, even though some ended up at times vomiting it later on. After warning the owners of the dangers of blockages, we would recommend that they bring the dog to the vet clinic for x-rays, possibly barium series (to evaluate where the sock was and its transit) and perhaps an endoscopy depending on the results.
Endoscopy is a simple procedure where a tube is inserted down a dog's throat and the sock is grasped and retrieved. Endoscopy is a less invasive procedure than a surgical procedure where the dog is opened up; therefore, an endoscopy is a preferred option depending on which part of the gut the sock is trapped in and how much time had passed.
Disclaimer: the above paragraphs are not meant to be used as substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog swallowed a sock please consult with your vet promptly.
How to Stop Dogs From Eating Socks
Preventing a dog from swallowing socks is vital so to keep a dog from becoming ill or undergoing surgery. Owners of die-hard "sock-a-holic dogs" must be aware that too many surgeries may cause complications such as the intestines becoming more narrow each time. So what can be done for dogs who can't stop eating socks?
1. Put a Lockdown on the Socks
Stopping a dog from eating socks requires a multiple-angle approach. The most important factor is management, thus, keeping those socks out of reach. This may seem easier said than done, especially in households with small children who forget socks around the home.
Socks must be treated as if they were jars of chemicals that must be kept stored away from toddlers. Keeping them securely out of reach is therefore paramount, and this means in closed drawers in a closed room. Keeping socks out on a bed, dresser or in a laundry basket is just asking for trouble. A determined dog will do what it takes to get a hold of them.
2. Provide More Exercise and Mental Stimulation
On the other hand, it's important to make socks less appealing so that the dog isn't tempted as much,should the opportunity to grab socks arises because of poor management. Providing the dog ample of opportunities for exercise, for example, strolls, play and interactive games is important. Placing a lot of fun toys close to the dog making sure such toys are loaded with treats and rewards can help.
3. Train Your Dog to "Leave It and Drop It"
Training plays also a big role in the prevention process. Sock-eating dogs must learn a strong leave it and drop it cue, practiced routinely by rehearsing with items that the dog doesn't normally ingest. This way, should the dog manage to see a sock no matter all the effort taken in preventing this from happening, the owner can rapidly intervene by telling the dog to "leave it".
And should the dog still manage to get his mouth on the sock, hopefully the drop cue will get him to rapidly spit it out.
Teaching a Dog to "Drop" on Cue
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.
Questions & Answers
Question: Could a dog that eats socks be hungry and actually need more food?
Answer: The behavior of eating socks can stem from several underlying reasons. Dogs may be seeking attention this way, or they may be suffering from anxiety and sometimes nausea.
One possible reason may be the dog is suffering from a condition called pica, which entails eating non-food items. To answer your question directly yes, a dog who is eating socks compulsively may have a nutritional disorder at times.
The vet should assess a dogs' suffering from pica to determine whether the dog is being fed a healthy, nutritious diet given in an adequate amount.
© 2016 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 10, 2020:
Anna, it looks your your dog is looking for more mental stimulation and scavenging opportunities. Try to provide more mental stimulation (brain games) and offer food puzzles such as stuffed Kongs and Kong Wobblers. Also, see your vet to rule out any nutritional deficiencies/pica. You must really need to outsmart her to prevent access to all these things she ingests. I feel for you!
Anna on March 03, 2020:
My dog is a Rottie-Lab-Pointer mix, and is super smart... she eats socks every chance she gets. she actually goes looking for them the clothes hamper, my suitcase, she will even open the door where the clean ones are kept and eat those. She also is a trash can digger, and has figured out how to oen the the lid by stepping on the foot lever. Here she eats all paper products... she is driving me crazy, and I don't know how to get here to stop. I have turned all the trash cans backwards and this helps, but sometime she still figures it out.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 06, 2020:
So sorry to hear your dog had to undergo surgery for swallowing a small tennis. I am happy to hear though that he vomited the whole sock back up.
Management (keeping socks or other items out of the way) along with training a solid response to leave it and drop it, is a good plan.
If you ever see your dog ingest something that you are afraid he might not pass through, it may help to immediately call your vet and see if it's worthy to induce vomiting using 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. This can be done if the ingestion happened within the last two hours.
Laura Arbeloa on January 05, 2020:
I was just researching about dogs eating socks after my 1 yr and 9 months old puppy just threw up a whole sock.
He also just yesterday was chewing on my skiing buff and I can tell he ate part of it...
He is just recovering from swallowing a small tennis so I am scared he is now eating stuff that he shouldn't? This has never been a problem before but who knows now...
I really don't want him to develop this new habit but he might just be bored (after surgery recover takes a while and there is no exercise involved...)
Anyhow, I will be working on "drop" and we will see how this goes from here..
Thanks for the article!!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 14, 2019:
It sounds like your dog vomits the sock when his stomach is empty.
crystn2 on September 08, 2019:
I never catch my husky eating the sock, however I find it in a nasty yellow liquid. Do you think it's regurgitated and these are stomach acid?
fiona on January 19, 2019:
I have a 3 yr old boxer.
im pleased to hear shes not the only one that swallows socks.
we had a very expensive vet bill
she eats socks when im not there and my boyfriends back is turned for a second. he was wondering where his socks were going
Devan on December 03, 2018:
My dog has eaten a total of 8 socks within the past 6 months, he has thrown 6 of them but and passed the other 2. How do I get him to stop?? I’ve taken them away I’ve hid them I’ve even stopped letting him in the bedroom but somehow he still finds them... what do I do??
Renee on July 12, 2018:
I have a 5 month old he is part dane mastiff and pit he keeps eating socks and throwing up at night the whole sock. Why is he doing this?????????
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 26, 2018:
Rachael, I hope those socks pass uneventfully. So true, the best way to manage dogs who eat socks is by preventing access to them.
Racheal on May 22, 2018:
My lab eats socks like they are her favourite meal. Tennis balls is another thing she had a operation to remove a tennis ball and is lucky to be alive given the intestine was black when they removed it due to it cutting off circulation . It was very stressful and upsetting . So please keep socks and tennis balls or anything that can be swallowed out of the reach of dogs £7000 later and a very poorly dog she finally back to her old self only to eat a pair of socks wrapped together so dogs that are like this will never stop be careful !
Alex on March 31, 2018:
My 8 week old puppy just swallowed a sock and I don't know what I should do .?
Eric Farmer from Rockford Illinois on February 18, 2018:
A very interesting Hub. I learned some more about dogs by reading it.
Roxanne on February 16, 2018:
My granddog, Lillith, continues to eat inappropriate items. Especially her daddys socks. She had to have surgery to remove an obstruction and all stuffed toys were removed from the home. She has since been in the hospital 6 times since. 1 time for another obstruction. Thankfully she was able to pass this one. We all have purged their house of as much things with filling as possible, changed to hanging laundry baskets, given her more exercise and better chew toys. She started chewing her daddys bed. She just turned 1 in January and has spent so much time at the vets that they call her their mascot. Poor thing gets crated when her parents are gone. Hopefully this article and video instructions will help. Thank you, Lilliths grandma.
Anonymous on November 27, 2017:
My puppy has a particular liking for socks which is frustrating for me. He always passes them and rarely ever gets "sick" from it but it is still worrisome at times, I don't want him to get sick or hurt, and annoying for my feet when I don't have any more socks. He is definitely a glutton. He likes to eat really whatever. Mostly food and socks. He eats plenty of food but still feels the need to eat more. I don't even know how he gets most of the stuff he eats.
Tracy on November 19, 2017:
We have 5 10 month old puppies and my 6 year old mama dog, they are chocolate lab and pit bull mix(from mama) yellow lab and pit bull mix (daddy). They eat everything from material to aluminum soda cans.
Breanna on March 18, 2017:
My Lab eats socks obsessively. Constantly pooping them out or vomiting them out. However I never see him with a sock in his mouth. I am very worried for his health! Glad to see this isn't as uncommon as I thought.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 31, 2017:
Chad Smiley, happy to hear your dog has passed all the ingested socks, you are very fortunate!
Chad Smiley on January 27, 2017:
We have a 10 month old Giant Schnoodle that eats just about anything: socks, an entire blanket (pieces at a time) and anything left on the floor. So far we have been fortunate and he has passed most of the non-consumable items (evident by the pile of fabric in my back yard :).
Ashley on January 12, 2017:
My dog only eats my socks!she poops them out and throws them up and I was told that she can get hurt or die so I am going to try really hard not to leave them out
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 03, 2016:
Hopefully not! Luckily my dogs are also not interested, but I feel for those who deal with this problem. Having a dog eating socks is no fun!
Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on December 03, 2016:
I never had this problem with my buddy and I don't think I ever will, but who knows. It pays to be knowledgeable about any eventuality.
Very helpful hub, I must say.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 02, 2016:
Yes, it's scary, especially when dogs do this over and over and must undergo risky surgeries! At the vet, we once had a dog that ate 3 pairs of socks and a pair of boxers!
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on December 02, 2016:
When dogs eat fabrics, it can be scary! Been there, done that. One ate underwear. Thanks for sharing the insight into what this kind of behavior might mean. Cheers!