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How Do I Stop My Dog from Eating Rocks?

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Dog Care By Meg Marrs 7 min read May 23, 2021 19 Comments

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Dogs rarely hesitate to taste anything that looks vaguely interesting. Whether they are sifting for “treats” in your cat’s litter box or sampling some two-day old garbage at the bottom of the trash can, they’re always popping one thing or another in their mouth.

But while many of these things are unthinkably gross, they are generally organic in nature. They have interesting smells, tastes and textures — it makes some sense (in doggie logic, anyway) that they are interested in these things. But some dogs take this behavior to a whole new level, and start ingesting inorganic objects, like rocks.

This is obviously not a good idea, and it can be very dangerous. You don’t want your dog to eat things that will look the same coming out as they did going in – that means your dog can’t digest them. This in turn, means that if they don’t pass through your dog’s system, they’ll likely remain in his digestive tract for a long time.

As you’d imagine, this isn’t a great strategy for long-term (or even short term) health and happiness!

Why Do Some Dogs Eat Rocks?

Though relatively rare, rock-eating behaviors are well-documented, if poorly understood. Dogs who eat rocks and other non-food items are said to exhibit pica – a condition that has been documented in a variety of breeds, ages and both sexes.

Pica is similar to coprophagy, which is the practice of poop-eating. However, there is one important difference: Pica only involves the eating of inanimate objects that have no nutritional value, such as rocks, sticks, plastic or car keys. Poop (and you’ll want to back away from your breakfast at this point), occasionally contains undigested material, which does provide nutritional value. So…yay?

Both behaviors occur for somewhat similar reasons, but there are a ton of these reasons. Some of the most common include:

Your dog is suffering from some type of nutritional deficiency. In these cases, your dog is trying to obtain calcium, magnesium or some other vitamin or mineral that she is not getting in sufficient quantities. This is somewhat similar to the strange cravings many pregnant humans experience (although hopefully you don’t get a craving for rocks – you might want to call your doctor about that one).

Your pup is bored, frustrated or in need of more attention. If your dog is experiencing mental or emotional stress because she is under stimulated or deficient in vitamin snuggle, she may try to eat rocks in an effort to get more attention or as a form of acting out.

Your pooch is suffering from fear or anxiety. Fear and anxiety (which are closely related emotions) can cause animals and people alike to do strange things, including eating rocks. Rock-eating behaviors are often most common among high-strung or traumatized dogs (such as many shelter pets, who’ve had a tough life).

Your poor pup is suffering from some type of neurological disease. Diseases of the nerves and brain (which is really just a big jumble of nerves) can cause dogs to do very strange things, like chowing down on rocks. Accordingly, it is important to have your vet give your pup a proper neurological exam to rule out these types of problems.

Your pup is under-nourished. If your dog isn’t getting enough food, he may be walking around with a perpetually rumbling tummy. Some dogs struggling with this will start swallowing anything they think may help stop the discomfort.

Your pup is suffering from a thyroid problem. Your dog’s thyroid produces hormones that regulate a variety of biological processes; if the hormone levels fall out of whack, your dog may respond in a variety of ways. Thyroid problems are one of the things most vets will investigate when evaluating a dog exhibiting pica.

Your pooch is infested with intestinal parasites. Some intestinal parasites can elicit strange cravings in dogs (and other animals). Fortunately, your vet can easily rule this problem out by performing a fecal analysis. Most common parasites are relatively simple to treat, although the process may take some time.

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A Good Plan for Stopping Rock-Eating Behavior and Pica

It is often quite tricky to put an end to rock-eating behavior. There are a number of different causes for the condition, and it can take some considerable detective work (often in conjunction with your vet or a certified trainer) to find a solution.

The road ahead may be long and hard, but it’s definitely worth the effort – your dog’s very life may be at risk. You must be diligent, dedicated and devoted to have a reasonable chance of success.

Utilize a step-by-step plan like the one below to systematically find the answer to your dog’s rock-eating problem.

STEP ONE: Visit your veterinarian promptly.

First of all, it’s important to have your vet take stock of the current situation – your dog may already have rocks in her digestive tract, blocking up the flow. If left unattended this can lead to incredible unpleasantness, with potentially fatal consequences.

After ensuring that she is not full of rocks (or other things) and in immediate danger, your vet can try to determine if any medical conditions are causing the problem. Your vet will likely take a detailed history, including your dog’s diet and general behavior, and have blood samples tested.

If your vet discovers anything of note, follow his or her directions to the letter. After doing so, you can come right back here and take up where you left off (you do have K9ofMine.com bookmarked, don’t you?)

But in a best-case scenario, your dog will not have any rocks in her belly and she’ll be completely physically healthy. This means that you can move on to step two:

STEP TWO: Remove as many rocks (or other inedible but tempting) items as possible from your dog’s turf.

No matter what the cause of the behavior (we can assume it is a behavioral issue because if you are on step two, your vet either found no medical problem or has already helped you solve said medical problem), it makes good sense to eliminate the possibility of your dog ingesting any more.

So, you’ll want to start by cleaning your dog’s kennel area, if she has one, as well as any other areas she frequents. Gardens and patio-type areas are often home to lots of gravel and rocks, so do whatever you can to remove rocks from these places or at least prevent your pup from accessing these areas.

Remove the rocks; remove the problem (mostly). Then it’s time for step three.

STEP THREE: Try to determine and address the root cause of the problem.

This is a tricky step, and it may require you to consult with a certified trainer or behavioral therapist to have the best chances of determining why your dog is slurping up stones. Ask yourself:

Is your dog timid, afraid or nervous? Some dogs are just naturally more high-strung than others (everyone knows a Chihuahua or miniature pinscher that was twitchy enough to combust at any second), but others are nervous or fearful for a reason. If your dog is a member of the latter group, try to make her more secure on a day-to-day basis. Brush up on your dog calming signals to help you better asses what situations or objects are stressing her out.

Is your dog insufficiently stimulated? What does her average day look like? If it consists of minimal human interaction, little exercise and few good toys, you’ll want to correct these issues promptly. Under stimulated dogs are not happy dogs. Walk your dog regularly (or hire a dog walker), play with your pup (how about tossing a Frisbee around at the beach?), and provide your pooch with fun dog puzzle toys when you’re away.

Is your dog frustrated? Does she watch one dog after another pass in front of his world, while she sits trapped on the wrong side of the fence? Does she get enough attention from her puppy parents? Does she exhibit problematic chewing behaviors? These problems can cause dogs to start chewing and swallowing rocks or other inanimate objects.

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Have you ever cared for a dog that ate rocks or other inanimate objects? Share your story with others in the comments below! Let everyone know what types of strategies you used to stop the behavior, including what worked and what didn’t.

You never know who you may help, so don’t be shy! Let’s hear your stories.

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Written by

Meg Marrs

Meg Marrs is the Founder and Director of Marketing at K9 of Mine. She is a lifelong canine enthusiast and adores dogs of all shapes and sizes! She loves iced coffee, hammocks, and puppy-cuddling!

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19 Comments

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Louise Lonsdale

How can I stop my 11 week old puppy from picking up every pebble rock he sees?

Going nuts will a muzzle work ? He’s only got a small area to explore and go potty in The cruddy part is it’s dirt and gravel

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Ben Team

Hey, Louise.
That sounds pretty frustrating! But a muzzle may be the perfect option to stop your pup’s rock-stealing issue.
Best of luck!

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Sarah

Our sweet 5 month old Lab puppy is literally in emergency surgery right this second with a rock stuck in her tummy. We’re just heartbroken and so worried for her. She gets tons of attention, has plenty of toys and comforts to stimulate her, gets walked twice a day. She’s literally been going for rocks any chance she gets since the day we got her at 8 weeks old which has concerned us ever since. We know a couple who just had the exact same experience with their Lab, surgery and all. Our Vet just told us this is extremely common in Labs and recommended we get her a muzzle to wear just for when she goes outside, at least until she outgrows this. Praying her surgery goes well and that she will outgrow it…I hate the thought of having to muzzle her indefinitely whenever she goes outside…although I hate the thought of this, or something even worse happening again even more.

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Ben Team

Hey, Sarah.
We’re so sorry to hear about your pup and hope she comes through the encounter no worse for the wear.
Understand that a lot of dogs wear muzzles anytime they’re outside, and many of them just take it in stride — just like putting on a harness.
We’ve got our fingers crossed for you!

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Tony Crookshank

I am picking up my Brittany this afternoon after the second tramatic vet visit for ingesting rocks. She loves all rocks and eats them regularly. I was hoping someone would have found the trick to stopping this habit. I plan to try showing her rocks and then zapping her a little each time to see if she can make the connection between bad behavior and getting zapped. I also find her with bigger rocks, so I plan to zap her each time she runs around with one of these as well. I could put a muzzle on her, but I just can’t imagine she’s get the message. This is way too problematic to allow it to continue.

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Ben Team

Hey, Tony.
That is undoubtedly a frustrating (and frightening) problem to deal with. And while we certainly sympathize and understand your need to eliminate the behavior, we’d implore you to try working with a private trainer or exploring other management options before resorting to aversive techniques. For that matter, the muzzle solution would likely work, and your dog would probably get accustomed to wearing the muzzle when she goes outside in no time.
Journey Dog Training offers very affordable consultations and distance-training solutions, and K9 of Mine readers can get 10% off of their services.
We wish you the best of luck and have our fingers crossed for your pooch!

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Meg Marrs

Tony, just a reminder that using a shock collar can be quite dangerous. Your dog might associate going outside (in general) with getting shocked, or you! It’s difficult to control what your dog associates with those shocks. Instead, maybe you can try some of the tips outlined in the article – give your dog better toys to play with, ensure she is getting enough stimulation, and try providing her with good dog chews she can chew on instead of rocks. Best of luck!

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Mary L Harris

6 month old Rowdy loves to chew rocks. Often picks one too large to swallow -thank goodness! and has not shown any sign of blockage or difficulty passing poo , but we are still concerned. One of his best and most convenient play areas is covered with river gravel. Is there some thing I could spray on rocks to discourage?

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Heidi

We are having the same problem. My 2 Year Old Lab has a habit of swallowing large rocks, she only does it when a dog comes to play or shes at someone’s else house and there’s another dog. This is the 3rd incidence of rock eating (her first time she had a bowel resection) this is getting very expensive and I am so worried I’ll lose her to this ridiculous habit. She’s an indoor dog but she loves the back garden- I can’t supervise her 24/7! I was thinking a cover for her mouth or something to stop her from opening her mouth when outside? Thoughts?

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Eileen

My 6 month goldendoodle is doing the same thing. I am going to try the muzzle when she is in the backyard. I am petrified he is going to die from this. Better to have a muzzle on a dog then a sick or even worse a puppy that’s gone over the rainbow bridge. I have picked up (or so I thought) all of the rocks but he continues to find them. And get this…..I paint rocks, lots of them! Soooo, my hobby is going to the wayside for a bit because I do t even want him to see me with one. Going out to get the muzzle tomorrow. Good luck, I hated to do this but vet says he’s fine so it must be boredom or behavior. He’s very spoiled and very very loved

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Sofia

Hi guys!
We’re dealing with the exact same thing ! I just got her a muzzle and it breaks our heart because she seems sad to wear it ! But, she’ll get used to it and hopefully she’ll stay safe..it’s so frustrating to deal with this problem!

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Audra Etchberger

My dog is a chocolate Labrador and will be 2y/o on July 10, 2019. She initially was just chewing on rocks, as that is what our driveway is made of. She’s been doing it for awhile and she’s one that loves to play fetch and what not. We’re pretty good at making sure she has her balls and frisbees to play with, but occasionally we will be outside talking to friends and she will chew on or just have rocks in her mouth. If you tell her to drop them she does. I never thought in a million years she was actually ingesting them until this morning when she vomited three of them up in the house. There’s no way to get rid of them. Maybe her diet needs to be changed? I’m feeding her Purina One, which I’ve used for other dogs and haven’t had issues, but I guess every breed is different from what I have heard, and maybe it’s time to increase to amount as she is going into adulthood. Any suggestions?

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Ben Team

Hey, Audra. Sorry to hear about your rock-munching Lab! You should probably start by visiting your vet — that way, you can address any underlying medical issues (which may be prompting the behavior). Purina One isn’t a terrible food, but there are better options. After getting a green light from your vet, consider checking out some of the foods in our Best Foods for Big Dogs article.
Let us know how it goes! Best of luck!

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Breanna Bredesen

We are having the same issue with our border collie mix puppy! She’s been having diarrhea issues after rock ingestion. She seems to be passing them all, but we are eager to end the ingestion! Any help would be useful!

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shannon

100% – just got back from vet and a $750 bill from aussie puppy eating rocks. we live in vegas and there’s no getting away from rocks. was hoping to find some solution other than ‘get rid of rocks’ Ugh!!!

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Crystal

My puppy is a border collie- we only brought her home a week ago at 8 weeks old – we brought her home and she really likes to chew on rocks. We thought maybe it was just because she’s teething – but she’s actually been injesting the rocks- as she’s thrown them up once- and I’ve found some in her poo.

A 9 week old puppy – I don’t know what to do!

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Peggy

I adopted a 6 month old border collie/airedale mix. Within a month and $2500 later a rock had to be removed from her blocked intestine. There is no way to remove rocks from her environment and although she is supervised i expect it will happen again.

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Sofia

Hi, we are struggling with this right now. Our golden retriever has had two surgeries since January in which she’s had rocks removed from her belly and intestine blockage. She’s almost 5 years old and this had never happened before. I’ve read every article and blog I’ve come across (hadn’t found this one)…she lives on a large piece of land and it’s impossible to remove every single rock from her environment. We’ve decided to build her a big outdoor kennel/dog run but until that’s ready we’ve opted for a Baskerville muzzle while she is in the yard as well as being supervised and spending more time in doors napping around the house. Her feed was changed around September of 2019 (first surgery Feb 1st 2020) and I can’t help but think that this might have something to do with it. We’re desperate!

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Peggy

I adopted a 6 month old border collie/airedale mix. Within a month and $2500 later a rock had to be removed from her blocked intestine. There is no way to remove rocks from her environment and although she is supervised i expect it will happen again.

Reply

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