We know that most dogs eat weird stuff at some point in their lives.
They get into the trash when you’re not looking, steal a bunch of potatoes out of the cupboard (which you could’ve sworn you closed before you left the house!) or – occasionally – go right ahead and eat toilet paper. It’s got us thinking – why do dogs eat toilet paper? We took a closer look at this odd behavior to see if we can get to the bottom of it.
Pica, as defined by the Farlex Free Dictionary, is “the persistent craving and compulsive eating of nonfood substances.”
It’s an eating disorder that’s also seen in humans, and people suffering from the same disorder can crave any number of substances including dirt or ice – yes, it’s sometimes seen in pregnant women, too, and many readers might have heard of cases where women had exceptionally odd cravings during pregnancy. Pica is also latin for magpie, a bird that, well, eats pretty much anything.
What causes pica? According to the NY Times, pica is seen more often in children than adults, and causes could range from anemia, zinc deficiency or behavioral reasons, like obsessive compulsive disorder.
Today we are exploring the specific problem of toilet paper chomping, but many of these causes explored below can apply to other pica problems as well.
Behavioral chewing is often seen in puppies and small dogs. This is part of the natural teething process, and toilet paper seems like an obvious option for puppies because, well, it’s soft and squishy and fun to tear and bite. Toilet paper also likely relieves the itchy, uncomfortable feeling that accompanies teething.
If your puppy is opting to reach for the toilet paper when they’re teething, replace it with something that’s acceptable to chew on instead before it becomes a nasty habit. Check out our list of recommended puppy teething toys – many can even be frozen to help soothe and num your pup’s irritated chompers.
Some dogs, especially those who will go straight for the stash of toilet paper rolls when you leave them at home for a day, are engaging in this behavior to relieve stress or boredom.
If your dog is showing other signs of stress, too, like a decline in playfulness or fixating on certain behaviors – such as toilet paper eating – you may want to consider if any new or strange household activity could be stressing out your pooch. If you’re stumped, you may need to visit the vet for help diagnosing your pooch’s stress source.
You can alleviate your dog’s boredom by making sure they have enough things to keep them busy – we suggest trying dog puzzle toys that dispense tasty treats as your pooch completes certain challenges. Many owners also have great success with stuffing Kongs with peanut butter or wet dog food, and then freezing the toy overnight. The result is a tasty pupsicle your dog will be licking at all day long!
Also consider whether or not your dog is getting enough walks in. Increasing exercise is the number one solution for reducing a dog’s destructive behavior. Try longer walks, more aerobic activity (how about getting some good frisbee fetch sessions in?), or hiring a walker to come in the middle of the day for an additional trip outside.
This article on Vetary notes that your dog might be eating (not just tearing) items like tissues due to simple hunger or malnutrition (this can be the cause for poop-eating as well).
No, this doesn’t by default make you a horrible dog owner; you just have to get to the root cause of the problem. According to PetMD, some reasons for this could be:
Yes, some dogs will just like chewing on toilet paper or tissues because it’s a fun thing to do. The best thing you can do in this case is to discourage the behavior by replacing it with something they like to chew on that won’t give you a miniature heart attack every time you get back home.
Opt for exchanging that terrible toilet paper with a healthy and tasty chew – we’ve got a few suggestions of top dog chews here. As mentioned earlier, treat-dispensing dog toys are another option (and will likely be much more appealing to your pup than silly toilet paper).
Pica presents potential danger if it continues: Dogs (and humans, quite obviously) aren’t supposed to be ingesting things like paper, and their bodies can’t process it naturally.
If you don’t address your pup’s toilet paper obsession, you run the risk of your dog’s intestines becoming “blocked up” by foreign objects, which is going to take a very expensive trip to the vet, surgery and more trauma than either you, your dog or your vet will want to deal with to fix.
According to PetMD, eating toiler paper could cause other problems in your dog like lethargy or digestive issues, too.
Have you dealt with pica in your dog, or heard of any odd human cravings you could share with us?
Alex J. Coyne is a freelance journalist with eight years' experience writing for publications like People Magazine, Re:Fiction, Great Bridge Links and NB Publishers. Sometimes, his three dogs take him for walks around the neighborhood; they offer helpful feedback on his work and offer little to no comment on his singing.