Why Does My Dog Eat Wood? Here’s What Professional Vets Say

As a dog owner, you will certainly know that dogs are on cloud nine every time you take them to the park. They will run as fast as they can, try to convince you to play with them and… chew on any wooden stick that they can find. If you are wondering why dogs are so fascinated by wood, you may want to read ahead.

Why does my dog eat wood? Your dog eats wood because dogs chew on wooden materials instinctively to improve gum and tooth health. Puppies chew wood also but they do so to alleviate the pain of teething.

If you think that chewing wood is a rare happening that only occurs when your dog is being bad, think twice. As expert vets have revealed in an article published on Applied Animal Behavior Science, not only do all dogs gnaw on wood, but 83% of dog owners provide their pup with a non-edible chewing material such as wooden sticks.

In this article, we discuss the reasons why dogs are naturally prone to chewing wood and the possible consequences of this conduct, as well as three easy techniques that you can use to stop this unwanted behavior.

Why Do Dogs Love Chewing Sticks? We Reveal Their Secrets

In dogs, the instinct to chew wood sticks emerges already in the first months of life of a puppy. While this is functional to promote dentition and ease the pain that is connected with this process, have you ever wondered why dogs choose specifically pieces of wood and not another hard material?

A 2021 scientific article for James Brooks and Shinya Yamamoto, from the University of Tokyo, has suggested that dogs choose to chew on wood as a substitute for animal bones. As dogs don’t live in the wild anymore, they need a material that has a similar texture and can perform the same functions: soothe pain during dentition in the puppy stage, and serve as a toy for older dogs.

In other words, wood fulfils several needs in your dog’s life. That’s because it is readily available, and it has just the right consistency to be chewed upon. Now that you know what dogs find so special in wood, it is time to investigate the behavioral reasons behind this widespread conduct. If there are any issues with having your dog taking wood pieces and chewing them up or playing with them, there are several alternatives. One such choice is that of a chewable stick from Petstages, found on Amazon. Mimicking the texture but with a BBQ flavor, you dog can enjoy it without worry of splinters. Check it out here, for more information.

Watch this video for another perspective from a dog behavioral professional, and his thoughts behind why a dog might look for his fix of sticks and tree bark.

Why Is My Dog Chewing on Wood Trim? 3 Psychological Reasons

There are mainly three reasons why your dog eats wood. Let’s explore them.

  1. A Way to Understand the World

First, gnawing wood is a behavioral remainder of the puppy phase, where the act is aimed at stimulating dentition and easing the pain in the gums.

As puppies grow, feeling the taste of materials and objects is how they approach the external world and learn from it. Because of this, the behavior remains in the adult life of your dog. In this sense, chewing wood is a natural behavior — although, as we will see, not the healthiest one.

  1. Boredom

The second reason dogs chew on wood is that they are experiencing boredom or lack of purpose. Some breeds are more prone to feel boredom if they are not assigned a task: shepherd dogs like German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois are particularly sensitive to this kind of feeling, together with other breeds that were trained as working dogs in the past.

  1. Separation Anxiety

Finally, if the target of your dog’s gnawing is the furniture of your house, the issue may arise from stress and separation anxiety. At times, your dog can push it as far as to destroy your wooden furniture, whine or bark constantly, and even urinate or defecate on your floors.

Unlike what most people believe, these behaviors are not a sign of your dog being fussy or trying to tease you. On the contrary, they are authentic symptoms of mental and emotional distress.

What Are Dogs Lacking When They Eat Wood? Their Real Needs

In normal conditions, the act of chewing wood has psychological and behavioral roots. However, there are instances in which your dog’s conduct may reveal an underlying medical issue. If you notice that your dog insistently chews and tries to ingest pieces of wood, the culprit may be pica.

In simple words, pica is a condition that affects dogs and compels them to eat items that are not edible. Golf balls, socks, and underwear are common items that draw the attention of dogs, together with wood. This constitutes a potential hazard for your dog, as fabric and wood could easily obstruct its respiratory and digestive tract, calling for emergence surgery. But what can you do if you think your dog has pica?

Dr. Kelly Black, Coordinator of the Faculty of Veterinary Technology of the Cedar Valley College in Lancaster, Texas, explains that pica cannot be diagnosed, as the condition only has behavioral rather than physiological symptoms — but the underlying medical issue can be detected through lab exams.

In most cases, pica is a consequence of a lack of one or more specific nutrients; a deficiency that your dog instinctively tries to solve by ingesting non-food items. Once your vet has identified the unfulfilled nutritional needs of your dog, all you will have to do is to adjust its diet. In a few days, the problem will be solved. In case the nutritional deficit is caused by a parasite, a pharmaceutical therapy will be the right solution.

Should I Stop My Dog from Chewing on Wood? Can It Be Toxic?

The vast majority of dog owners think that there is nothing more natural than a puppy chewing on wood. And, as we have seen, this is partially true, as our furry best friends do use their mouth to gain information on their surroundings. However, this does not imply that you should encourage this behavior.

The reasons why you should prevent or stop your dog from chewing wood are two:

  • First, this kind of behavior is bound to degenerate. If you lead your pup to believe that it is ok to gnaw on wooden sticks found in the garden, they might start to believe that chewing on pieces of your furniture is a good idea too. Dogs cannot distinguish between a random branch found at the park and your expensive walnut dining table, as the Chairman of the UK Canine and Feline Behavior, Colin Tennant, warns. To avoid unpleasant surprises, it would be best to train your dog to refrain from chewing on wood pieces.
  • Second, when a piece of wood is chewed on, it will fall apart. At that point, it is highly likely that your dog will ingest small pieces or sharp splinters. These tiny pieces could perforate the mucous membranes of the mouth or the esophagus of your beloved animal, causing acute pain and damage. If your dog ingests larger pieces of wood, stomach lining or obstructions of the digestive tract could arise, calling for an emergency surgery.

Aside from these common consequences, you should know that your dog could incur even greater risks when chewing on the wooden parts of certain specific trees, such as the black walnut tree — which is widespread in North America — or peach, cherry and red maple tree. The ingestion of the wood of such a tree will cause an intoxication, with symptoms spanning from vomiting to neurologic and musculoskeletal consequences.

The Table Below Lists Some Popular Things Items Dogs Tend to Chew On

What does your dog chew on?Percentage of total results
One of the worst things a dog owner can have to deal with is a dog chewing on them! This can worsen if not proactively prevented.29.42%
There aren’t many outlets for dogs to expel their stress, so training your dog to chew on designated toys is one of the most important things you can do for your pet.17.65%
Having your dog chewing on your shoes can be one of the hardest habits to break, and many dog owners try their best with their insubordinate companions.11.76%
It’s more common than you would expect, dogs love to chew on home furniture, and it can make things difficult if you can’t keep an eye on them all day. 23.53%
For many dog owners, it can be detrimental to a dog’s health if they form a habit of chewing sticks, wood, and other materials that splinter.17.65%
Data derived from multiple Pet & Cat-specific forums online

What if My Dog Eats Wood? 3 Safety Measures You Can Take

Even as an attentive and caring dog owner, you may experience this: You bring your dog to the park and look away for a second, only to find it chewing on a wooden stick. What should you do if you think that your pup might have ingested some wood?

Step 1: Keep Calm

As difficult as it may be, the first and best thing that you can do is to keep calm. A 2021 paper from Christine Ahrant, researcher at the University of Veterinary Medicine of Vienna, revealed that only 3.6% of dogs who had the habit of chewing wood needed a veterinary intervention at some point in their lives. Therefore, chances are your dog will be ok, especially if eating wood is not a habit but just an unfortunate occurrence.

Step 2: Assess the Damage

The second thing you want to do is to check if splinters or other small chunks of wood have caused any visible damage to the mouth of your dog. Look for any small wound or cut that may indicate that some piece of wood is stuck in your pup’s mouth.

While you’re at it, try to also assess how much wood your dog ate. You can make an estimate by trying to figure if any large chunk is missing from the piece of wood that it was chewing. If you can, it would also be useful to figure out from what species of tree the wood came, as some trees are poisonous to dogs. If you think the branch could have come from one such tree, do not hesitate to bring your dog to a doctor.

Step 3: Monitor the Symptoms

If your dog chewed on a harmless type of wood, it is likely that everything will turn out to be fine on its own. However, it is a good idea to keep monitoring your pup for the following two hours. The two hours mark is important, as during that time the wood will still be in the stomach, where it can be more easily removed should any symptom arise.

In that time span, you should immediately bring your dog to a veterinarian if:

  • It is whining in pain
  • The stomach appears bloated
  • You notice repeated vomiting
  • It refuses to eat or drink

Once again, it is fundamental to take immediate action. If a larger piece of wood reaches the intestine, the consequences for your pup could be serious: Apart from requiring surgery, it will go through a high fever and possible seizures.

How To Get Dog to Stop Eating Wood Chips: 3 Effective Ways

Considering the possible consequences, it is a great idea to train your dog not to eat wood chips. In the following section, you will find three effective methods.

Method 1: Do Not Offer Wooden Toys to Your Puppy

The first thing that you can do is avoid encouraging this behavior when your dog is still a puppy. How can you do that? It’s simple: Do not offer wooden sticks as a toy, and do not use them to play fetch.

You can pick safer alternatives from your local pet stores, such as rigid plastic frisbees. The important thing is that you choose sturdy toys that won’t lose small pieces that could be harmful for your pup. As a side note, make sure that your dog cannot find wooden pieces or sticks in the yard, thus nullifying your efforts.

Method 2: Offer an Alternative Task and More Appropriate Toys

A second method that you could use is to distract your dog from the thought of nipping on wood by offering an alternative task. As you have learnt in this article, very driven breeds of dog tend to develop this kind of disruptive behavior more commonly when they feel bored or lacking purpose.

For this reason, it is important not only to create a strict daily routine for your energetic furry friend, but also to be ready to provide a less inappropriate toy any time you notice that it is eyeing a piece of wood. In a short time, you should notice that the interest in wood chips decreases.

Having toys that are of a different type of material than wood or of similar make, can be a huge help in changing the urges your dog might have. A toy akin to the one offered by the Feeko Store, available through Amazon, might make a dramatic difference for your dog’s behavior. Its ultra-durable outer ridges are perfect for prolonged play and biting without fear of your dog tearing it apart. Take a look here for more information.

Method 3: Address Your Dog’s Emotional Needs

Third, if your dog chews on wood to release frustration or stress, it would be sensible to spend more time with him. Dogs have advanced emotional and psychological needs when compared to other domestic animals, and the feeling of loneliness and abandonment can take a toll on them, causing “bad” behaviors.

Reassuring your dog of your presence and affection, and showing extra attention, will relieve these bad feelings and act as a natural deterrent against unwanted conduct.

A Final Note: Should You Use Repellent Sprays?

Some dog trainers recommend using sprays that have a bad taste for dogs to keep them off your furniture. While this may work as an emergency measure, it is always best to train your dog with positive reinforcement rather than “punishment”. That means that you should encourage the correct behavior with proper training and treats, rather than discourage bad behaviors by using the fast track.

If you use sprays, in fact, your dog may learn that your furniture is off-limits, but there will be nothing to stop it from any other piece of wood that it will find outside your home!

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