The Most Common Non-Food Things Your Dog May Eat, but Shouldn't

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

dogs eating foreign objects

Story at-a-glance -

  • The ingestion of foreign objects is one of the most common claims made to pet insurance companies
  • If your pet is lucky, and the object is small enough, it may be vomited up or passed without causing any trouble, but it can also lead to intestinal blockage, which is life-threatening
  • Non-food items that have been consumed by dogs include rocks, socks, razor blades, sticks, hair ties, underwear and batteries
  • While puppies naturally explore their environment by chewing, some dogs never outgrow the desire to eat strange items and may suffer from pica, a compulsive behavior
  • Proper species-appropriate nutrition, exercise, mental stimulation, pet-proofing your home and close supervision can discourage your dog from eating dangerous objects

Dogs can get into trouble where seemingly none exists, and this includes via the ingestion of foreign objects, one of the most common claims made to pet insurance companies.1 A foreign object includes basically anything that’s not food, and as you might imagine, such items can cause significant health problems in your pet.

If your pet is lucky, and the object is small enough, it may be vomited up or passed without causing any trouble. Still, even small objects can be dangerous, as they may cause choking (especially something that's just small enough to fit in the back of your pet’s throat) or, in the case of button cell batteries, burns and perforation of the intestines that’s life threatening.

Signs Your Dog May Have Ingested a Foreign Object

The greatest danger to pets from swallowing something other than food is that it could lead to an intestinal blockage that, in turn, may interfere with digestion or even cause the intestine to burst, leading to sepsis, a bacterial infection.

If you see your dog gobble up something he shouldn’t, you’ll be gaining insight that many pet owners don’t get, as dogs can be sneaky in their desires to ingest non-edible objects. In many cases, though, you won’t actually witness the ingestion, so keep an eye out for these symptoms of an intestinal blockage (especially if you know your dog is an indiscriminate eater):

  • Vomiting and diarrhea that can lead to dehydration
  • Refusal to eat (anorexia) and/or severe weight loss
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Swelling or discomfort of the abdomen
  • Fever

If you suspect your pet ate something he shouldn’t, it's important to see your veterinarian right away, but if you suspect intestinal blockage, get to your closest emergency animal hospital immediately. An endoscopy, a procedure in which a scope with a camera is fed down the esophagus, is often used to find the source of the blockage and may also be used to remove it. In the case of a large obstruction, however, surgery may be required.

Top Objects Your Dog May Eat

You’ll likely be surprised at the variety of objects dogs are capable of ingesting. Items ranging from billiard balls and dentures to tubes of glue, socks and nails have been found inside pets,2 so don’t think that because an object is large, sharp and/or unpalatable that it won’t be tempting to your curious dog. Examples of items your dog may eat include:3,4

Sticks

Hair ties

Bones

Corn cobs

Dog toys

Balls

Rocks

Panty hose

Underwear

Socks

Paper

Needles

Razor blades

Small toys (i.e., rubber duckies)

Popsicle sticks

Food wrappers

If you think these sound weird, Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI) receives more than 6,500 foreign object ingestion claims a year, with policyholders spending more than $5 million in treatment. Some of the most unusual foreign objects “snacked on” by pets include this laundry list:5

About 100 rocks

Foot-long metal hanger

130 fish oil capsules

14 hair bands

15 vanilla votive candles

Two baby bottle nipples

Two plastic baggies and a bottle cap

Three sewing needles

5 pounds of trash and a scrub brush

62 vitamin D soft gels

5-inch skewer

Battery

Cellphone case

Cork

Dirty diaper

Fish hook and line

Lobster shell

Makeup sponge

Marijuana cookie

Package of fluorescent light bulbs

Pillowcase

Dead porcupine

Burrito wrapped in foil

Wires

Tent stake

Wedding ring

Aluminum can

Rosebush

Head of stuffed animal, long leather lace and multiple hard plastic pieces

Adhesive bandages

Box of razor blades

Cholla cactus

Chopsticks

Cinnamon-scented pine cone

Clothing and rat poison

Deer antlers

Dental floss

An entire tube of doggie toothpaste

Artificial finger nails

Glass ornament

Golf ball skin

Glue

G.I. Joe

Hot chili peppers

Human feces

Jellyfish

Mothballs

Dental retainer

Pennies and thumb tacks

Pepper spray

Poison ivy

Ribbons and wrapping paper

Hemorrhoid suppositories

Soap

Rat (swallowed whole)

The corner of a bed

Two plastic eyeballs and a bunch of broccoli stems

Cassette tape

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Why Is Your Dog Eating Strange Things?

If your dog is a puppy, it’s natural for him to explore the world using his mouth, and he’s much more likely to consume nonfood objects than an older dog. During the puppy stage, it’s important to pet-proof your home, keeping small objects out of your dog’s reach. If you’ll be away and unable to supervise your pup for an hour or two, keep him in his crate until he has your undivided attention.

Some dogs never really outgrow the desire to eat strange things, however. If you have one of these dogs, you’ll need to be especially diligent about removing temptations and keeping a close watch on your pet. He may even suffer from pica, a compulsive behavior that causes him to ingest strange nonfood items. This can lead to disruptions in the bacterial balance in your pet’s gut, so probiotic supplements may be useful.

Regular, vigorous exercise and outlets for mental stimulation will also be helpful in giving your pet something to do other than wander around your home looking for items to taste. You may find treat-releasing puzzle toys or even toys stuffed with canned pumpkin to be useful in keeping your pet occupied. Enroll in a nose work class; smart dogs need a job and attending a class and developing a hobby together is one of the best ways to keep your pup’s mind healthfully engaged.

Also, consider whether your dog could be missing out on something nutritionally. Sometimes dogs will turn to scavenging, eating dirt, rocks or feces, for example, because they’re in search of a missing nutrient, or trying to balance their microbiome. A species-appropriate diet made of wholesome fresh foods that you know meet minimum nutritional requirements is best for your pet and may help to reduce his urge to consume foreign objects.

Animals that consume entirely processed pet food their entire lives and don’t have access to fresh foods and healthy soil can end up with a diagnosis of pica when really there’s a digestion, absorption, nutrition or microbiome problem the dog is desperately trying to fix by eating inappropriate things.