By William Hageman, Tribune Newspapers
December 25, 2012
Nothing can sour a new pet-owner relationship like a shredded shoe or a chewed-up remote control. A dog's appetite for inedible objects can be exasperating and dangerous.
Animal behavior consultant Arden Moore, author of "What Dogs Want: A Visual Guide to Understanding Your Dog's Every Move" (Firefly), offers a few tips.
Who to watch out for: German shepherds, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, poodles and schnauzers are among the most common breeds to exhibit this trait, though just about any dog can become a perpetrator.
Explaining Fido's behavior: The desire to chow down on your cellphone is not because of nutritional shortfalls. It's most likely caused by behavioral or medical issues. "It does not matter if the inedible object of desire consumed by your dog is a sock, sweater, plastic bag, gravel, rubber band or other item," Moore writes. "It is a serious condition that should not be ignored or allowed to progress."
According to "What Dogs Want," diabetes, hyperthyroidism, severe inflammatory bowel disease, stomach tumors, anemia, pancreatic insufficiency and gastrointestinal conditions are the leading medical reasons dogs ingest inedible items. But the habit can lead to bigger things.
"It's not cute that they're chewing up your pillow or blanket," Moore said. "They can choke, or they can swallow and that material can get tangled in their intestines. You'll spend a scary time at the vet while your dog has surgery."
A vet may also perform diagnostic tests to rule out other diseases; X-rays or endoscopic procedures might be needed to find and identify any swallowed object.
Degree of difficulty: Easy
Tools needed: Patience, attention to housekeeping, perhaps a veterinarian. Optional: Food puzzle toys.
What to do: First, you need to "dog- and puppy-proof the house," Moore explained via phone from California. "You have to learn to be a canine interior decorator. Take away temptation. They make us be better housekeepers. You can't leave clothes and towels lying around. That's like a payday for a dog. Pick up the towel; put your clothes in a laundry basket. Don't leave items lying around on the table. You have to set the pet up for success."
When dogs have a severe oral fixation and just won't stop eating things, Moore suggests giving them items that are safe to put in their mouths.
She recommended food puzzle toys, such as Kong toys, in which a treat is embedded in a safe-to-chew toy that gives dogs a chance to work for their reward. "Keep them mentally and physically busy," Moore said, "and they're apt to get in less trouble." (For more information on these toys, visit aspca.org and type "Kong toy" in the search field.)
A dog with an obsessive-compulsive disorder may be prescribed antidepressant medication. Behavior modification training may also be an option.
If you are going out and don't trust your pet, limit their area. "Keep them in a certain room behind a doggie gate, and make sure their area has a lot of canine amenities," Moore said. When you walk Spanky, keep him on a short leash so he can't get to rocks, trash or feces. Carry a treat to divert his attention should he spot an unbearably alluring plastic coffee cup.
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