Oct 12, 2011 6:41 PM by Bonnie Markoff, DVM, ABVP

Why do animals chew on and eat weird stuff?

We recently had a question from Ginger on our KSBY Central Coast Experts page. Apparently her kitty, AJ Purrs (gotta love that name!) likes to chew on plastic bags.

Our pets are often found chewing on things we would like them to avoid - socks, furniture, plants, irrigation systems, expensive shoes, car seats and even their own beds! There are many reasons that this can occur. Many pet owners think it is a sign that there is something missing in the diet, and this is rarely true. Even when they get into the trash or jump up on the counter to eat the cake you just baked, they are not seeking added nutrition. In most cases, our pets are just enjoying themselves.

Trash and stuff on the counter tastes good. They eat it because it is yummy, not because they are hungry or malnourished - a lot like our need to have snacks going in during a movie or football game. The only way to stop this is to "deny access." Keep the trash inaccessible and your counters clear. By the way, this is a good weight loss strategy for people - don't bring the high quality snacks into your home and you won't be able to eat them!

Non-food items are a little trickier to manage. Dogs and cats both like the "feel" of chewing on certain items. Some animals like to chew on wood or plastic. Others really like paper and might get into toilet paper or your recently completed homework! Some like the feel of crinkly plastic like plastic bags. You can even find toys in the pet stores that have this crinkly feel. Some dogs really like softer things that reward them with lots of stuffing to pull out and spread all over the house or yard - stuffed animals, outdoor furniture cushions or your favorite couch or ottoman. Still others carry around rocks or go after small children's toys. I think that most of the pets that chew on things like this are just having fun. Others do it almost like we bite our nails - there is some sort of pleasurable mouth feel. A few will be destructive due to anxiety. Cases of anxiety are usual accompanied by house-soiling and other issues.

So what can you do about it? It is important to manage the problem for two reasons. Obviously you don't want your furniture and other personal items destroyed, but also, this behavior can be dangerous to pets' health. If an item is swallowed it can get lodged in the stomach or intestine requiring surgical removal. Food items can lead to pancreatitis or gastroenteritis. Some things an animal chews on or eats can be toxic to them. Giving kittens and puppies proper toys and not allowing them to learn about chewing on other objects is the best prevention. Be sure shoes, socks & clothing are NEVER accessible to youngsters. If you choose to use stuffed pet toys, know that your child's stuffed animals will always be seen as dog toys. For older animals, you may need to keep them in places where they cannot access things while you are gone. This may mean a crate or yard or a single room in the house - or maybe doggie day care. If you think anxiety is playing a role, you will need the help of a veterinarian with special behavioral knowledge. Dr Jennifer Evans at Animal Care Clinic has a special interest in behavior and can of great help in this area.

I hope this helps you to keep AJ Purrs out of trouble, Ginger. Thank you for your question!



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