Is your dog constantly performing an at-home dumpster dive for some less-than-appetizing snacks? Lest you think you have the weirdest dog around, fear not, for you are not alone. Eating tissues and all sorts of other non-food items is a fairly common condition called pica. Let’s look at why your dog does this and how you can curb this distasteful appetite.
4 Possible Reasons Your Dog Eats Tissues
1. It’s Just Plain Fun
If your puppy is eating tissues or anything else she can wrap her muzzle around, it’s likely that she is simply satisfying her curiosity. Just like their human counterparts, juvenile canines learn about the world through their mouths. Biting, shredding, pawing, and eating tissues is fun and comes with the bonus of teaching her new information about this place called home.
Puppies aren’t the only ones who like to party, though! Adult dogs gotta get their kicks and when bored or feeling anxious in your absence, they will find something to pass the time. Tissues and toilet paper are readily available and may even activate your dog’s ancestral hunting instinct. An expert contributor to the Canine Corner blog on Psychology Today, Stanley Coren made an interesting observation about the behavior. He said that when dogs put tissue in their mouth it feels like feathers or fur and, therefore, activates the dog’s innate urge to rip, tear, and even eat the material.
2. It Smells Like You
Let’s face it, dogs do things that are pretty gross to us humans. Digging in the trash to eat tissues that are covered with your snot is pretty high up there on the gross continuum. Why do they enjoy this stomach-turning snack? It might be because they love you. They love you so much that they literally want to eat you up.
Your bodily fluids smell like you and not just the obvious armpits after a long workout variety. The part of a dog’s brain that is dedicated to deciphering olfactory information is proportionally 40 times bigger than the comparable area in a human brain. Using a comparison we can all see clearly, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University James Walker said, “If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well.”
A dog’s sense of smell is insanely keen. They smell you in your used tissues, dirty underwear, and socks, and because of this, they often consume them in a statement of ultimate rapture.
3. The Diet is Out of Whack
It’s commonly thought that pica is connected to a gap in nutrition that the dog is attempting to fill, and the scientific community agrees. A case study published in 2017 states that this habit of eating non-food materials is often caused by a mineral deficiency.
There are a staggering number of options available when it comes to dog food, and it’s hard to know if you are making the best choice. If your dog seems to always be on the hunt for more, it could be that his diet is lacking in some key vitamins and minerals. Strange as it seems, rocks, dirt, paper products, wood, and more are sought after in search of nutrients.
4. An Underlying Medical Condition
If you’ve ruled out other causes for your dog’s abnormal eating habits, it is possible that there is an underlying medical condition contributing to the problem. Conditions like diabetes, thyroid disease, internal parasites, and hormonal imbalances are all thought to be associated with pica.
If you suspect this to be the case with your pet, your vet can help. Blood work, stool samples, and a physical exam can help rule out or diagnose a problem that could be the root cause of this behavior.
Should I Worry About My Dog Eating Tissues?
Strictly speaking, eating any non-food item is less than ideal for your pup’s health, but you don’t need to rush to the emergency vet with the ingestion of a single tissue. If she mostly plays with tissues rather than eating them outright, you probably have nothing to worry about. Volume and size are key to the concern factor here.
Tissues are thin, soft, and will pretty much disintegrate with enough liquid. In small amounts, your pup will probably just pass these pieces through her body. However, a more varied palette for non-food items is definitely cause for concern.
The problem is that without the ability to be broken down and digested, these foreign objects can cause a gastrointestinal blockage. That means a great deal of pain followed by surgery to remove the blockage. Paper products like tampons, pads, and even paper towels are big enough to really mess things up in your dog’s bowels.
If your dog is acting sick, doesn’t want to eat, vomits repeatedly, and just doesn’t seem herself, trust your gut. Get her checked out by your vet.
How to Stop My Dog from Eating Tissues
Naturally, if you aren’t completely sure what is causing a behavior, finding a solution proves tricky. However, the good news is that there are a few common-sense steps you can take to control the behavior.
1. Supervise Your Dog: Keep a close eye on your dog and prevent access to tissues or other non-food items.
2. Provide Appropriate Chew Toys: Offer a variety of safe and engaging chew toys to redirect your dog’s chewing behavior.
3. Increase Mental Stimulation: Provide interactive toys and puzzles to keep your dog mentally stimulated and less likely to seek out inappropriate items.
4. Improve the Diet: Consult with your veterinarian to ensure your dog’s diet is balanced and meets all nutritional needs.
5. Training and Positive Reinforcement: Teach your dog basic obedience commands and reward them for good behavior. This will redirect their attention and reinforce appropriate chewing habits.
6. Environmental Enrichment: Create a stimulating environment with toys, games, and activities to keep your dog engaged and satisfied.