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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Expert Advice March 2017 Issue

Dear Doctor - Grinding away with her teeth

Q My 18-month-old Catahoula/terrier mix seems to have a need to grind away at hard things with her teeth. I know she swallows small pieces of hard plastic (my solar lights), cement (yard ornaments), terra cotta flower pots — the list goes on. She doesn’t seem to be frustrated with her life. She gets two good walks per day, frequent visits to the dog park, and lots of time to run in our fenced-in yard. I supply her with many chew toys, but it’s the hard stuff she wants. This is a sweet, cooperative dog. Could this be some kind of vitamin deficiency?

Ruth Swartz
Gainesville, Florida

Dear Ms. Swartz,

A Tufts veterinary nutritionist Cailin Heinze, VMD, DACVM, says that a nutritional deficiency would not lead your dog to chew on hard surfaces, so you can rule that out. That said, you might want to check out the possibility that she has pica. Pica, or the craving of non-food items, does not have to be about a nutrient deficiency. It could be a sign of a gastrointestinal issue that needs clearing up (although admittedly, pica usually refers to craving a single non-food item, not, for instance, hard-surfaced items in general). Another possibility is that by chewing on hard things, your pet is trying to relieve tooth pain, although often, a dog with pain in her mouth will not want to chew at all.

Going in another direction, it is entirely possible that the issue is not medical but, rather, behavioral. Does the chewing happen only when you are present? If so, says Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic head Stephanie Borns Weil, DVM, your pet could be seeking attention. If it happens whether or not you are present, your dog may simply need more stimulation, she posits.

You say you are giving her two good walks a day, plus time in the park and free time in the backyard. For some dogs, that’s more than enough. But for a young, working mixed breed like yours, Dr. Borns-Weil says, it may be under par to relieve her need to release energy as well as use her mind and her senses. Perhaps an agility class or Rally-O would keep her satisfied on top of all the outdoor time you give her.

Finally, chewing on hard surfaces could be compulsive behavior that might need some anti-anxiety medication to keep it in check, along with behavioral modification via counter-conditioning, that is, giving her something to do that’s incompatible with chewing.

Knowing your dog well, as you no doubt do, you might have a hunch about which avenue of inquiry to pursue with your veterinarian. But since your dog is chewing super-hard surfaces like cement and terra cotta flower pots, it’s definitely something you should discuss with the doctor. At the very least, you want to keep your young pet from chipping any teeth — or swallowing something that wouldn’t get digested easily and could lodge in her throat or other part of her GI tract and potentially cause an obstruction. 

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