If you have a new puppy in your home, you’ll probably have noticed him eating sticks. Why does he do this? Could eating sticks harm him? What can you do if you want him to stop? Here’s what you’ll need to know about puppies eating sticks, including how to respond.
So, why does my puppy eat sticks? Puppies tend to chew on and eat sticks either because they enjoy the taste, they’re feeling hungry, or they’re anxious or bored. Some puppies suffer from pica (the compulsion to eat anything, edible or not). Either way, it’s essential to stop this behavior because chewing sticks can be very dangerous for puppies.
We’ve all seen those pictures, or seen dogs at the park carrying sticks.
They just seem to have a fascination with them.
They are similar in shape and size to bones, after all.
And with a softer, spongey texture it is no real surprise that puppies and older dogs gravitate toward them.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. Nor something you should allow or even promote.
And while your dog is still a young pup, you’ll never get a better chance than to teach them otherwise.
But before we get into how to do that, let us now explore the reasons behind the behavior in further detail.
It does make sense to understand it, first and foremost.
And it also helps us to tailor the right and appropriate response, to correct it.
So keep reading!
There could be a sign of something more serious going on than you first thought!
Reasons Why Puppies Eat Sticks
There are several reasons why puppies eat sticks.
Puppies Like The Taste Of Sticks
Some puppies love the taste of bark, even though it has no nutritional value.
They can also appreciate the ‘mouth feel’ of sticks, and many dogs enjoy carrying sticks back from their walks.
Puppies Use Sticks For Teething
During their teething phase, puppies will often seek out hard things to chew on. Sticks can help ease the pain in their gums as their adult teeth come in.
Teething usually begins at around 3 weeks and continues until they’re about 6 weeks old.
Sticks Fill Them Up
Tree bark contains fiber and will therefore help your puppy feel full.
It could be that your puppy is hungry or needs more fiber in his diet. Some types of dog food have added fiber to promote good digestion and colon health.
Some Puppies Get Anxious Or Bored
You may see your puppy engaging in repetitive behavior such as chewing sticks, licking or biting himself, or something else.
Repetitive behavior could be a sign of anxiety or boredom, especially if your puppy spends long hours alone.
Puppies need lots of attention, especially when they’re small, so it’s easy for a new puppy to feel lonely.
Chewing on sticks is one way he might seek to ease the stress he’s feeling from separation anxiety or loneliness.
Some Puppies Suffer From Pica
Pica is a condition that affects some puppies, giving them the unfortunate urge to eat anything they can find.
If left untreated, pica can lead to severe health complications.
There are many causes of pica, both emotional and medical, including:
- Lack of stimulation (not enough exercise or socialization)
- Nutritional deficiencies (including iron deficiency)
- Intestinal parasites
If you suspect pica is present in your puppy, get him to the vet right away. Some symptoms to look for – in addition to chewing sticks – include:
- Loose stools or diarrhea
- Chronic bad breath
Is It Safe For Puppies To Eat Sticks?
Although puppies enjoy eating sticks, it isn’t safe for them to do so. While a stick may not always cause harm, there is a risk they ingest something toxic, a piece splinters and damages your puppy’s teeth, stomach, or digestive system, or there is the potential for choking.
Some Sticks Are Toxic
Several trees are toxic to dogs, and your puppy won’t distinguish between them: for him, a stick is a stick.
Trees that are toxic to dogs include:
- Red Maple
- Black Walnut
- Australian Pine
Sticks Can Cause Digestive Problems
Even sticks from nontoxic trees can cause:
- Intestinal blockages
- Torn lining of the stomach
- Damage to teeth and gums
- Blocked esophagus
An intestinal blockage could lead to the following:
- Excessive drooling
- Dark stools or strained bowel movements
- Abdominal contractions
Should I Stop My Puppy Chewing Sticks?
Given the range of hazards that sticks present, it’s essential to get your puppy to stop chewing them altogether.
There are several techniques for doing this.
Redirect Your Puppy’s Attention
Get your puppy to focus on something else to distract him from the urge to chew.
Offer him a rewarding alternative, such as:
- Chew toys
- Interactive dog toys
- A Kong toy
Some toys can be filled with tasty doggie treats or peanut butter.
Your puppy will enjoy investigating, and he’ll get much more of a reward with an edible treat than with a bit of tree bark!
- Medium Puppies (Up to 35 lbs): This KONG Puppy toy is 2.25" by 3.5"; made of a soft rubber formula for a growing puppy's baby teeth and gums - WHEN YOUR PUPPY TURN 9 MONTHS, SWITCH TO KONG CLASSIC OR KONG EXTREME
- Fetch and Chew Toy: The KONG Puppy's bounce makes for games of fetch & is an ideal chew toy for the puppy's teeth and gums
- Stuffing: The stuffable KONG Puppy is more enticing when filled with KONG Puppy Easy Treat and KONG Snacks. For an added challenge, freeze stuffed KONG for 4-6 hours before giving to your dog. (Dishwasher safe for easy clean up)
- Vet Recommended: Veterinarians and trainers worldwide recommend the KONG Puppy as one of the best durable puppy toys available
- Made in the USA. Globally Sourced Materials
Redirect Your Puppy’s Attention
Supervise your puppy when he’s outside. Try making a noise he doesn’t like when you notice him approaching a tree or stick to munch on.
Shaking a can filled with coins or pebbles is an excellent way of redirecting your puppy’s attention without scolding him.
Leave a few dog toys out in your yard so that your puppy always has good options to chew on. Pick up and remove any excess sticks you may find lying around – best to remove temptation!
You can try spreading a small amount of something nontoxic onto the trees or sticks to discourage your puppy from wanting to chew. Try things like:
- Bitter apple spray
- Hot sauce
- Cayenne pepper
- Tabasco sauce
Deterrents work even better if you have given your puppy a suitable alternative to chew on (see above).
Train Your Puppy
In addition to providing your puppy with plenty of exercise and socialization, you can teach him the ‘leave it’ command.
This command is a potentially life-saving one, and it works best if you’ve already taught your puppy to wait for his food.
If you still find your puppy chewing on sticks or trees after training, consider seeking help from a professional behaviorist.
Do remember, though, to always use positive reinforcement when training your puppy. Praise is more effective than punishment.
How Do I Get My Puppy To Stop Eating Sticks?
If you want to get your puppy to stop eating sticks, consider the reasons why he’s doing it, and act accordingly.
If Your Puppy Needs Fiber Or Is Hungry
If your puppy is craving fiber or additional food, check with your vet to see that he’s getting the nutrition he needs from his current diet. You could also add in a bit more food for him each day or provide dog food that has fiber added.
If Your Puppy Is Teething
If your puppy is looking for things to chew on during his teething phase, there are teething toys that you can buy.
Alternatively, here’s what you can do at home:
- Offer a mini frozen bagel (plain): as your puppy chews, the softening bread may ease out baby teeth. You can also try frozen pieces of banana or strawberries, though this is messier!
- Twist a towel or rag into a rope shape and freeze it. The frozen towel will encourage good chewing behavior and soothe the gums.
- Offer a cold carrot (no more than once per day as they’re high in fiber).
If Your Puppy Is Anxious Or Bored
If you suspect your puppy is feeling lonely, anxious, or bored, there are simple ways to remedy this:
- Try giving him more daily exercise so that he can burn off some of his puppy energy.
- Spend more quality time with him – he craves your attention and needs your love and cuddles.
- Play games with your puppy that stimulate his mind and body.
- Try puzzle toys or Kong feeding balls that allow your puppy to exercise his developing intellect.
- Be sure you’re training him to enjoy his puppy crate as a safe space to rest to help him appreciate his downtime.
- Start socializing him to get him used to other people and animals to increase his levels of confidence (going at his pace).
By lowering his stress levels, your puppy should naturally have less of an impulse to chew.
If Your Puppy Has Pica
If your puppy has pica, you’ve likely learned this from your vet.
If The Cause Is Psychological
Increasing physical and mental stimulation will help reduce stress and boredom. There are also some herbal remedies to help puppies with anxiety.
If you are out during the day, consider investing in doggy daycare for your puppy. Puppies need lots of attention when they’re small!
A professional animal behaviorist can help you, too, if you find the above suggestions are not enough for your pup.
If The Cause Is Physical
The vet will be able to prescribe the appropriate medication or nutrition, depending on the medical condition.
Sometimes a dietary change is all that’s needed. Your vet may test for vitamin or nutrient deficiencies to then suggest the most effective nutritional strategy.
What to Do If Your Puppy Eats A Stick
If your puppy has eaten a stick, chances are he may be fine. If he has only eaten a small amount, try feeding him a bit of food. The food will help cushion what he’s eaten and protect his stomach.
Technically, your puppy’s stomach acid is strong enough to eat through a piece of wood. But it’s best not to take any unnecessary risks and assume that everything will be fine.
Watch him carefully. If you notice any of the symptoms outlined above, or if your puppy has eaten anything sharp or a large amount of wood, take your puppy to the vet immediately.
Any signs of an upset stomach could mean trouble, and your vet will be able to get to the source of the problem quickly.
If you choose to wait and see if the wood comes out, it will generally take 24 to 48 hours to go through his system. Keep monitoring his feces to check he’s expelled all of it.
Dogs love sticks. And this all starts from the time that they are young puppies.
And while retrieving and carrying a stick is one thing, actively consuming them is something altogether.
It is not something you really want to allow.
So do look to implement the strategies outlined here today. That should help limit and eradicate this behavior.
And remember, the faster you act the better.
You don’t want this to become an ingrained and learned behavior.
That is a much more challenging one to overcome.
Have other questions about your puppy’s eating? Well, my following guides may be of help:
- Why Does My Puppy Eat Mud?
- Why Does My Puppy Eat Cat Poop?
- Why Does My Puppy Eat Stones?
- Why Does My Puppy Eat Leaves?
- Why Does My Puppy Not Eat In The Morning?
- Why Does My Puppy Always Seem Hungry?
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.