Is your dog eating socks? Let’s face it: dogs eat the oddest things and it’s therefore no longer surprising hearing about dogs eating socks. Veterinarians are much familiar with phone calls from distressed dog owners claiming with a sense of urgency: “My dog ate a sock, what should I do? ” The problem with dogs eating socks goes beyond owners looking for socks gone missing; rather, a dog eating socks may encounter some serious health problems which can easily amount to some hefty veterinary bills, especially when dogs are repeat offenders and have turned eating socks into their favorite hobby. So what’s up with dogs who swallow socks?
Dogs Stealing Socks for Play
Socks are pretty much boring items that lay around the home, but dogs are smart enough to learn that, at least from their owner’s perspective, they must have a strong meaning.
If Rover is bored and has a strong desire for some attention or play, all he has to do is grab a sock and take off with it. At that point, the owner who, was moments prior acting boring, “activates” himself and starts looking at him, talking to him and perhaps even chasing him in his favorite game of “keep away.”
Then as the owner is very close, Rover figures out that perhaps the safest place to keep the sock safe is stored inside his belly. Going, going and gone! Gulp! And off to the vet Rover goes when he develops a painful belly.
Tip: dog owners should avoid playing “keep away” games with their dogs as this only reinforces the behavior of taking off with prohibited objects. Dogs should instead be trained to voluntarily swap objects with their owners using a“trading-game“. Dog owners should consult with a trainer to learn how to master this exercise so that their dogs are more likely to relinquish objects in exchange for something else rather than taking off with them.
Dogs Guarding Socks
On a more serious note, some dogs ingest the sock because of a tendency to act protective of items they perceive as valuable. Items perceived as valuable include toys, bones, food and even socks may be added to the repertoire of items to be protected.
Dogs who resource guard tend to manifest signs of increasing stress as a person or dog comes closer to their items. So in the case of a sock, these dogs may stiffen, lower their head towards the sock, growl and even threaten to bite if they feel threatened enough.
If a dog perceives socks as valuable, he may even ingest them so that no other dog or person can gain access to them. Typically, these dogs ingest them the moment they notice a person or other dog has interest in them, or they might just ingest them as they find them scattered around just to keep the sock out of reach from others.
Tip: Keep socks out of reach and implement behavior modification with the help of a professional. Look for a behavior professional who can guide you on teaching your dog to swap objects with you and who uses desensitization and counterconditioning and other force-free techniques for tackling resource guarding behaviors.
Dog Eating Socks due to Pica
Dogs who eat socks may also be suffering from a condition that is known as pica. Pica is the the tendency to eat non-edible objects such as rocks, socks and other items. The underlying cause of pica may not be fully understood, but there may be chances that affected dogs may be suffering from a behavior disorder (triggered by boredom/anxiety) or some digestive problem, metabolic disorder or other underlying medical condition.
Pica may therefore be used loosely to depict the eating of non-edible items which can be due to a variety of possible causes, at least until a clear diagnosis pinpoints an exact underlying cause.
One may think that a dog with pica may be interested in eating just about anything, but generally dogs affected by pica exhibit a certain selectivity over the items to ingest. For instance, some dog are fixated over eating rocks, so if socks are exclusively on your dog’s favorite menu, do not exclude pica as a possibility.
Tip: if your dog seems obsessed with eating socks, it’s always a good idea to see the vet so to exclude the possibility for medical problems. You really cannot effectively tackle a behavior problem if it’s stemming from an underlying medical condition,
” Most pica, if exhibited by dogs who are past puppyhood, involves extreme focus on and selectivity of ingested objects. These behaviors are not normal and can become sufficiently intense that the dog disregards other activities.”~Dr. Karen Overall
What Happens When Dogs Eat Socks?
What happens when a dog eats socks depends on the size of the dog, the amount of socks eaten and several other factors. In a small dog, eating socks is more concerning due to the ratio difference between the size of the dog’s digestive tract and the size of the sock.
A sock can easily cause an intestinal blockage in a small dog. The sock clogs somewhere in the digestive tract and doesn’t allow any food to make its way through.
What dog eating socks symptoms should one expect? Soon, the backup of food causes vomiting, the dog develops abdominal pain, nausea, lack of appetite, diarrhea, straining and perhaps also lack of bowel movements in the case of a total blockage.
In the case of a blockage due to a sock, the dog must be cut open, the vet fetches the sock and then the dog’s abdomen is sown back together. This invasive surgery is of course not good for the dog and on the owner’s pocket.
My Dog Just Ate a Sock What Should I do?
At the vet clinic, we often got these phone calls from distressed owners “My dog ate a sock, what should I do?” The most important question at this point was: “How long ago did your dog eat the sock?”
If the owner responded that the dog ate the sock in the last hour or two, we would then talk to our veterinarian and report back with instructions on how to induce vomiting with the correct dosage of three percent hydrogen peroxide based on the weight of the dog.
If the dog ate the sock and two hours passed, we would then tell the owners that that they had two options: if the dog was large, they could have taken a wait or see approach by keeping an eye on the dog for any concerning symptoms, while also monitoring whether the sock was vomited back up or being passed in the dog’s stool. Our vet also sometimes suggested to feed a high fiber diet in the meantime to help the dog pass the sock.
If the dog was on the smaller side though, we would caution the owner about the risks for blockages and told them it was best to bring their dog in so he could be x-rayed and possibly undergo an endoscopy to get the sock out, which is less invasive than an actual surgery! And of course, the third option when all these things failed, was surgery.
Usually when a dog is obstructed from ingestion of an item such as a sock the dog will experience vomiting or diarrhea. So, if you are seeing these signs then it becomes suspicious it is obstructed and you are going to have to get her seen. If not, my one suggestion is to feed her a high fiber diet…use canned pumpkin added to a canned diet (we need the moisture of a canned diet.)”~Dr. Joey
Warning: never try to make your dog throw up using your fingers! This not only doesn’t work, as dogs have a different gag system, but also frightens your dog and puts you at risk for a serious bite!
Stopping a Dog From Eating Socks
Stopping a dog from eating socks is important so to prevent a dog from getting sick or having surgery, and owners of dogs who are die-hard sock eaters must consider that with repeated surgeries things get more critical each time.
But how can one stop a dog from eating socks? While dogs have shown the capability of making a connection between a behavior and a consequence, this does not happen with ingesting socks because there is a too long delay between eating socks and the development of a belly ache and the discomfort associated with the surgery.
So don’t expect Rover to get wise up and learn from the whole sock-eating experience.
Providing the sock-eating dog with plenty of activities such as walks, play and interactive games can help keep his mind off of socks. Leave around plenty of fun toys that can be stuffed with treats and goodies, so that socks are less appealing.
All dogs who tend to eat socks should also be taught a solid leave it and drop it cue practicing with other objects that the dog doesn’t normally ingest, so, should the day arrive that the dog is about to grab a sock, he can be told “leave it” and if he manages to have the sock in his mouth, he can told “drop it.” These exercises should be practiced often holding refresher courses. However, these exercises work best as a “back up” for a strict environmental management plan.
An environmental management plan means that you keep those socks always out of reach. Treat those socks as if they were bottles of chemicals around a toddler. This doesn’t mean you’ll have to keep your dresser locked up, it just means that you’ll have to make a commitment in keeping those socks always out of reach. It’s isn’t really that hard once you make it routine. When you take your sock off, they must go either in the closed dresser or in inside the washing machine, with the door closed. Skip the laundry basket as Rover can easily fetch socks from there if you happen to leave it around. Basically, leave no room for error, the biggest drawback with management is lack of compliance; as is, eventually someone in the family drops a sock or forgets a door open.
As seen, stopping a dog from eating socks requires a multi-tiered approach. Plan A is to keep socks out of hand. Plan B is to keep your dog exercised and happy through walks, play and interactive games. Plan C is to have a solid leave it and drop it cue in the case Rover happens to manage gaining access to a sock no matter all the precautions taken.
Did you know? A 3-year-old male great dane won the 2014 X-Ray Contest held by Veterinary Practice News. After repeatedly vomiting all day, x-rays showed a severely distended stomach with a large quantity of foreign objects. Once exploratory surgery was started and the dog was opened up, the great dane was found to have ingested 43 and 1/2 socks! Talk about socks gone missing!
Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as substitute for professional behavioral or veterinary advice. If your dog swallowed a sock please consult with your vet.
Vet explains how to induce vomiting with 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. Always discuss with your vet first for dosage and safety considering that some ingested substances are dangerous to have brought back up!
- Pet Place, Pica, retrieved from the web on November 24th, 2016
- Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, by Karen Overall, retrieved from the web on November 24th, 2016