Dogs chew sticks because they are readily available and the perfect thing to sink those teeth into. Many dog owners struggle with puppies and dogs chewing sticks considering that they are very appealing to them. And who can blame them?
Dogs are equipped with 28 temporary baby teeth when they are puppies which are then replaced with 42 permanent teeth as adults. These teeth aren't there just for beauty. Indeed, this nice display of pearly whites was purposely crafted for some very important tasks. Let's discover some of them!
The Function of Dog Teeth
Dog teeth comprise incisors, canines, premolars and molars. Understanding a dog's teeth and their primary functions can help us better understand why dogs are so prone to chewing things such as sticks.
Dogs have a total of 12 incisors with six incisors in the upper jaw and six incisors in the lower jaw. These 12 incisors comprise two central incisors, two intermediate incisors, and two lateral ones. Incisors are meant to help dogs scrape meat off a bone in a similar fashion as we remove kernels of corn off a cob.
Just next to the incisors are the canine teeth. Dogs have a total of four canines, two in the top and two in the bottom. Canine teeth are meant to aid dogs in hunting, allowing stabbing wounds to prey, but they also aid in the process of tearing carcasses apart.
Behind the canine teeth are 16 premolars comprising eight in the upper jaw and eight in the lower one. These teeth are meant to rip meat away from bones.
Finally, next to the premolars are the dog's molars. There are four molars in the top jaw and six molars in the bottom jaw. Molars allow dogs to grind food and crush bones. Since puppies only feed on milk during their first weeks of life, they don't have molars.
As seen, a dog's teeth were purposely crafted for killing prey and then ripping, tearing and crushing the meat and bones. So the next question is: why do dogs chew sticks?
Did you know? By the age of 8 months, all of the dog’s adult permanent teeth are in, but the molars may still be finishing up cutting through the gums and therefore there may still be some residual teething pain and a strong need to chew, sort of like when humans get wisdom teeth.
Some call this the "second teething stage" and it can be more destructive since, by now, dogs have stronger jaws. Be sure to provide plenty of sturdy chewing toys!
Sticks From a Dog's Perspective
Sticks from a dog's perspective must somewhat resemble bones. Sticks are oblong like bones, they offer the opportunity to scrape off bark and they also provide plenty to munch on, often causing dogs to break sticks into several small pieces (hopefully spitting them out rather than swallowing them!)
Sticks, therefore, offer dogs the opportunity to use their teeth and jaws and provide them with a gratifying workout. Although sticks don't taste good as bones and lack bone marrow, chewing on sticks on their own, especially when nothing else is available, must feel really good to dogs.
To some extent chewing sticks must also feel somewhat rewarding considering that it allows dogs the opportunity to chew and destroy something. Dogs indeed are naturally drawn to rip things into pieces (as many dog owners can attest upon the horrid discovery of witnessing expensive toys being ripped into shreds!)
It's a fact that when dogs engage in a gratifying experience they will want to experience that over and over. That's the power of positive reinforcement! So it's not surprising why dogs are after sticks to chew on, almost as if they're the best thing in the world!
Did you know? Some dogs may seek sticks purposely as a way to get attention. These are often dogs who are very bored and thrive on owner attention. If you work long hours during the day and then come home only to plop yourself on the couch to watch TV or engage in gardening, your dog will likely do anything to get attention from you and this may involve chewing any inappropriate items such as sticks.
The Opportunity to Clean Teeth
On top of providing an ideal texture to gnaw on and allowing dogs to reap the rewards of destruction, sticks also provide dogs with the opportunity to clean their teeth.
After eating a meal, just as it happens in humans, dog teeth become coated with a layer of plaque. Plaque is a sticky substance that is composed by leftover food particles and saliva. Left on the teeth, plaque tends to harden, calcify and turn into tartar.
Also known as dental calculus, tartar is particularly problematic because it accumulates and becomes very hard to scrape off. Failing to remove it, leads to inflamed gums which may progress to periodontal disease.
Chewing sticks of course, can't remove dog tartar as that requires special dental tools such as manual scaling tools or an ultrasonic device. However, chewing sticks can help remove plaque preventing it from becoming tartar.
With all these benefits, dog owners may therefore wonder whether chewing sticks is something they should allow their dogs to do. The truth is, there are some considerable risks associated with chewing sticks, and things can get even more problematic with dogs who end up eating them.
Did you know? Sometimes, dogs who eat sticks and other items such as grass, rocks, dirt, socks etc. are suffering from pica - an abnormal craving to eat items that are not food that may be caused by nutritional deficiencies or obsessive compulsive behaviors.
Dangers of Dogs Chewing/Eating Sticks
Chewing or eating sticks in dogs may look like an innocent habit, but there may be certain risks associated with this activity,.
For dogs limiting themselves to chewing the stick, there are risks that the stick may become wedged in between the dog's teeth or embedded somewhere in the dog's mouth. This can lead to dogs pawing at their mouth, dogs chattering their teeth and drooling.
For dogs who chew and actually ingest parts of sticks, there are chances these particles may get lodged somewhere along the throat or esophagus leading to coughing, gagging and even choking.
Further down, there are chances that the stick particles may irritate the lining of the dog's stomach leading to a bout of vomiting and/or diarrhea. This dietary indiscretion may often resolve with a temporary fast and a bland diet provided under the guidance of a vet .
In more complicated cases, the ingested stick may lead to a foreign body obstruction which can happen when pieces of the stick end up blocking the pylorus in the stomach. Another scary consequence is a sharp stick splinter puncturing the intestines leading to a life-threatening peritonitis infection.
And then there's the risk of toxins: what if the stick belongs to a plant or tree that is toxic to dogs? Oleanders, sago palms, black walnuts, red maples, white cedar are a just a few of the many shrubs/trees known to be toxic to dogs.
As seen, there are several dangers associated with the practice of dogs chewing/eating sticks. Of course, many dogs chew sticks for years without any consequence, but it's important to point these dangers out.
Now That You Know...
Now that you know why dogs chew sticks, you may be wondering what you can do about this habit. Here are a few suggestions.
- Clean up your yard. This may sound like a tedious task if you have lots of acreage or your yard seems to grow sticks as much as it has blades of grass, but this ultimately provides you peace of mind if you're able to remove all of them.
- If your dog removes sticks and branches from bushes and trees, fencing these off may be a good option, especially if they are plants known to be toxic.
- Train your puppy or dog the "leave it" and "drop it" command making sure to practice a lot in the home and using high-value treats to reward your dog. When your dog picks up something from the ground, praise and make your dog come to you to trade whatever it is with a tasty chew or a treat.
- Practice these commands in the yard once the behavior has become fluent, and trade the sticks with some tasty treats, or better, longer-lasting chews that are more appealing to gnaw on such as bully sticks or Himalayan yak milk chews for dogs.
- When out in the yard, provide your dog interactive food dispensing toys that are sturdy and can be used to distract your dog from sticks. Examples include regular Kongs, Kong Extreme, or Kong Wobblers.
- Provide tough, sturdy toys such as Goughnuts, Indestructibones or West Paw dog toys designed for powerful chewers. Rotating these toys so dogs get a different one each day helps keep a dog's interest alive.
- Careful with bones. It may sound ideal to swap sticks for bones as most dogs will readily drop a stick in exchange for a bone, but weight-bearing bones from large animals and antlers have been known to fracture teeth.
- While muzzling a dog to prevent him from eating sticks may be an option, dogs who are muzzled should always be supervised. On top of this, consider that while the muzzle can be a good management tool, it's not a solution. A muzzle (make sure it allows your dog to pant) should be used as a temporary measure while working on training solid responses to the leave it and drop it commands. Brachycephalic dog breeds (dog with short noses prone to respiratory issues) should wear muzzles specifically crafted for them.
- Dogs who chew or ear sticks are often dogs who are bored out of their mind. Providing them with more exercise, play and mental stimulation can help keep their minds off sticks.