Imagine this: you’re sitting on your couch, scrolling through your phone, when suddenly, you see your furry friend munching away on your brand new, expensive throw pillow…
You immediately spring into action, trying to stop them from swallowing any more of the fabric.
You’re left wondering, “Why is my dog suddenly eating fabric? They’ve never done this before!”
Well, here’s the gist of it:
Dogs with pica, an obsessive-compulsive disorder, may eat inappropriate non-food items like fabric. Causes of fabric eating in dogs include nutritional deficiency, hormonal imbalance, anxiety, and breed disposition. In addition, fabric can be dangerous when ingested, potentially causing intestinal obstruction or blockage. To address pica, it’s important to identify and address the underlying cause and implement training.
In this article, I’ll give you my expert tips and strategies for why your dog may be eating fabric, what to do if they ingest said fabric, and how to prevent this behavior in the future.
Ready? Let’s dive in!
Believe it or not, fabric eating (and the eating of other inappropriate inanimate objects) actually has a medical condition term: Pica.
Pica is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder in which a dog neurotically devours things that aren’t usually edible or classified as food.
Pica-type behavior is normal at a certain age for a dog. Although puppies learning what is and isn’t food frequently exhibit pica-like behavior, most puppies outgrow this. If a teenage or adult dog continues to consume things that are not food, then you have a case of pica. This is such a big problem that a study conducted in Japan found that pica is the third most often reported canine behavioral issue.
The reason fabric tends to be the material of choice for pica is because of its accessibility and easiness of chewing for a dog. Fabric is the most common item found in a home, and most dogs have access to it everywhere - from your couch to their dog bed!
Pica, specifically the eating of fabrics, can be caused by a few different things. But, believe it or not, humans can also suffer from pica, and the reasons are similar to that of dogs!
Impulsive behaviors tend to be triggered by a source.
For behaviors associated with eating, one of the primary culprits tends to be a nutritional or eating deficiency. If something is missing from your dog’s body, they may be seeking a replacement for something else.
Diseases related to nutrition, such as diabetes, can trigger pica in dogs as well. Once again, the body and the mind’s instincts are trying to seek out the missing variable in the body and may be looking for it in the wrong place!
Equally, nutritional deficiency can also be a hormonal imbalance.
Although hormonal imbalance doesn’t necessarily have to be due to nutritional deficiency, they can go hand in hand.
Hormones impact brain function, which can cause pica.
The destruction and eating of fabric can be a symptom of a condition known as separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is when your dog develops a severe unpleasant reaction to being away from you, ranging from whining and barking all the way to destruction and eating fabric.
Eating fabric when you leave or are away is a sign that your dog may suffer from this type of anxiety disorder.
Unfortunately, some breeds have more of a tendency to develop pica than other breeds.
Dogs whose breed purpose revolves around the mouth (like retrievers) are highest on the list for being predisposed to eating fabric. The labrador retriever is famous for eating fabric and other types of inanimate objects.
This is something owners of certain breeds need to be aware of (and will often stumble across in their breed research).
If your dog accidentally swallows a small piece of fabric (such as from a soft toy), for the most part, you don’t need to worry. A small piece should be able to make it through the intestinal tract and out the backdoor just fine.
However, if your dog is legitimately eating fabric (especially in large amounts), there is a serious medical danger there. Fabric can get stuck in the intestines, causing a blockage that is life-threatening in dogs.
The symptoms tend to be vomiting, diarrhea, distended abdomen, and lethargy. If your dog is not taken to the emergency vet in time, they can die from the blockage. Intestinal blockage tends to be treated with emergency surgery.
First and foremost, get your pup to the vet to rule out a medical cause. If the pica is because of deficiency or imbalance, resolving that should also resolve the pica! So, call up your vet.
If the fabric eating is due to anxiety behavior, you need to identify the root cause of the anxiety. Working with a professional dog trainer or canine behaviorist can help you work through separation anxiety and leave you with a much calmer and more confident pup.
To successfully cure a dog with separation anxiety, training the dog to accept being alone is essential. The goal is for your dog to encounter the circumstance that causes them to worry, namely being alone, without feeling afraid or anxious.
For the most part, tackling severe separation anxiety alone is not recommended - someone well-versed in the canine brain should be assisting you! This is primarily because if the anxiety has manifested in pica and other dangerous behaviors, this needs to be addressed promptly.
If your fabric eater is doing so because of breed tendency, then some training has to be involved. The training you choose depends on what method you’d like to implore. The first is the “Leave It” method, and the second is to provide an alternative option.
If your dog has the fabric in their mouth or is looking at it suspiciously, training a “Leave It” command can do wonders.
Place a high-value treat on the ground and cover it with your hand to teach your dog to “Leave it.” When your dog tries to get it, ignore them.
When your dog finally quits up, mark this command by saying “leave it” and rewarding them with a new treat, not the one you had on the floor. You don’t want your dog to believe that stopping would grant them their wishes.
After a few repetitions, hold off longer before marking the command and rewarding your dog with a treat.
After that, reveal your hand and tell your dog to “leave it.” Offer your dog a reward from your pocket or hand while they ignore the one on the ground.
Once your dog understands this concept (and they will fast!), apply it to fabric or any other object you need your dog to leave alone.
If your dog is fixated on the fabric beyond the “Leave It” command, your pup may just need an alternative to chew on. If your dog is fascinated with fabric, replace the fabric with an appropriate toy or chew at that moment.
Reinforce the choice to chew an appropriate toy by petting and praising your pup! Engage with your dog and the appropriate toy, showing them that this particular object is okay to chew (and is encouraged).
Keep your dog active and amused so Fido won’t become bored and be tempted to turn to unsuitable household objects or clothing for entertainment. Play and exercise with your dog frequently, and use suitable chew toys to reinforce what your dog can chew on during play and exercise.