Why Do Dogs Eat Sticks (& Throw Up)? + How to Stop

why do dogs eat sticks

One of the downsides to walking your dog in the great outdoors is that you might have a four-legged friend who likes to chew on sticks. It could be that you play fetch and have one of those dogs that like to eat sticks rather than returning them.

A lot of the time, a dog that eats sticks won’t have any adverse reaction. However, there will be owners who have dogs eating sticks and throwing up. This is more of a concern, and I will discuss it further, including details on how you can try to stop the behavior.

Firstly though, here’s a very short explanation to why dogs and puppies eat sticks or bark…

Why do dogs eat sticks and bark? There are many reasons why dogs eat sticks, ranging from medical to behavioural. It can relate to nutrition needs, teething, the pica condition, digestive issues, boredom, stress, or simply a bad habit that has developed over time. 

Those are by no means all the reasons why dogs eat sticks. Scroll lower down the page where I explain each reason in more detail – you might be able to identify your own dog’s stick eating behavior.

Is it ok for dogs to eat sticks?

Now for the crux of the matter; is it ok for a dog to chew on sticks?

Yes, and no. It is ok for a dog to eat sticks if it’s just chewing, and not being swallowed. Many dogs love the feeling of chewing sticks and bark and can even be a stress relief for some.

However, it is bad for your dog to eat sticks if they are swallowed; this can lead to blockages in their intestines – this could be fatal in the worst-case scenario.

is it ok for my dog to eat sticks
It’s not really ok for your dog to eat sticks, and can lead to issues if not monitored.

Even if not swallowed, it can also be bad for dogs to chew sticks due to splinters getting into their mouth, gums, and teeth. This will lead to potential infections and abscesses.

I do not want to panic you though. My own dog chews stick, wood and bark every time we go into the forest, and as yet has luckily never had any health complications. If he gets some in his throat, he will cough it up pretty quickly… but as an owner, you do need to keep an eye on things.

Important: If your dog has eaten sticks and started throwing up, or if you are in the slightest bit concerned about their chewing of wood and bark, you should always consult with a vet. 

Is it bad for your dog to eat sticks?

Whilst we’ve always been lucky with our own dog, there are some health complications that can happen as a result of your dog eating a stick.

The most obvious risk is a splinter or choking. Then there are the risks listed below. They are rarer but need to be taken seriously… if you suspect your dog has eaten a stick.

Throat or intestinal blockages

Due to the size of some sticks, if your dog swallows them whole, this can lead in choking. Some sticks will be too large to pass through the throat or get stuck sideways.

Even if your dog does manage to chew the while stuck down, it could lead to intestinal blockage and then further digestive complications.

Internal perforation

Because sticks have sharp and splintered edges, they can cause significant internal damage. Areas of concern can be the digestive tract, oesophagus or mouth.

Perforations inside your dog’s body can then progress into more serious conditions such as internal bleeding.

Poisoning

Depending on the source of the stick, bark, or wood, your dog may have consumed a natural poison such as chestnut, buckeye, locust, apple and oak. This will need immediate medical attention.

Signs of poisoning include:

  • Agitation
  • Breathing problems
  • Convulsions
  • Diarrhea
  • Drooling
  • Heart issues
  • Kidney failure
  • Pale gums
  • Sickness
  • Tremors
  • Unsteady on feet

My dog is eating sticks and throwing up

One of the more common issues will be your dog eating sticks and throwing up. This would be a cause of concern for any dog owners!

But, sometimes the action of vomiting / throwing up after eating sticks can be a good thing. It means your dog is getting all of the bad stuff in their system.

Now obviously I mentioned earlier that dogs can throw up when poisoned, so this is not something to take lightly. For me, if my dog was eating sticks and throwing up, I’d contact my vet and think you should too – that way you’re covering all bases.

Handy Hint: Have you ever wondered why dogs like to carry big sticks home from a walk? Wonder no more, in this quick explainer to the weird habit!

Why do dogs eat sticks and bark?

As I mentioned earlier, there is no one reason why your dog eats sticks. They will chew on wood and bark for a range of reasons – some stranger than others! We never truly know what is going through our dog’s head but stick chewing can be a sign of something we need to pay attention to.

Here are a few of the more common reasons for

1. A nutritional deficiency

Some dogs eat sticks and wood due to a nutrient deficiency. It’s because their current diet isn’t giving them the vitamins and minerals they need to adequately develop, grow, and stay healthy.

How do you your dog is chewing wood because of nutrient deficiency?

Well, you need to think about what you’re feeding them. If they live on a diet of junk food or scraps from the table, then they are likely taking in artificial preservatives or fillers like gelatine. Food like this has no nutritional value.

Handy Hint: I published some research into how bad McDonald’s food is for dogs, including the nutritional and calorie content a dog will get from a Big Mac burger.

Dogs having instinctive behavior inherited from wolves that make them hunt for their own food. This means dogs can try to find those missing nutrients in wood and sticks.

If you believe this is the case, with one sign being your dog chewing wood for nutrients then getting diarrhea soon after, please re-evaluate their diet. You might want to focus more on naturally sourced food that’s rich in natural vitamins and minerals – it’s definitely one for your vet to advise on.

2. Pica (the eating of strange things)

Pica is a condition that causes your dog to eat non-food objects such as grass, sticks, stones, and even the walls of your house! Although this condition can sometimes have a behavioural root, the most common source of pica might surprise you.

Pica in a dog is actually most commonly caused by anaemia, which means a deficiency in red blood cells and, by extension, iron.

The iron deficiency in your dog has the direct result of your dog eating non-food items and developing pica. Pica can then manifest itself with your dog eating sticks, throwing up, or just chewing and coughing them out.

If you suspect your dog is anaemic, it is important to take them to the vets and up their daily iron intake, as anaemia might be indicative of an underlying health condition in your dog.

The bottom line is this; if your dog is eating sticks and other weird items he shouldn’t be, it could be the pica condition.

3. Behavioral or psychological issues

Dogs with behavioral issues can develop some strange habits; such as eating sticks and wood. The problem is particularly common in rescue dogs that were strays or previously mistreated.

Whilst behavioral issues in itself is an umbrella term, it can mean a number of things including attention-seeking, boredom, anxiety, fear – all of which can lead to your dog chewing sticks either as a compulsion, something to do or to get you to notice them!

4. Dental issues or teething

In the same way babies chew random objects to alleviate the discomfort that comes from teething, you might find that your dog seeks out hard objects like sticks and wood to chew on in order to soothe any oral pain they are experiencing.

Some common oral issues dogs face are gum disease or cavities, so it’s best to get them a chew toy designed for that use and to that them to the vets as soon as possible, as the bacteria coupled with the splinters can greatly worsen the situation.

Teething tends to start in puppies at 4 months old, and usually ends at 8 months. At this age, your puppy needs lots to chew on to discourage sticks. Most owners love the Kong range of chew toys on Amazon.

If your dog isn’t in the teething age range, it’s a possible dental problem that will need professional help with.

5. Digestive issues

Similar to dental issues, inflammation and discomfort caused by digestive issues might push your dog to eat sticks in an attempt to stop the symptoms. Some common digestive issues in dogs include worms, gastritis, inflammatory bowel disease, tumours or stomach inflammation.

All of these conditions, of course, require immediate medical attention, even if they vary in severity.

6. It’s down to hunger

It could be that your dog doesn’t like the food you give him, or that the portions he has don’t fully curb his appetite. Either way, this can lead to the chewing of sticks in an attempt to curb their appetite.

Various solutions to this such as a vet, a dog nutritionist or even just increasing their portions and mealtimes will all help to solve this problem.

6. They just like chewing sticks

I am convinced that my own dog simply likes chewing up sticks and wood. The act of chewing gives sensory reinforcement; it feels good to dogs – I think this is what it’s like for ours (you can see him chewing below).

dog eating sticks throwing up
I think my dog just likes the feeling of chewing on wood and sticks. He doesn’t throw up, but he does cough!

My dog ate a stick and is throwing up

When your dog eats a stick and they throw up, or you are worried about it creating a blockage is to seek professional help. Your vet will be able to examine them (doing scans if necessary) to see whether the stick is likely to pass through your dog and whether it is likely to be harmful.

Depending on whether the stick was poisonous of whether any damage was caused, they might keep your dog in overnight for observation.

After dealing with the issue in hand, they may work to investigate whether there is an underlying issue causing your dog to eat sticks, whether that be medical or behavioural. This might involve more tests or referring your dog to a behaviourist or specialist vet.

How do I stop my dog eating sticks?

I’ve touched on many things you can do to stop your dog eating sticks and throwing up, but here’s a quick re-cap of the most common ways:

  • Keep your dog away from wood and sticks.
  • Make sure your dog has iron in their diet.
  • Ask your vet to test for a mineral deficiency.
  • Make sure your dog has enough chew toys.
  • Keep your dog entertained and happy to avoid fear, boredom and anxiety.
  • Use training methods such as making loud noises when go near sticks.
  • Reward with positive reinforcement when they stop chewing wood.
  • Use distraction techniques.

Conclusion

There’s nothing better than taking your dog on a walk through the forest. It makes for a great change of scenery, a more vigorous exercise and a chance for both you and your pet to get better in touch with nature.

I go into the woods a couple of times a week with our own dog Claude (you saw his photos in this guide) and he is always eating sticks. Thankfully he’s not thrown up, but he does cough up the little bits and cause me a lot of concern.

It’s impossible to give a simple answer as to why dogs eat sticks, as every single dog is different and unique in their own way, with their own personality, temperament and motivations for doing things.

But whether your dog eating sticks is a one-off occasion or something more regular, the right guidance will ensure that this unhelpful and sometimes dangerous habit is curbed.

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We spend a lot of time outdoor with our dog and are always finding new things to write about after he gets up to mischief. The following guides are all based on what our own dog has done or tried to eat!

Marc Aaron

I write about the things I've learned about owning a dog, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips I've picked up along the way.

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