Many dog owners complain about their dogs eating things they shouldn’t. To help these dog owners, dog experts have tried to give research-backed explanations to these behaviors. However, many Labrador owners still have this question unanswered, “Why do Labradors eat items such as poop, dirt, socks, and even nails?!”
Labradors eat poop, grass, rocks, bees, dirt, nails, and socks to find mineral supplements lacking in their diet, for medical reasons such as anemia or to relieve anxiety and boredom. Lab puppies will also eat these objects to relieve teething pain and as a neurosensory exploration activity.
These reasons do not cut across all non-food items that Labradors eat. Therefore, to address individual cases of non-food items ingested by Labradors, I’ll discuss them individually in the rest of the article.
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Some answers to why Labradors eat non-food items will surprise you, so savor the details!
Why Do Labradors Eat Non-Food Items?
Eating non-food items, generally known as pica, is common in Labradors and other dogs. A study focusing on canine behavior problems found that pica was the 3rd most prevalent undesirable dog behavior after barking inside the house and barking at visitors. So, why do Labradors eat non-food items?
Labradors eat non-food items because they have nutritional deficiencies. They might also have medical conditions, lack physical engagement, and are bored. Or, they might suffer anxiety, have been weaned early, are teething, have OCD, or are exhibiting typical puppy neurosensory exploration.
Let’s make a quick explanation of each of these causes of pica in Labradors.
- Nutritional deficiencies. This can make your Lab look for unconventional ways to supplement their inadequate diet. For example, a dog may eat dirt to find iron if absent in their diet.
- Medical conditions. GI diseases, anemia, malnutrition, and other diseases can cause sudden hunger pangs like diabetes.
- Lack of physical engagement and boredom. Where a Lab does not get adequate daily exercise and mental stimulation, lacks interactive toys, or has little social interaction. The Lab needs to find an alternative way to keep himself occupied by chewing things like wood or rocks.
- General anxiety and separation anxiety. These can cause your Labrador to redirect their nervousness to abnormal eating behaviors.
- Teething comes with itch and discomfort. Your Labrador puppy will chew non-food items to massage their gum and ease teething discomfort if proper chew toys are not provided.
- Early weaning. This can drive Labradors to eat non-nutritive items.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This is the tendency to eat non-food items as an extreme for normal eating and in a repetitive way that’s difficult to stop. This interferes with your dog’s normal life. Retrievers are among the dog breeds most prone to canine compulsive behavior.
- Labrador puppy exploration. This is part of their neurosensory exploration to familiarize themselves with their new world.
Labradors are also known to always have a good appetite. This love for eating could explain why Labs might go to extremes when ingesting non-food items.
I’m referring to a case where an 8-week-old Labrador puppy ingested 54 nails and had to undergo an abdominal operation. The suspected cause, in this case, was loneliness, as the dog was on a balanced diet.
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Why Do Labradors Eat Poop?
Dogs typically show an aversion to their own poop and that of other dogs. Surprisingly, though, there are dogs with a tendency to eat feces, whether their own or that of other dogs and animals. Labradors are no exception, and Labrador coprophagia often leads owners to ask the question, “Why do Labradors eat poop?”
Labradors eat poop because dogs have inherited the behavior from their wolf ancestors. Wolves eat poop to keep their dens clean and protect their pack from possible worm infection, and it seems that dogs will eat their or other dogs’ feces to keep their sleeping areas clean.
In addition to the fact that Labradors eat poop because they belong to the wolf ancestry, there are other shocking details on canine coprophagy:
- 16% of all dogs regularly eat their own or other animal’s poop.
- Dogs like eating their or other dogs’ poop fresh before it is 2 days old. The guess is that fresh poop is harmless if it bears worm larvae since worm larvae become infectious only after 2 days.
- Dogs who eat poop tend to be greedy eaters.
- Dogs in homes with other dogs are more likely to feast on their feces, supposedly because dog poop is plentiful in those homes.
- Dogs with the tendency to eat poop are as receptive to house training as other dogs.
- Female dogs are more likely to eat feces, and intact male dogs are less likely.
- Training dogs out of poop-eating behavior is often unsuccessful, with only 4% success cases.
- Commercial products used to treat dog coprophagy are unsuccessful, with only a 2% success rate.
While this is what research says on the question “why do Labradors eat poop?” there are several other popular reasons you’ll read about Labrador coprophagia that are yet to be scientifically confirmed.
Here are some popular answers to the question of why Labradors eat poop:
- Nutritional deficiencies.
- If they are kept in isolation in kennels or basements.
- To get rid of evidence if anxious about being punished.
- As a form of attention-seeking.
- An inappropriate association of poop with food.
- As puppies because their mothers do.
- If they are sick and defecate in their own den.
Given the above info, you probably wonder how to stop your Labrador from eating poop.
The answer is in training. Just like other unwanted Labrador behaviors, the most effective way to stop a Lab from eating poop is to train him out of the behavior using reward-based training and treats that are more enticing to your dog than poop.
Learn How To Stop Your Dog From Eating Poop In This Video…
If you find your Lab is super stubborn, check out this article, 5 Ways to Quickly Train a Stubborn Labrador.
Why Do Labradors Eat Dirt?
Dirt is dirt, and dogs should know that. Nonetheless, many dogs still eat soil any time they have a chance. But what about Labs?
Labradors eat dirt or soil to make up for nutritional deficiencies in minerals such as iron, calcium, and sodium. They might also eat dirt to counter medical issues like anemia and gastritis or to beat anxiety and boredom when left alone. They also might have minimal exercise and mental stimulation.
Let’s explain these 3 main reasons why Labradors eat soil/dirt.
Labradors Eat Dirt Due to Nutritional Deficiencies
If you feed your Labrador an unbalanced diet lacking some minerals and vitamins, your dog can use instinctive tendencies to supplement the shortage by eating soil. Some of the minerals that your dog could be searching for by eating dirt include calcium, iron, and sodium.
Do you want to know the best diet to feed your dog? Check out this guide, Best Diet for Labradors: Nutrition, Types, and More!
Labradors and other dogs in deprived living environments can also eat dirt to counter hunger if they are not getting enough food.
Labradors Eat Dirt Due to Health Conditions
Several health conditions can cause your Labrador to eat dirt. They include:
- Severe anemia: This comes from a low red blood cell count, which can be caused by external and intestinal worms in puppies. In adult Labs, anemia can be caused by immune diseases, cancer, and bleeding disorders. In both categories, anemia can also be caused by poor nutrition.
- Inflammation of the stomach (Gastritis): It causes an upset stomach and diarrhea and can lead dogs to eat soil to relieve or trigger vomiting.
- Liver shunt (Portosystemic shunt): It is a congenital condition in dogs that causes liver dysfunction and leads to stunted growth.
Labradors Eat Soil Due to Behavioral Issues
If your Lab is always home alone, has insufficient enrichment, has little exercise and mental stimulation, or suffers from general or separation anxiety, he can find alternative ways to keep himself busy and counter boredom. This could mean eating dirt.
Soil can harbor worm larvae or contain toxins from pesticides and fertilizers. As such, if your Labrador is eating dirt, identify the cause and take appropriate measures to stop the behavior.
Such measures include:
- Giving a balanced diet.
- Supervise your dog during walks.
- Faithfully give your Lab worm and flea & tick prevention meds.
- Spending quality time with your dog to prevent anxiety and boredom.
Why Do Labradors Eat Grass?
Although dogs are omnivores, you wouldn’t expect to find them constantly munching on plant leaves or grass. Labradors actually do occasionally eat grass, but why?
Labradors eat grass because it is a normal dog behavior linked to their wolf descent. Although most people associate grass-eating in dogs with medicinal properties, it is not yet scientifically proven that dogs eat grass to resolve gastrointestinal issues.
Here are some of the behaviors that suggest that dogs eat grass for other reasons besides health:
- Dogs eat grass often, on a daily or weekly basis. This frequency can’t characterize illness-resolving behavior unless your Lab is perpetually sick.
- There is no clear-cut indication that dogs eat grass to resolve GI issues. In this study, only 8% of the dogs showed signs of sickness before eating grass, while 22% vomited after. This difference leaves anyone asking if grass makes dogs sick or resolves dogs’ sickness.
- Puppies ate grass more often than adult dogs. Puppies were also less likely to show signs of illness before and after eating grass.
These findings support some of the commonly held reasons why Labs and other dogs eat grass:
- Grass eating is a dog-wolf thing: A study found that 74% of wolf feces analyzed had plant matter in them, mainly grass. The findings confirmed that plant material is a core part of wolves’ diet, and this fact can be inferred to their domesticated canine descendants, dogs.
- Grass serves as roughage in a dog’s stomach: Grass is a good source of fiber, and dogs may eat it to make up for low fiber in their diet to facilitate digestion and bowel movement.
- Dogs eat grass because they are sick: This is mainly associated with diseases such as pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and gastric reflux.
- Dogs may eat grass to kill boredom: If they are left home alone, or the owner is too busy to notice them or give them some playtime, dogs may eat grass to fill up the lonely hours.
- Dogs like the taste of grass: Some types of grass have a flavorsome sour taste that may appeal to your Lab. This flavor would explain why many dogs will go for freshly sprouted grass.
Whichever of these reasons drives your Labrador to eat grass, it is essential to know that a lot of the grass available to your dog can be contaminated with toxins and worm larvae.
As such, you should discourage your dog from eating grass wherever they might find it and allow your dog only to eat grass that you are sure is not chemically treated or contaminated.
If, instead, you opt to train your Labrador out of grass-eating behavior, use positive reward-based training, offering tasty treats when your dog desists grass-eating. Also, ensure your Lab’s diet has the needed fiber amounts so your pet does not have to look for it elsewhere.
Why Do Labradors Eat Rocks?
Dogs have strong teeth and a strong bite force, but that does not necessarily mean they are made for eating extra-hard objects like rocks or stones. In fact, eating stones and rocks can break your dog’s teeth and cause other health problems like choking, intestinal blockage, and perforated stomachs.
So, why do Labradors eat rocks, even though they could hurt them?
Labradors eat rocks or stones to find minerals lacking in their diet. Also, your Lab may eat rocks to keep himself from boredom, relieve anxiety, as a neurosensory exploration activity in puppies, as a mentally stimulating alternative to old toys, or as relief for teething discomfort.
Let’s explain these reasons briefly.
- Labs eat rocks or stones for nutrition. Just like dirt, your Lab may eat stones or rocks to look for minerals lacking in their diet. These could be iron, calcium, or sodium.
- Labs eat rocks or stones to relieve anxiety or seek attention. If you don’t find quality time to spend with your Labrador, your dog may become anxious and eat rocks, just like anxious humans chew their nails. Your dog may also eat rocks to have your attention and enjoy the satisfaction of hearing you shout, “stop!”
- Labs eat stones or rocks for mere curiosity. Especially if your Lab is a puppy, eating rocks may simply be a part of his neurosensory exploration to discover his world.
- Lab puppies eat rocks to find relief from teething discomfort. If your Labrador puppy is teething, chewing on a stone or rock may serve to remove the itch and discomfort that comes with it.
- Labs eat stones or rocks to find a more mentally stimulating chew toy. If you don’t vary your Lab’s play toys, the dog will habituate to the old toys and get bored playing with the same toys. A study on dog habituation and dishabituation to toys found that dogs lose interest in toys due to habituation more than any other factors.
Labradors are highly intelligent dogs and need mind-stimulating toys. As such, chewing hard rocks that are difficult to break may be more challenging than playing with the same old toys.
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Why Do Labradors Eat Bees?
Dogs can suffer bee stings if snooping around their nests or around flowers where the insects suck nectar. While suffering from a bee sting is common among dogs, watching your Labrador catch and swallow a bee can be shocking. But why do Labradors eat bees?
Labradors eat bees as a stimulus response to a bee buzzing around their ear, as a form of prey drive, as a response to a past bee sting experience, or for the fun of it. Because they are dogs with a strong prey drive, Labrador Retrievers want to chase any moving animal or object around them.
A bee hovering over your Lab can present as prey to your pet, ending up being caught and eaten.
Considering the insistent nature of a buzzing bee, one that sticks around your Lab’s ear with a nagging buzz can be perceived as a nuisance. And since the bee won’t stop of its own accord, your Labrador can decide to send it down the throat to silence it.
Labs may also eat bees to preempt a previous bad experience. If your Labrador was stung by a bee in the past, remembering the experience of the sting can make the dog anticipate eating the bee before it can sting.
Lastly, your Labrador may just be having fun bee-snapping, which may conclude in a bee in your Lab’s mouth and stomach.
Your Lab can get stung by a bee when he tries to eat it. While this is not an emergency, removing the sting and watching your dog for any allergic reactions are important. Consult a vet if need be.
Also, you can prevent bee stings on bee-eating Labs by keeping your dog away from them.
Why Do Labradors Eat Sticks?
It is not rare to see a Labrador chewing a stick. Usually, dogs will chew sticks and spit out the pieces, but some dogs chew and swallow pieces of sticks, risking their health. Are Labradors among those, and why do Labradors eat sticks?
Labradors and other dogs eat sticks primarily for tooth and gum health. But eating sticks can also be a way of relieving anxiety or improvising an alternative toy.
Some people also suggest that Labradors and other dogs will eat sticks for the same reasons they eat other non-food items:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Health conditions such as anemia
While it is more credible to suggest that Labs chew sticks to clean their teeth or relieve teething pain and itch among puppies, or as a way of relieving anxiety, it is more difficult to buy the idea that Labs chew sticks to alleviate hunger or find minerals they don’t get in their diet.
Whatever the reason, chewing sticks are dangerous for your dog because stick pieces can lodge in your dog’s throat or rupture the intestinal wall. As such, dogs should be seen by a vet for possible dental issues if they routinely chew sticks.
Also, dogs who chew sticks as alternative toys or to resolve boredom should be provided with healthier alternatives.
I recommend the Petstages Dogwood Stick from Amazon. These chewable dog sticks are long-lasting and safe. Besides, they are made from a mixture of safe synthetic materials and natural wood fiber to mimic real sticks.
How To Stop Pica in Labradors
The behaviors discussed so far suggest that eating non-food items among Labradors can be dangerous for their health. As such, pet owners need to know how to stop pica in Lab puppies and adult dogs.
Here are 6 ways to stop/treat pica in Labradors:
- Seek a veterinary assessment on your dog to determine if the cause of pica in your Lab is linked to nutrition or medical conditions. Your dog’s vet will treat any manifesting health-related causes of pica in Lab puppies and adult dogs.
- Use avoidance techniques, that is, remove or restrain your dog from the environment or conditions that lead him to eat non-food items. For example, you can muzzle your dog during walks if you know that he likes chewing grass along the path.
- Address the causes of anxiety and separation anxiety if that’s what is causing pica in your Lab. When away, you can board your dog or ask someone to walk and visit your dog when you are not at home. This way, your dog does not feel alone and won’t need to find ways to counter loneliness.
- Provide canine enrichment by allowing your dog to engage in innate behaviors like chasing, playing, scavenging, chasing, and smelling. Engaging in these behaviors will keep your Labrador physically, mentally, and emotionally satisfied.
- Exercise your dog. That will keep your pet occupied and mentally stimulated and enhance the neurotransmitters that support healthy dog brain function.
- Use positive reward-based training to correct pica behaviors in your Labrador. For example, train your Lab out of poop eating by stopping him with a “LEAVE IT!” command every time he tries to eat poop, then rewarding him with his favorite treat when he heeds the command. If you’re looking for more info on training commands, check out this guide, The Ultimate Labrador Training Commands Guide.
Let’s Wrap This Up!
Pica is a common behavior among Labradors and other dogs that often leaves owners wondering, “Why do Labradors eat non-food items?”
Common opinions and research facts suggest that nutritional deficiencies, inherited wolf behavior, medical conditions, anxiety and boredom, teething, and OCD are among the causes of eating non-food items in Labs.
A lot of pica behaviors can be dangerous to your dog’s health. As such, consulting a vet for nutritional and medical causes of pica, eliminating the occasion for pica, engaging your dog, and using positive reward-based training should all be considered effective modes of stopping pica in Labradors.