Labradors love to play with the humble stick. It’s often one of the most enjoyable things about walking your Labrador, seeing the pure joy they get just from retrieving a stick for you. Happily running back and forth for hours on end.
It’s part of their primal instinct, to hunt and retrieve from the wild. It often seems harmless enough, but then they get excited and start chowing down on their freshly found wooden stick.
Can gnawing a stick to bits be harmful to them? Is there a danger if they swallow pieces of the wood? In this article, I’m going to explore whether there is any danger in your Labrador eating sticks, and how you can stop them.
It’s perfectly natural for Labradors to enjoy finding and retrieving sticks. They will often chew on a stick without actually swallowing the wood and you’ll find them surrounded by little pieces of the stick which they have spat out. Occasionally your Labrador may start to swallow the wood. This is potentially dangerous and you should take action to prevent your Labrador swallowing wooden sticks.
My Labrador puppy eats sticks
The first 6 months is usually the period where your Labrador is most at risk of causing itself damage by eating sticks.
Labrador puppies will eat everything and anything which is put in front of them, unable to properly distinguish between what is food and what isn’t. They are trying to understand the world around them.
Unfortunately during this learning stage, it’s quite common for Labrador puppies to not only chew on sticks but to swallow the little pieces of wood too.
This can be dangerous for a puppy, the wood could cause choking or a blockage in the intestine.
But you don’t need to worry thinking that your puppy is unusual in this behavior. It’s perfectly normal for Labrador puppies to eat all kinds of things there aren’t supposed to (be careful leaving your shoes on the floor where your puppy can find them!).
It’s also very natural for Labradors to chew on wooden sticks without actually swallowing the wood.
You should make sure your puppy doesn’t have prolonged access to any wooden sticks. Playing with the occasional stick with your supervision is fine, but if they start to chew on the stick and swallow then you should take it away from them.
Don’t leave them alone with a wooden stick, if they bring one into the house you should take it back outside.
If you think your Labrador puppy has already eaten a stick and appears to be in discomfort you should visit your vet.
Is my Labrador is swallowing wooden sticks
Adult Labradors will usually be more sensible when they are chewing on a stick. It’s still very common for an adult Lab to enjoy chewing on a stick.
It’s a natural behavior and many believe it comes from the habit of chewing on a bone. A stick is an easy-to-find alternative to animal bones, but Labradors also appear to enjoy the taste. There is an earthy, and well, woody taste to a stick, and Labradors enjoy it.
There isn’t going to be much harm if an adult Labrador is happily chewing on a stick and spitting out the small chewed up pieces. There is a slight risk that splinters may cut their mouth but you should probably weigh this up as a danger in your own mind, personally unless they are cutting their mouths often I don’t believe it is much of a risk.
There is a risk if your Labrador starts swallowing the stick. This can pose a danger to their health and should not be encouraged. I’ll discuss how to stop your Labrador swallowing sticks at the end of the article.
Swallowing sticks poses the direct danger of the Labrador choking on the wood, or wood causing a blockage in their digestive system.
Swallowing sticks may also be an indication that your Labrador is suffering from other health issues where part of their diet is lacking, therefore they are trying to supplement it by eating sticks.
Eating sticks may be a sign of anemia or a nutritional or mineral deficiency.
My Labrador chokes on sticks
If your Labrador is frequently choking on sticks this might be a sign they are trying to swallow the wood. Sometimes a Labrador will just accidentally get some of the wood stuck in their throat whilst they are innocently chewing the stick, but if the choking is becoming a regular occurrence then they are probably trying to swallow the stick.
This could become dangerous for you Labrador and you should encourage them to stop chewing on the stick.
I’ll talk about ways to stop your Labrador eating sticks at the bottom of the article.
There are sticks in my Labrador’s poop
Labradors’ digestive systems won’t be able to fully break down a wooden stick if they are eating them, so one sure way of knowing they’re eating sticks is their poop.
It will be quite obvious as the wood is going to have retained its sharp, pointy appearance.
This can be a useful bit of detective work as sometimes it’s hard to know whether your Labrador is actually eating a stick or just chewing it to pieces.
If your Labrador does frequently have stick remains in their poop then you should take some action to prevent them from eating sticks.
Swallowing wood can be dangerous for your Labrador as they may choke or it could block their digestive tract.
Additionally, adult Labrador eating sticks may be an indication of anemia or a nutritional or mineral deficiency.
Is it dangerous for my Labrador to eat sticks
If your Labrador is swallowing sticks on a frequent basis this could pose a danger to their health.
Sticks are sharp, hard and a perfect shape to cause choking, or for causing a blockage in their digestive system.
Whilst chewing on a stick is perfectly natural and poses little threat to the Labrador other than the slight chance they could cut their gums on a particularly sharp piece, swallowing the stick is a much more immediate threat and should not be encouraged.
There is a second danger of your Labrador eating sticks which is more indirect. Eating sticks can be a sign that there are other issues with your Labraodrs health, which they are trying to counteract by eating the stick.
Labradors with anemia will sometimes swallow sticks. Anemia is caused by a low red blood cell count, a condition that can usually be counteracted by the right diet. Your Labrador may also be trying to rebalance a nutritional or mineral deficiency.
It may be that your Labrador is actually eating sticks to try and make themselves better! Unfortunately, they probably won’t get what they need to solve those issues from sticks, but it can serve as a warning sign for the owner to check they are receiving a fully balanced diet, or to consult with a vet to get some advice or a test for anemia.
Are sticks poisonous to my Labrador
A little known fact is that some types of wood can actually be slightly poisonous to Labradors.
Wood from oak, chestnut, apple, locust, and buckeye can be poisonous to Labradors. This is unlikely to cause much of an issue if the small quantity they will get from chewing on a stick but if you can it makes sense to stop them chewing on that type of wood if you do spot it.
Labradors shouldn’t be allowed to swallow wood of any kind as it can cause damage to them internally and could indeed be a sign of other health issues, so whether the wood is slightly poisonous or not you should try and stop your Labrador from swallowing wood of any kind.
There’s no need to go over the top of stopping your Labrador from picking up any piece of wood just because it might be poisonous, the reality is that unless they are ingesting large quantities of it then it won’t really pose much of a risk. Or they will come down with short term illnesses such as vomiting or diarrhea before anything more serious can happen.
Really, if your Labrador is enjoying eating wood in that quantity, the actual danger posed by the physical wood in their digestive system is the much greater risk!
Can eating sticks make my Labrador sick
Yes, eating sticks can make you Labrador sick. It’s perfectly natural for Labradors to chew on sticks, and just chewing should pose much of a threat, but swallowing the wood can cause health issues for the Labrador and should be discouraged.
The first immediate threat is choking on the stick but further issues can also occur one the wood is ingested.
If your Labrador is swallowing sticks they may begin to suffer from; vomiting, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, tumors, worms, gastritis and stomach inflammation.
If your Labrador eats sticks, it may also be an indication that their health isn’t ideal to begin with.
Labradors will sometimes eat sticks as their body’s natural response to try and fill a deficiency in their diet. Labradors with anemia, a condition where their red blood cell count is low, might be looking to increase their iron by eating alternative food sources. Equally a Labrador with a nutritional or mineral deficiency may be trying to rebalance their diet using sticks.
Unfortunately, sticks are unlikely to fill this void and the act of eating them is a reaction to their body knowing it needs to rebalance its diet by eating anything and seeing if it works.
It is never a good sign that your Labrador is swallowing sticks and it should be discouraged. You should also be sure to check their diet is well balanced, and to consult with your vet who may even want to perform a test for anemia.
Can eating sticks give my Labrador diarrhea
Yes, eating sticks can upset the digestive system of your Labrador and can lead to diarrhea. This isn’t the only issue that can form as ingesting wood can also lead to vomiting, inflammatory bowel disease, tumors, worms, gastritis and stomach inflammation.
If you know or suspect your Labrador has been swallowing sticks you should monitor them for the next day or so checking for any unusual bowel movements or discomfort.
If you have any concerns you should consult with your vet immediately. Your vet may also be able to give advice about ensuring your Labrador receives a balanced diet as eating sticks can be a sign of certain dietary deficiencies.
How can I stop my Labrador eating sticks
The first thing you should do is check your Labradors diet to ensure they are receiving a well-balanced diet where their daily food contains all the vitamins, nutrients and minerals they need.
Swallowing sticks can be a Labrador’s reaction to an imbalanced diet and fixing the diet may just stop this behavior, as well as having the long term health benefits that come with a healthy diet.
You can do this by checking the ingredients of their food, or by consulting with your vet. You vet may want to do a check for anemia if suitably concerned.
Once we have their diet ruled out we at least know we’re dealing with a healthy Labrador and for some reason or another they just enjoy chowing down on a tasty stick.
This can cause problems for their digestive system so we’re going to have to stop them.
The most obvious method is to limit their interaction with sticks. Don’t carry one on a walk and don’t throw them sticks. Use a toy instead. You may have actually tried to find sticks for your Labrador in the past so changing your own behavior will be a good start to weaning your Labrador off sticks.
The second thing to try is to teach your Labrador a verbal command that they shouldn’t touch something.
Training your Labrador to stop eating sticks
You can practice this at your home first, without having to use sticks. It’s all about utilizing two objects, one is something they are not allowed to have, and one is a reward for leaving that thing alone.
- Get a small treat in your hand, something healthy (carrot pieces are a good natural and cheap option). With a closed fist let them smell the treat but say your command word (such as “leave it”). Once they look away from your fist give them verbal praise and feed them from your other hand. Eventually, they will learn to leave your hand alone to get the treat.
- Do the same process but open your clenched fist. If they try to eat the treat then close it up. Once they ignore it, give them praise and feed them from the other hand.
- When they get used to starting to increase your distance between you and the treat, place it on the floor first, within reach so if they try to get it you can get there first. When they don’t try to get the food and look away then praise them and reward with food.
- Slowly get further away until you can stand some distance from the treat without your Labrador going for it.
Congratulations, you have just taught your pooch a command word they will positively associate with not touching something. You can now try this on walks if they approach a stick use the command word. If they ignore the stick then reward them with praise and a treat.
If they still pick up the stick then remove it from them and don’t give them a treat.
If they haven’t quite got the concept, you can repeat steps 1-4 using a stick as the object you don’t give them whilst outside, so they understand the rules still apply in that environment. As they already know the basics they should be able to learn that it applies to sticks too more quickly.
Over time, you should be able to remove the treat from the process and just use verbal praise as the reward.