Coming home to find your pup has chewed up their bedding can be extremely frustrating, not to mention a safety hazard! This article will discuss everything you need to know about inappropriate chewing behavior, including reasons why your pup might be nibbling their blanket and how you can fix it…
Why does my dog nibble on blankets?
1. Natural canine behavior
Chewing is normal behavior for dogs of all ages. Dogs chew for many reasons including mental stimulation, exploring their environment, reducing stress, and simply because it’s fun!
It’s also important to remember that if your dog chews up their blanket or your favorite shoes, they haven’t done it out of spite or to punish you. Though destructive chewing can be associated with behavior issues, we first need to teach our dogs which items they’re allowed to chew and provide safe options.
Dogs are more likely to chew things they shouldn’t when they’re bored – including their bedding! Your dog needs to spend lots of quality time playing and interacting with you, as well as with other people and dogs, to keep them mentally stimulated.
To reduce boredom and enrich your dog’s life, try to include multiple play and training sessions every day, as well as twice-daily walks, and other fun activities. These could be running off lead, swimming, using puzzle toys, and playing with other dogs. Try to tailor your dog’s activities to match the things they naturally love to do, for example, retrievers love to play fetch.
3. Anxiety/Separation anxiety
For some dogs, nibbling blankets or chewing up other inedible items is a response to a behavioral issue, such as separation anxiety. Dogs with separation anxiety tend to chew only when their owners have left the house. Other signs that your dog may have separation anxiety include:
- Panting excessively
- Destructive behavior including, chewing and digging
- Howling, whining, or barking
- Toileting indoors
Separation anxiety can be tough on both pets and their owners. If your dog is showing any of these signs, it’s important to seek help from a veterinarian or a qualified veterinary behaviorist as soon as possible.
Dogs will also chew or shake items such as blankets to relieve stress and frustration so it’s important to try and identify any triggers that might be upsetting your pup. These might include children or other animals, loud noises, or frustration from being confined to their crate for too long.
If you have identified a trigger, try to anticipate your dog’s reaction. Then, provide a suitable alternative, such as a chew toy, to redirect their attention. Where possible try to reduce triggers that cause your dog stress, for example, teaching children to respect their space.
Dogs may also chew blankets and bedding if they know you will react by giving them attention such as running over and chasing them, or playing tug-of-war. Instead, firmly say ‘no!’ or ‘ah!’ and redirect them from the blanket to a chew toy. You can also train your dog to ‘drop’ or ‘leave’ items on command.
5. Pain or illness
When dogs obsessively crave and eat inedible items, such as blankets and bedding, this is known as pica. Pica is a non-specific medical condition, meaning there are many possible causes including pain, nutritional deficiencies, gut disease, and behavior issues.
If your dog is regularly eating blankets or other inedible items, they need to visit a vet. Your vet will perform a thorough examination, ask questions about their diet, and may perform diagnostic tests such as blood tests or x-rays to investigate the cause of the problem.
6. Teething in puppies
As their adult teeth begin to come through, puppies will naturally chew to help relieve pain and discomfort. This process is usually complete at around 6 months of age and pups should be given safe, durable, teething toys to chew under your supervision during this time.
Chewing is also a way for puppies to explore their environment and learn about their surroundings. Adolescent dogs will also go through a period of increased chewing behavior and should also be redirected towards appropriate items to chew, like toys or edible chews.
Another reason your dog might be chewing up their blanket is that they aren’t getting the nutrition they need from their diet. Dogs should always be fed a high-quality, complete and balanced diet, formulated especially for their size and life stage (puppy or adult). If you aren’t sure, your vet will be happy to help you and you can find out more information on choosing a quality pet food here.
If your dog is highly active, you may need to consider using a diet designed specifically for working or active dogs, as they require more calories than dogs that are sedentary. Home-cooked diets are also best avoided unless formulated by a veterinary nutritionist, as studies have shown they are often deficient in essential nutrients.
What are the dangers of nibbling blankets?
Though chewing is normal and natural behavior, we’ve now seen that it can also be a symptom of something more serious. But what about the physical dangers to your pet if they swallow or chew blankets?
If swallowed, larger pieces of fabric can be a choking risk and may also become stuck within the gut, causing a blockage (obstruction). As fabric may be swallowed in long pieces, once stuck, the intestines continue to move and contract as normal. This means the gut can become abnormally bunched together, a condition known as a linear foreign body. Once a blockage forms, your dog will need emergency surgery to remove the foreign material as soon as possible.
How to discourage your dog from nibbling on blankets
Teaching your dog what they can and cannot chew should always be done with positive reinforcement and never punishment.
If you come home to find that your dog has chewed up its blanket there’s no point yelling at them or punishing them. Dogs live in the present and the reason they might ‘look guilty’ when you scold them is that they are reacting to your body language. They don’t associate the punishment with the crime and aren’t able to learn from their mistake.
Instead, when you catch your dog nibbling on their blanket, give them a gentle verbal cue like ‘ah!’ or ‘no!’ to let them know they’ve made a mistake. Then, redirect their attention onto something you want them to chew, like a toy. Make sure to provide your dog with a variety of safe items for chewing like durable chew toys, Kong toys, edible chews, as well as interactive puzzle toys to divert their attention.
Though a popular choice from many pet owners, bones are not a safe alternative for chewing. As a vet, I have seen too many fractured teeth, constipated dogs, and bones lodged in the throat or gut to recommend them to pet owners. Cooked bones are even higher risk, as they can splinter and cause perforation of the gut wall leading to a life-threatening infection known as septic peritonitis.
Puppy-proofing your house is another way to start your dog off on the right paw. Avoid leaving items like washing, or shoes within reach, especially when left unsupervised. When introducing your pup to a blanket, it’s also best to supervise them closely and remove the blanket if you need to leave the house as a precaution. Another way you can keep your pup from chewing things they shouldn’t when you’re out is to restrict their access with a baby gate, or with crate training.
Alternative calming aids
Durable chew toys, and interactive or puzzle toys are great options your dog can use to help relieve stress, rather than nibbling on their blanket! Synthetic pheromone products such as DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) are also available as collars, sprays, and diffusers to help provide a calming effect around the home.
Most importantly though, if think that your dog might be nibbling blankets because they feel stressed or anxious, it’s important to speak to a veterinarian to discuss a behavior modification plan. In some cases, pets may even require medication to treat anxiety or behavior disorders.
Though chewing is perfectly normal behavior, it’s important to make sure your dog is getting the mental stimulation they need each day and to teach them which items they’re allowed to chew. If the problem persists, make sure to consider other reasons why your dog might be nibbling their blanket, including anxiety, poor diet, and underlying health issues, and seek advice from a veterinary professional.