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  1. dogs digestive health

Dog Digestive Health Tips

Dog Digestive Health Tips

Dog digestive health guidance from Fuzzy vets to help pet parents treat the most common dog stomach issues.
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Why You Should Pay Attention if Your Dog Is Eating Fall Leaves

Posted by Dr. Roth on November 11, 2022

Medical Advice
Why You Should Pay Attention if Your Dog Is Eating Fall Leaves

If a dog leaves perfect paw prints in the damp ground before frolicking through fall leaves, that's the ideal autumn photo op. However, if the dog starts eating the fall leaves, it might be time to put down the camera. When a dog eats leaves, it may cause or indicate some serious health issues.

Why Does a Dog Eat Leaves in the First Place? 

Pet parents may wonder why their dog eats leaves when they are well-fed and have no shortage of treats — why munch on dead foliage instead of fresh dog food?

Natural Instincts

Dogs have many instincts that puzzle their parents, like sniffing strangers' bottoms and burying prized possessions. Dogs are naturally curious creatures, and their way of exploring the world emphasizes scent and taste. Grazing outside is part of a dog's scavenging instinct, so they may find crunchy leaves difficult to resist.

Upset Stomach or Underlying Medical Issue

The ingestion of grass can soothe a dog's ailing stomach. Sometimes, a dog with an upset stomach will eat grass or leaves to make themselves vomit and feel better. This isn't always a bad thing. However, if a dog is eating leaves and vomiting frequently, it could signal a gastrointestinal issue or other underlying medical conditions that might require vet attention.

Nutritional Deficiencies Like a Lack of Fiber

One of the reasons why dogs eat leaves is because their diet isn't meeting their nutritional requirements.

In the wild, dogs would maintain a balanced diet by eating the entirety of any animal they hunted, including whatever was in its stomach — that often included plants. This one meat-based food source could provide all the protein, vitamins, fats, carbs, and minerals they needed. Today, domesticated dogs mainly depend on packaged dog food that doesn't always provide them with all the nutrients their bodies require to function properly. Nutritional deficiencies may be the culprit if a dog seems extra interested in leaves.

There are many benefits to a balanced diet, and a decreased desire to eat leaves is one of them. Serving healthy meals daily is good, but taking specific steps toward a high-fiber diet is even better. A fiber-rich diet aids digestion and promotes healthy bowel movements, and dogs need to consume 25 to 35 grams of fiber every day. While most dog food products already contain some fiber, incorporating a fiber supplement into a dog's diet can make a big difference. Pet parents can turn to premade chews or incorporate fiber powder into homemade treats — whatever works best for them and their dog.

The Potential Issues With Dogs Snacking on Fall Leaves 

Eating a few leaves here and there is unlikely to cause any negative side effects for dogs, but pet parents should keep the following things in mind. 

Some Foliage Could Have Harmful Pesticides or Chemicals 

Even if the foliage itself isn't harmful, it could be covered in pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals — none of which dogs should consume. People often use pesticides to deter bugs and keep plants looking their best, so pesticide poisoning is not rare in dogs.

Some symptoms of pesticide poisoning include rapid breathing, vomiting, drooling, tremors, and skin rashes. If pet parents suspect their dog has ingested pesticides or other chemicals, they should take them to the vet immediately.

A Few Kinds of Trees and Plants Are Toxic

While most fall foliage is pretty harmless, certain tree leaves pose a higher risk for dogs than others. Keep an eye out for the following types of toxic trees:

  • Black walnut trees. The changing seasons can cause toxic mold to grow on black walnut tree nuts. If consumed, this mold can cause increased heart rate, fever, and fluid buildup in a dog's legs.

  • Fruit trees. The pits, stems, and leaves on many fruit trees contain cyanide, which is highly poisonous when ingested by dogs. This concentration of cyanide peaks in the fall, making the leaves particularly dangerous this time of year. Pet parents should make sure there are no apple, cherry, peach, or plum trees on their property.

  • Oak trees. Oak trees drop acorns on the ground, and acorns contain tannic acid. When ingested, tannic acid can cause dog diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain.

  • Boxwood trees. Boxwoods look more like shrubs than trees, and the entirety of this plant is toxic to dogs. It can cause severe reactions in the heart, kidneys, spleen, liver, and lungs, which can lead to a fatal organ shutdown.

  • Maple trees. Eating the leaves of this beautiful red tree can damage red blood cell functioning and cause a loss of appetite and stomach pain in dogs. 

In addition to these trees, some common flowers and houseplants can be toxic for dogs. Tulip, oleander, azalea, philodendron, and rhododendron can cause symptoms like drooling, stomach upset, loss of appetite, and even death.

Pet parents should ensure there are no potentially poisonous plants or trees in their backyard or within reach of their homes. For additional peace of mind, they can survey the neighborhood for toxic trees and keep their dog on a leash during walks and hikes in unfamiliar areas.

There Could Be Lurking Fleas, Ticks, Pests, and Bugs

Jumping in a big pile of leaves is tempting even for the most dignified dogs — but they're not the only ones who find fall leaves enticing.

Dead leaves often attract fleas, ticks, pests, and other creepy crawlies that can pass diseases to an unsuspecting pup. For example, ticks can carry Lyme disease, which causes symptoms like fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, and swollen joints. While it's most often spread through tick bites, eating a tick can also put a dog at risk for Lyme disease.

Pet parents should discourage their dogs from rolling in fall leaves as well as eating them. To protect against potential insect bites and infections, pet parents can give their dogs tick and flea medication regularly and make sure they're always up-to-date on vaccinations.

Keeping Your Dog's Leaf-Eating Desires in Check

Fall is a beautiful season, and pet parents shouldn't be afraid to enjoy the foliage with their furry friends. Taking steps to discourage dogs from eating leaves will keep them healthy, happy, and protected from any potential problems.

If pet parents notice their dog exhibiting abnormal behavior after spending time outdoors, they shouldn't hesitate to contact a Fuzzy vet to discuss worrisome symptoms and get the best possible advice — any time of year, any time of day!

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