Why do dogs chew so much - and should we let them?

Puppies and mature dogs chew. A lot – and not just while they are eating. While this drives some owners mad, veterinary scientists suspect there must be functional reasons why your best friend chews bones, sticks, shoes, furniture, your hand. But science has largely overlooked the reasons why.

Why do dogs chew so much - and should we let them?
Photo by Darinka Kievskaya / Unsplash

First published by the University of Sydney

‘Chew HQ’ wants to hear from you about the private lives of your best friends

Professor Paul McGreevy is asking dog owners what they give their dogs to chew on - and how this helps them. You can take part in this landmark study.

Professor Paul McGreevy and some furry friends.
Professor Paul McGreevy and some furry friends.

Puppies and mature dogs chew. A lot – and not just while they are eating.

While this drives some owners mad, veterinary scientists suspect there must be functional reasons why your best friend chews bones, sticks, shoes, furniture, your hand. But science has largely overlooked the reasons why.

To find out, Professor Paul McGreevy at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science is leading a study to explore the functional significance of gnawing (and chewing) in domestic dogs.

He wants to hear from the dog-owning public what they give their pets to munch on.

Professor McGreevy said: “Gnawing is a common element of the canine behavioural repertoire, with feral dogs spending much more time chewing than hunting. So, the influence of gnawing on domestic dog welfare is likely to be highly significant.

“At first glance, we get the sense that this activity keeps dog’s teeth clean. But despite the importance that dogs place on gnawing, the activity has been largely overlooked by science.”

In veterinary behavioural medicine, gnawing is reported in association with distress and anxiety; as a part of destructive behaviour that can occur either when dogs are left alone or being confined, regardless of the presence of the owners.

“Gnawing could have potential as an indicator of welfare problems,” Professor McGreevy said.

“Furthermore, gnawing the wrong items can cause physical injuries to the teeth or gums and can result in the ingestion of foreign bodies if dogs chew inappropriate objects such as stones, sticks and fabrics.”

An understanding of the significance of chewing could see the development of new techniques to assist anxious dogs.

“Here at Chew HQ, as we have informally called ourselves, we are asking owners to tell us all about the types of chewable items they give their dogs to chew, tear and gnaw.

“We want to hear how often dogs are given these goodies and how they behave before and afterwards. We are also interested in the state of the dogs’ teeth and their gut function.”

Dog owners can complete the survey at this link.

Declaration

The researchers declare no conflicts of interest. The research is philanthropically funded.

Dog ownersTake the survey

Professor Paul McGreevy

Sydney School of Veterinary ScienceEmail