Q: I have a 3-year-old female Yorkshire terrier (Yorkie) that is a chewer. She is usually well-behaved, always loving and a cuddler. She has chew bones and toys out all the time but she still chews on anything else that is down for her to get. She chews on wood pieces and shrubs outside, and inside anything plastic, wood or rubber, including my chair rounds. What can I do to deter this behavior?
A: You should first let your veterinarian examine her mouth to determine that she does not have any problem with early tooth or gum disease. She can check for teeth that did not erupt or that erupted inappropriately, for any pathology that might be present such as a foreign body imbedded in the gums or palate or an abnormal growth of tissue in her mouth.
The other thing I would be concerned about is that 60-80 percent of dogs at 2-3 years of age are starting to have excessive buildup of tarter and plaque on their teeth. This can irritate the gums and cause her to try to soothe that by chewing on things.
If no health-related issues are found, we need to look at her environment. Dogs are a lot like us in that they get bored easily if there is nothing to stimulate them or keep them busy. Her behavior easily could be due to boredom. Even though she is outside she should have access to some toys. Balls she can toss around are good and some are available that food can be stuffed into to pique her interest in them. Toys on ropes can be suspended from a fence or tree branch that will excite her to interact with.
Likely since she has so much energy, extra walks in the early morning or late evening can help to lower her energy level throughout the day and possibly deter so much chewing.
In the house, she should also have toys available. There are several toys on the market that are “time toys” and have areas to hide treats inside to keep her busy. Small treats can be hidden around her area of the house for her to find and play with to break the boredom.
Toys should be limited to two or three at a time available to her. They should be rotated with different toys weekly again to break the boredom. If you handle her toys, especially if they are washed or cleaned regularly, they will be more desirable to her.
Several chew toys are available that are either very difficult to chew up, or not able to be chewed up (this depends on the dog, not the manufacturer’s label). Nylabones and rawhide bones are two examples. Be careful with rawhide since it actually can upset some dog’s stomachs and, if too small, may cause them to choke. Monitor her closely the first time she gets a different type of rawhide. Be careful with soft stuffed toys because the stuffing if she eats it, can become a GI foreign body and require surgery to remove. Also do not give her an old shoe because to her, a shoe is a shoe and they all taste good.
Spraying your chair rounds and other items you do not want her to chew on will help to distract her. Several foul smelling or bad-tasting sprays are available for use. Bitter sprays will need to be used regularly to make them work.
Monitor her closely and try to help her with any boredom, and guide her to what is and is not allowed for chewing, both for her safety and your peace of mind.
DR. M. MARGARET KING, a longtime Edmond veterinarian, is a guest columnist. If you have any questions for her, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.