Doggone Leather: Will Eating Your Shoes Hurt Your Pooch?
How to protect your dog from his chewing fixation
In early 2015, a dog named Vince ate both of his owner’s leather boots in one sitting and got himself a free ride to the Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center in South Philadelphia. Luckily, the four-year-old mixed breed pooch recovered from stomach surgery to remove a large quantity of chewed leather and metal eyelets, the center’s veterinarians told an ABC News affiliate in Philly.
It’s a common problem with dogs exercising their natural desire to chew, vets say. For puppies, it’s the same as teething in human babies. Veterinarians explain that dogs will chew almost anything reasonably pliant, from electrical cords to shoe leather. Chewing trouble often begins with leather shoes, which are often easy for a dog to reach.
Related: How to Teach Your Dog Not to Bite
Generally, leather itself won’t hurt the dogs, although some leathers are made with potentially toxic chemicals and dyes added during the tanning process. The main threat is a serious digestive obstruction.
“Generally when dogs eat something like leather, it’s more of an obstructive problem,” says Garrett Wood, DVM, a veterinarian with Old Dominion Animal Hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia. The practice where Woods works has treated dogs for digestive obstructions ranging from leather shoes and belts to the upholstery and cushioning on furniture, as well as the occasional squeaky toy that an unfortunate pup managed to swallow.
“We commonly see dogs eating things they’re not supposed to, including leather items and even the stuffing in sofa cushions. When they’re really young, a lot of dogs develop pica." Pica is thehabitual consumption of non-food items).”
To help keep your pooch from getting hurt or developing a taste for fine leather, Wood and other dog experts offer the following tips.
Keep leather items like shoes and belts in a closet, and don’t forget to close the door. “Prevention involves keeping things off the ground and out of reach,” Wood says. “Sometimes chewing is related to separation anxiety, so dogs have to do something and they go to tearing apart things. I do tell owners to get their puppies used to being in a crate if they have issues with tearing up [stuff]. Then they get comfortable with a crate and make it a safety haven.”
Train your puppy from an early age on acceptable chewing behavior. To help dogs get past the puppy-chewing stage, Wood recommends "training them at 2 to 4 months of age that there are okay things to chew on, like balls or plush toys, and get them used to that. Catching them on the early side and preventing this behavior from the get-go is your best bet for success.”
Avoid squeaky toys (especially if you have a small dog). “Eventually dogs will get to the squeaker inside the toy and they may swallow it,” Wood says. “I don’t know that there’s any indestructible toy.”
Related: Dog Toys: Which Ones Are Safest?
See a vet if your dog eats your shoes (or purse). Even if it’s a small amount of leather, see your vet right away if you notice signs or symptoms of an intestinal obstruction, which include vomiting (especially after eating), diarrhea, failure to eat, weakness or sluggishness and weight loss. If leather starts coming out the other end of the dog, resist the temptation to pull: This can badly harm your dog’s intestines.
Get a pet sitter, even a friend, to check on your dog during the day. Dogs may chew destructively out of boredom or anxiety from being left alone. You might also consider getting him a canine companion.
Related: How To Choose a Reliable Pet Sitter
Find some good breed-appropriate chew toys. Substituting chew toys for your designer leather boots seems like the obvious solution, but not all “chews” are created equal. Before buying chew toys, check the ingredients on the label. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) notes that makers of pet food and chew toys may not have to follow AAFCO labeling regulations if they make no claims about nutritional value in chew toys made from bone, rawhide or other animal parts, and some rawhide chews have been recalled for salmonella contamination. Ask your vet for recommendations.
You may also want to look into alternative chew toys. Pattie Boden owns the pet food store Animal Connection in Charlottesville and stocks what she calls “holistic” chews for dogs. “We try to source things that have no hormones, no antibiotics and are in a natural color,” Bowden says. “We also get product from local butchers that are freeze-dried and prepared correctly. We buy things that are sourced and raised in the United States.” They may cost a little more than the average chew toy, but they’re certainly less expensive than a new pair of Gucci leather boots.