Dogs eat bugs because of their prey drive instinct. In the wild, dogs have to track and hunt down their own food. When they see a moving insect, their hunting instincts kick in. With proper training, dogs can learn to control this urge and leave the bugs alone.
Most of us don’t find bugs appetizing, so it may seem bizarre when we see our dogs chase down and eat a bug.
This may cause you to wonder—why does my dog eat bugs?
To answer that question, we first need to remember that we don’t use our mouths in as many ways as our dogs do.
Dogs put things in their mouth for many reasons: to taste, eat, grab and move, nip (to herd or warn), bite (defensively and offensively), and to chew (to keep their gums and teeth healthy).
Therefore, the answer to the question ultimately depends on your dog and what led to the bug ending up in his mouth in the first place.
A dog may put a bug in his mouth out of curiosity, without the intention of eating it. A dog may also catch the bug because of its prey drive; because it was moving and caught their attention, the dog felt a biological need to chase and catch it.
Below we will go into detail on some of the most common reasons dogs eat bugs.
Top Three Reasons Dogs Eat Bugs
Dogs are curious beings and love to stick their face in anything that captures their interest. A dog does not have hands like we do, so it uses its mouth to pick things up and inspect them. This behavior is natural to all dogs and does not need to be encouraged to occur.
If you have ever owned a puppy, you know that it will “mouth” you to learn how to grab without biting and hurting you. A dog may use his mouth to pick up a stick or rock and carry it around.
A dog’s natural instinct to put things in its mouth may explain why your dog ate a bug. Without hands and fingers, once a dog gets a bug in its mouth, it cannot easily pick it back out—thus, the bug may end up eaten.
Dogs also have a very sensitive sense of smell and may smell the bug, find it interesting, and want to explore it with their mouth.
It may be hard to believe, but our sweet, loving, cuddly lap dogs are descendants of wolves. Wolves are predators and need to hunt their food to eat and survive, hence the prey drive. This instinct, prey drive, has been passed down to domesticated dogs.
You can see prey drive exhibited with typical dog pastimes such as fetching balls or chasing squirrels. Prey drive is what motivates an Italian Greyhound to race around a track.
This survival instinct is not size-dependent, so your large or small dog may have varying degrees of prey drive.
Dogs that are sighthounds (e.g., Whippets, Irish Wolfhounds, Scottish Deerhounds, Afghan Hounds, Salukis) may have a higher prey drive than non-sighthound dog breeds.
Prey drive is why, when some dogs lock their gaze on a moving target, a bug in this instance, they may feel a biological imperative to chase and catch it.
With proper training, a dog can learn to control this urge. You may want to consider getting your dog professionally trained if they are chasing cats. Chasing bugs is less likely to become a safety issue than chasing cats, so let them enjoy the activity!
The two reasons explored before would make a dog likely to eat a bug here and there, but not in large quantities.
Pica, however, is a psychological condition that can cause a dog to eat so many bugs that it causes health problems.
Pica, which may occur in humans as well, is a condition where the afflicted animal has an impulse to eat non-edible things. This can be anything from rocks, cloth, plastic, metal, or bugs!
If your dog has Pica, you will likely see the behavior occur at some point and witness negative health consequences such as diarrhea and vomiting.
If you suspect your dog has Pica, consult your veterinarian as soon as possible as it can lead to nutrient deficiencies, diabetes, and bowel disease.
Pica can also give your dog an intestinal blockage which can quickly become a life-threatening emergency!
Concerned about Your Dog’s Bug Eating?
Unless it is caused by Pica, your dog eating an occasional bug here or there is likely not dangerous unless the bugs he’s after are bees, hornets, wasps, or spiders.
Bees, Hornets, and Wasps
Bees, hornets, and wasps will sting and even swarm to defend themselves. The tissue damage and swelling caused by their stings may inhibit your dog’s ability to breathe in oxygen.
Some dogs may also have allergic reactions to the venom transmitted by these bugs in self-defense. If your dog has been stung, apply a cool compress to the area and keep a close eye on them because a bee, hornet, or wasp venom allergy could cause anaphylactic shock.
Anaphylactic shock is an emergency and can be fatal if not promptly treated. If your dog has a mild allergy, you will need to keep an eye on them for the rest of the day and watch for any signs of reaction, such as trouble breathing, breaking out in hives, pale gums, or abnormal behavior.
Stings near the mouth or throat area are especially concerning, and because dogs love to investigate with their nose and face, a lot of insect stings occur in that area.
Out of an abundance of caution, it is best to call your veterinarian if you are unsure if your dog is having an allergic reaction to a bee, hornet, or wasp sting. Your veterinarian may even advise treatment at home with an oral antihistamine.
The primary concern with dogs going after spiders is that some of them may be venomous. Spiders such as the southern black widow, western black widow, northern black widow, brown recluse, and various tarantulas are all venomous.
Venomous spiders inject venom into their victims with fangs located within their jaw in front of their mouth.
The fangs have a hole in the tip, leading to a gland where the venom is stored. If chased and mouthed by a dog, the spider may defend itself by piercing the dog’s skin with the fang and injecting the venom; this will give the spider a chance to get away.
When that happens, it is important to quickly recognize the problem and identify the type of spider that bit your dog.
You may want to capture the spider, if possible, to prevent another occurrence or to help your vet identify and treat the bite.
You will probably notice swelling or redness at the injection site. Closely observe your dog’s breathing and behavior for the rest of the day as signs of a reaction may not develop for up to 8 hours!
Alarming symptoms of spider venom poisoning include difficulty breathing, vomiting, and seizure. If you suspect a bite from a poisonous spider, call your veterinarian as soon as possible. The veterinarian will cleanse and examine the wound, administer the necessary therapies (possibly antivenin if appropriate), and may even prescribe an antibiotic for an infected site. Complete recovery may take one to several weeks.
Eating Bugs is Typically Safe
Your dog may eat bugs for many reasons which depend on the dog and the situation. It is typically not dangerous or harmful so just enjoy the entertainment!
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