We’ve all wondered why our dogs eat strange, non-traditional food items. Whether it’s grass, dirt, or poop, dogs seem to love eating things that we find weird, amusing, or utterly repulsive. I admit, my face curled into a look of unspeakable horror and revulsion at the question, “Why do dogs eat tampons?” However unfamiliar it seemed to me, the phenomenon is extremely common, and by no means restricted to feminine hygiene products.
Indeed, human biomedical waste knows neither gender nor age. From bloody tampons and used condoms to discarded dental floss and disposable diapers, the scent of decaying human excreta makes bathrooms a continual source of curiosity for your dog. Menstrual blood, infant fecal matter, and spent semen: If it is exposed to open air and located in a place that is readily accessible, you can bet a dog will be intrigued. Some of the issues we’ll try to address:
I understand the frustration that people feel when they enter their bathrooms and find a right mess where the trashcan customarily sits. I can only imagine the shock that must set in when a discarded item, fouled by human waste — be it a diaper, prophylactic, or sanitary napkin — is seen dangling between a dog’s teeth or found in a dog’s stool. Unfortunately, aside from boredom, lack of exercise, or severe malnutrition, there is no fixed answer to why dogs eat non-food items.
Where diapers are concerned, infant or adult, canine coprophagia, also known as the tendency to eat poop, is well-documented. If your dog has a reputation for eating feces in public, a visit to the veterinarian, nutritionist, or trainer may help dissuade her from the habit. If the ingested item is something like a condom or maxi pad, items that your dog is unlikely to encounter in the dog park, the reason is probably not dietary or behavioral, but instinctual.
The two sense organs a dog can use from birth are the nose and tongue. A dog’s senses of smell and taste are powerful experiential tools. Humans may touch or bring a new object closer to their eyes to examine it thoroughly. For dogs, intimate knowledge is gained by sniffing, licking, and tasting. Most domestic dogs retain an atavistic desire, passed down from their lupine forebears, to track a new scent and ingest any available sample.
Dogs are both natural hunters and proficient scavengers. It is the latter role that draws them to the pungent odors associated with decay and effluvia. Once the scent of bodily fluids of any kind enters the nostrils, trust a dog to pursue it to the source and test its utility, either as a toy or a food source. Dental floss, facial tissues, diapers, moist towelettes, and tampons; no discarded item in your bathroom’s waste basket is exempt.
Short of a major evolutionary shift, dogs are always going to eat things that they shouldn’t. Unlike fecal matter, red clay, or random tufts of grass, though, tampons, maxi pads, sanitary napkins, condoms, disposable diapers, and all such items of a personal nature that inhabit our bathrooms pose significant threats to a dog’s health. For instance, a tampon with a string attached to it lodged in a dog’s digestive system can get trapped. As it jostles about in the digestive tract, that string can act like a handsaw, rending the lining of the esophagus, small intestine, or colon.
If it is an item touted for super-absorbency, the very factors that make it an effective personal hygiene product can wreak untold havoc inside a dog. The more absorbent a pad or tampon is, the greater surface area it will occupy in a dog’s digestive tract. Should it get trapped in the small intestine and swell to maximum capacity, it risks not only robbing a dog of fluids, but also causing an intestinal blockage. A swollen tampon may prevent partially digested food from completing its wonted journey. Similar blockages can occur from ingested diapers or condoms.
If you suspect your dog has eaten a discarded personal hygiene item, my research suggests monitoring your dog’s fecal activity for the ensuing 48 hours. If the item is intact, has not absorbed too much fluid or gotten caught along the way, it may pass in the dog’s stool within that time. If a blockage has occurred, be on the lookout for abrupt changes in your dog’s behavior or eating habits. A dog with a digestive obstruction may experience:
First of all, don’t panic. If you are certain that your dog has ingested a discarded condom, tampon, or diaper, monitor your dog’s excrement for the next day or two. If it does not pass on its own, and should you begin noticing any of the initial symptoms mentioned above, consult with your veterinarian.
X-rays or ultrasounds can locate foreign bodies lodged in the intestines. Long-term consequences of having a personal hygiene item lodged in the digestive system include dehydration, tearing of the intestinal wall, internal bleeding, and peritonitis, or inflammation of the abdominal lining.
I wondered, when I began researching this essay, whether a particular breed or type of dog was more likely to be a bathroom litter bandit. To the contrary, in pieces written by veterinarians, to comments left on message boards by concerned dog owners, there was no apparent pattern. From puppies to senior dogs, from small breeds to large dogs, and from Australian Shepherds to Pugs, they seem to be universally interested. Even cats are attracted to traces of bodily discharge.
If your bathroom’s trashcan doesn’t have a cover, consider getting a new one with a heavy lid. Make sure to firmly close the door to the loo before you leave the house for any stretch of time. At Dogster, we are all too familiar with the our pooches’ peccadilloes. A glance through Internet forums and message boards on the topic of dogs eating tampons in particular are full of responses that amount to period-shaming, which we’ll have none of here. A dog is not “bad” for following biological imperatives, nor is anyone a bad dog parent for forgetting to cover a bathroom trashcan.
What is the strangest thing your dog steals regularly from your bathroom? Let us know in the comments!
About the author: Melvin Peña trained as a scholar and teacher of 18th-century British literature before turning his research and writing skills to puppies and kittens. He enjoys making art, hiking, and concert-going, as well as dazzling crowds with operatic karaoke performances. He has a two-year-old female Bluetick Coonhound mix named Baby, and his online life is conveniently encapsulated here.