Much to your dismay, your dog has decided that it’s going to channel its inner chipmunk every time it walks past the neighborhood oak tree.
All the acorns are his, and no one is going to convince him otherwise!
You’ve heard through the grapevine that oaknuts aren’t great for dogs, and unfortunately the rumors are true. Acorns contain an organic substance called gallotannin that is harmful to dogs.
On the practical side of things, the shape and size of acorns also make them a choking hazard, especially for smaller dogs.
If you’ve ever wanted to read an Ultimate Guide on How To Stop A Dog From Eating Acorns (And Really Anything Else)– who hasn’t– then you’ve come to the right place!
There are several strategies that you can employ, such as training your dog not to touch the acorns or by distracting it with something else. Different approaches may be more or less successful depending on your dog’s temperament and level of training.
If all else fails, you can stop your dog from eating acorns by using specific equipment such as a basket muzzle or E-collar. It’s all explained below, so read on!
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- Is It Bad For My Dog To Eat Acorns?
- Why Does My Dog Want To Eat Acorns?
- How to Stop Your Dog From Eating Acorns
- What to Do If Your Dog Eats an Acorn
- Other Things Your Dog Shouldn’t Eat Outside
- Things That Are Safe for Your Dog to Eat Outside
- In Summary
Is It Bad For My Dog To Eat Acorns?
While they may seem cute and harmless, acorns are not a safe option for your dog to eat. This is especially the case if munching on acorns becomes a frequent habit. There are several reasons why even a small amount of acorns can be harmful to dogs.
Gallotannin Poisoning In Dogs
Acorns contain tannins, a biomolecule found in wood, leaves, specific fruits, and the shells of seeds. Acorns contain a particular tannin called gallotannin.
Though small amounts of tannins have a beneficial effect, certain plants with higher concentrations of gallotannins, such as acorns, can be toxic.
When dogs consume things with tannins, they get broken down in the stomach and can cause stomach upset, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and overall lethargy.
This will progress onto more serious symptoms such as stomach bleeding, dehydration, collapsing and seizures as the toxins damage the intestinal lining, kidneys and veins.
Stomach bleeding in particular can cause rapid dehydration, leading to shock through bloody stools and vomiting.
In the most severe cases and with smaller breeds in particular, the ingestion of tannins can cause liver damage and kidney disease, eventually becoming fatal if left untreated.
How Many Acorns Are Toxic To Dogs?
It has been estimated that if a dog eats an amount of acorns equal to 6% of its body weight, it will be at risk of gallotannin poisoning.
Poisoning symptoms can show within a few hours after ingestion, but it is quite common for dogs (especially larger ones) to not experience adverse effects until days later.
Throat Or Bowel Obstructions
Acorns come in a range of sizes, both small and large. They are usually circular or oval in shape, and often come with a bumpy cap and rigid stem attached. Acorns have a smooth, glossy exterior and are hard all the way through.
Acorns become slippery when wet, whether with rainwater or saliva. Though a dog may try to chew on the acorn, it is likely to be difficult to grip the acorn with its teeth and instead may accidentally swallow the nut whole.
This, of course, can result in choking. A large or even medium-sized acorn can easily become lodged in a dog’s throat and stop it from being able to breathe.
Choking prevents any oxygen from being taken in through the airway, and can result in the dog losing consciousness. Eventually, the lack of oxygen will cause organ and brain damage, and ultimately result in death.
If your dog is showing signs of choking and you don’t know what to do, jump straight to the section below for steps that you need to follow.
Acorns are difficult for dogs to digest and can cause an internal blockage especially if swallowed whole. They can also have sharp points and stems which can scratch or tear the intestinal wall.
Symptoms to look for when your dog has eaten large (or a relatively large amount of) acorns include:
- Stomach pain or bloating
- Heavy panting, trouble breathing, or choking
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Bloody stools
- Refusal to eat or drink
- Visible distress, such as pacing or whining
Blockages can be fatal for your dog and may require emergency surgery. If an obstruction is untreated, it will lead to death. For further information on how to deal with stomach obstructions in dogs, jump straight to the relevant section below.
Are Acorn Caps And Oak Leaves Poisonous To Dogs?
All parts of the oak tree contain gallotannin and are therefore poisonous to dogs in large quantities. That includes the stems, bark, roots, leaves, and acorn buds and caps.
While some of these parts will be too large to eat (roots) or less attractive to dogs than acorns (leaves, bark), it is still possible for them to transmit toxins to your dog.
For example, oak leaves and acorn caps that fall into a dog’s water bowl can taint the water as the gallotannins seep in over time. The taste of it may make your dog scared of its water bowl!
Even if leaves and barks aren’t as fun for dogs to play with as acorns are, a very bored dog will potentially still chew on them if they have nothing else to keep them entertained.
Therefore, it is always important to make sure that any contact by your dog with oak byproducts is minimized and to keep acorns and leaves away from your dog’s food and water sources.
Why Does My Dog Want To Eat Acorns?
Usually, the bitter taste of acorns is enough to put a dog off chewing on them. A slight lick may cause some dogs to begin chewing on nothing in an attempt to remove the repulsive taste.
The high level of gallotannins in acorns make them unappetizing to eat, to say the least.
However, there are still some possible explanations as to why your dog may want to eat acorns:
- Your dog was bored and decided to chew on the most interesting thing that it could find
- Your dog was hungry and the acorn had an interesting scent, flavor and texture
- It was the first time that your dog ever saw an acorn and wanted to explore it with its mouth
- Your dog is teething and needs something to relieve the pain
- Your dog has nutritional deficiencies that it is trying to address subconsciously (also known as ‘pica’)
If you leave your dog to its own devices and it becomes bored, it may try to liven things up by chewing on objects that it hasn’t played with before. If your yard is full of oak trees, then acorns will be plentiful outlets to their boredom.
Mouths are to dogs as hands are to humans. A dog’s way of exploring things is to try them out with their mouths- which in the case of acorns is not a great idea. Most dogs also don’t know the meaning of ‘full’ and will eat as much of something as they can.
Puppies that are teething may also chew on the acorns that they find to try to alleviate their gum and tooth pain. Acorns offer a hard surface yet still have some of that ‘give’ that puppies love to sink their little chompers into.
Finally, pica is another possible explanation as to why it finds acorns so delicious.
Pica makes dogs crave inedible objects, such as duct tape, metal, charcoal, and in this case, acorns. Though it is difficult to pinpoint what causes pica, it has been linked to hormonal imbalances, parasites, vitamin deficiencies, and obsessive compulsive tendencies.
How to Stop Your Dog From Eating Acorns
Avoid Acorn-Laden Locations
Know that awesome park down the road with the clearing encircled by oak trees? The one where rabbits hop by without a care in the world, and bright little butterflies are carried by gentle currents in the breeze?
Yeah, don’t go there anymore- especially during Autumn.
The easiest, most foolproof way of keeping acorns away from your dog is to keep your dog away from the acorns!
If your dog has a serious acorn addiction, you will unfortunately have to forgo some wonderful places in the world. But don’t worry, there’s literally an infinite number of places that you can take your dog for a walk right there in your neighborhood.
Your dog won’t know any difference either- it’ll be happy just to be out and about. So switch it up and discover someplace new!
If you have oak trees in your yard, keep the acorns raked so that your dog cannot get to them.
In the event that you have no creativity, or live in the middle of nowhere in an oak tree forest (how’d you get WIFI??), you’ll have to use one of the methods below.
One of the best ways to curb unwanted behavior in dogs is to use a distraction. If your dog loves to eat acorns, try to think of things your dog loves even more- like mowing the lawn.
Perhaps your dog has a favorite treat, one that gets him excited like nothing else. Stash a few of those in your pocket the next time you go outside, and anytime your dog goes for an acorn, call him back and offer a treat.
Over time, this trick may train your dog to avoid acorns altogether.
You can also use other forms of distraction, such as a ball or other favorite toy.
The moment your dog heads for an acorn, start up a game of fetch, tug, or anything else your dog likes to play.
Sometimes dogs eat random things because they are bored. Try to satisfy that curiosity more positively.
Train Your Dog With The Commands “Leave It” and “Take It”
If you haven’t already, teach your dog a command such as “leave it” or “drop it.” This command can be helpful when figuring out how to stop your dog from eating acorns or when your dog picks up anything you don’t want in his mouth.
To train your dog to “leave it,” you may first want to start with the command, “take it.“ This command teaches your dog to never put anything in his mouth without your permission, which has more far-reaching behavioral effects.
To begin, put a treat in your hand. Allow your dog to try to get the treat. Once your dog stops, offer the treat and say, “take it.” Work on this command, and use it every time your dog gets something that he is allowed to eat or put in his mouth.
To teach your dog the “leave it” command, place a treat on the floor. Choose a treat your dog likes, but not his favorite treat. Once your dog understands to leave the treat on the floor, reward him with a favorite treat. Do not let your dog have the treat on the floor.
Train Your Dog To Focus On You
You can train your dog to focus only on you during walks, whenever there are any acorns nearby.
You can do this by:
- Start off by giving your dog a treat as a reward when they look at you.
- Over time, your dog will realize that looking at you and being next to you is beneficial to them.
- You may gradually incorporate “Come” or other commands so that they know it is good to go to you.
You can also teach them to respond to clicker training by rewarding them with a treat whenever they look at you when you’ve clicked.
If they do not pay attention to you when you try to train them, you could try:
- Catching their attention with better treats
- Reinforcing a specific behavior more clearly. This could involve giving them treats more often by doing the specific action.
When All Else Fails, Use Prevention As A Last Resort
Ideally, you should only use the prevention methods shown below when you’ve tried everything else and still cannot stop your dog from eating acorns.
- Use a basket muzzle. Although the dog will find it annoying and will try to take it off, it will eventually realize that wearing a muzzle can be beneficial. You can use treats or walks to communicate to them that wearing a muzzle is a good thing.
- Use an Outfox Field Guard. This tool will stop your puppy from eating acorns because it is completely enclosed. However, it still allows the freedom to sniff, drink and play as usual.
- Use an E-Collar/Cone. The ‘Cone of Shame’ is likely the most comfortable option to prevent your dog from eating anything on the ground. However, it will impede movement and cause the dog to bump into its surroundings frequently.
What to Do If Your Dog Eats an Acorn
If your dog has eaten an acorn, do not panic. Chances are, your dog will be just fine. Most dogs that have issues after eating acorns have eaten large quantities of the nut, not just one.
If it’s eaten a few or a lot of acorns, then you’ll need to be more mindful.
In Cases Of Potential Gallotannin Poisoning
Remember, dogs need to eat 6% of their body weight’s worth of acorn in order to suffer from any adverse effects.
However, since acorns are toxic to dogs, you do want to call your vet just to let him know and so he can advise you on things to keep an eye on over the next few days.
In general, you will want to watch out for symptoms of poisoning and stomach upset, including excess drooling (a sign of nausea), vomiting, and diarrhea. Your dog may also become lethargic. If you see any of these symptoms, be sure to take your dog to the vet. It could be a sign of something serious.
Once at the vet’s office, he may check for kidney damage with blood tests and a urine analysis.
If the vet determines that your dog is suffering from gallotannin poisoning, the treatment goals will be with rehydration, correcting electrolyte imbalances, and supporting kidney and liver function in mind.
In Cases Where Your Dog Is Choking
If the dog is currently choking, you need to drop everything and help it to remove the acorn from its throat.
If you can see the chunk in its throat, use your fingers to pull it out.
Don’t use tools like pliers or scissors to try to reach it, as you can very easily cut your dog’s larynx in its panicked state. A cut in the throat will bleed profusely and be near impossible to stop, which will endanger your dog’s life even more.
If you can’t see the acorn, don’t try to find it with your fingers by going as deep as you can. If you do this, you could push the object even further in.
Instead, lift your dog onto its feet, clench your hands together into a fist, and place it under your dog in the solar plexus or belly region below its ribs. Firmly apply short bursts of pumping action up into its belly.
If it is a smaller dog, use your palms and try to be more gentle since rib bones can easily snap.
After every five pumps, check to see if the acorn becomes visible in the throat or if your dog has spit it out.
Hopefully it is dislodged successfully and you are able to remove the troublesome nut.
Afterwards, take your dog to the vet as there may still be some invisible damage which has occurred while performing the Heimlich maneuver.
In Cases Of Potential Intestinal Blockage
If your dog ate a large amount of acorns but doesn’t seem to be choking, you still need to take him to the vet immediately. This is because the pieces of acorn are now sitting in your dog’s digestive tract and could soon cause a pyloric obstruction.
A pyloric obstruction is where a foreign object becomes stuck in the passage area between the stomach and small intestine.
If the pyloric sphincter becomes obstructed with foreign material, your dog will soon begin to show restlessness and experience nausea. If you take your dog to the vet quickly, he will be able to monitor the situation and take any prompt action that is needed.
If only a short amount of time has passed, your vet may induce your dog to vomit. This could be the best course of action if the X-ray shows that the size of the acorn(s) are small enough to safely bring back up.
Do not induce vomiting on your own with hydrogen peroxide as you cannot be sure there are no sharp or large objects without an X-ray.
If too much time has passed or if there are just too many large whole acorns present, your vet may elect to perform an endoscopy to pull the pieces out. In the worst case scenario, surgery will be necessary to remove the pieces safely from your dog’s stomach and intestines.
Other Things Your Dog Shouldn’t Eat Outside
Acorns are not the only thing outside that can hurt your dog. It is important to monitor it while outside to ensure that your dog doesn’t eat anything that may be harmful.
Many types of fertilizers can be harmful to dogs. If you use fertilizer in your garden, check to make sure it is safe for pets. Any kind of pesticides and poisons can also be harmful.
Remember that if you are using pesticides to kill other animals such as rats or squirrels, it can also be toxic to your dog. Even if your dog eats carcasses of wild animals which aren’t tainted with poison, they can still become ill due to the rotten flesh and parasites that might be present.
Mushrooms can also be potentially dangerous. Train your dog not to mess with mushrooms and try to control them in your yard.
Many plants and flowers can be poisonous to your dog, including azaleas, daffodils, and ivy. Ensure you do not plant anything toxic in your yard and keep your dog away from plants when you’re away from home.
Things That Are Safe for Your Dog to Eat Outside
Dogs are curious creatures by nature, and they are going to explore the world outside especially when they are still young (or young-at-heart).
One of the ways dogs explore is by picking up things with their mouth. Despite your best efforts, your dog may wind up eating some things outside.
You may see your dog eat grass from time to time, like an eerily canid-like sheep.
Eating grass is usually a natural response to stomach troubles. As long as the grass is free of herbicides and pesticides, it should not harm your dog. However, if your dog makes a habit of eating grass, you will want to talk to your vet.
Eating bugs is also generally harmless. Many dogs find insects, like ants and maggots, to be a tasty treat that offers a bit of playtime beforehand. It is not common, but your dog can get stomach worms from eating certain bugs, so you may want to try to prevent the behavior.
Some dogs will gnaw on sticks. While this is usually harmless, it is best to try to give your dog a safer wood alternative that is meant for chewing. There are plenty of toys to satisfy just about every type of chewer.
For our review of the top toy alternatives that look, taste, and feel just like wood, visit our Top Wood Chew Toy recommendations page!
It can be relatively simple to stop a dog from eating acorns.
When you catch your dog eating acorns from time to time, keep working on how to stop your dog from carrying out this potentially harmful behavior. You can do this through training or using distractions.
Another way to stop your dog from eating acorns is simply to keep it far away from any oak trees, whether out on walks or in your yard.
As a last resort, you can always use equipment such as muzzles or E-collars to prevent your dog from picking up nuts. With these, your dog will still have full freedom to move around, but won’t be able to eat things that it shouldn’t be eating.
You also need to make your vet aware of this habit, because too many acorns can lead to increasingly serious side effects like stomach upset and eventual kidney failure. Choking and internal blockages are also risks if your dog eats too many large acorns relative to its size.
Finally, consulting your vet is always a good idea because he may want to monitor your dog and will have additional helpful tips to put an end to the acorn eating once and for all.
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.