Dogs love to chew on non-food items, as anyone who’s lost their favorite shoes to a puppy knows only too well! Chewing can be a harmless behavior … but when your dog has the urge to eat truly non-digestible objects, it’s called pica.
What is Pica in Dogs?
Pica is a behavioral disorder that compels dogs (and humans!) to want to eat non-food objects. These could be stones, sticks, dirt, household items, metal, clothing, and anything else that shouldn’t be food. The name “pica” comes from the Latin word for magpie … a bird with a reputation for eating almost anything!
Pica is dangerous because it means your dog will eat things it’s not possible to digest. This could lead to a life-threatening bowel obstruction. (If you ever suspect a bowel obstruction in your dog, don’t waste time getting to your vet.)
Symptoms of Pica in Dogs
It’s easy to notice pica when you see your dog eating something she shouldn’t … like plastic or rocks. You may find her trying to grab these items when you’re out on a walk. But how do you know, if you don’t actually catch her in the act? You might suspect your dog has pica if you notice digestive problems like …
- Changes in appetite
- Lack of energy
- Presence of non-food items in your dog’s poop
You should keep track of what your dog tries to eat, how much, and how often. This is helpful information for your veterinarian as part of an examination history.
Causes of Pica in Dogs
It’s normal for puppies to try eating many different items as a part of exploring and learning. They should grow out of this behavior as they age. Studies show that younger dogs and neutered dogs have higher odds of displaying pica.
Here are some possible reasons for pica in dogs:
1. Malnutrition Or Changes In Appetite Due To Underlying Disease
In humans, pica can stem from a lack of iron or zinc in the body. An underlying deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals your dog needs could be causing her to eat dirt or rocks. Hormone imbalances due to medical conditions could also cause your dog to eat strange things.
Any of the following medical issues could lead to pica:
- Malabsorption of nutrients and other digestive issues
- Thyroid disease
- Liver disease
- Pancreatic disease
If you suspect any of these conditions in your dog, you may want to ask your holistic vet for help nailing down the cause of your dog’s pica.
2. Side Effects Of Medication Or Vaccination
Some medications such as steroids may cause pica. Pica can also be a symptom of rabies vaccinosis (adverse reactions to rabies vaccination or over-vaccination).
RELATED: 65 ways rabies vaccination can harm your dog …
3. Behavioral Problems Such As Separation Anxiety
Does your dog spend long periods alone? Pica can be a result of stress, boredom, or anxiety. If your dog is otherwise healthy (with none of the conditions listed above), then you should assess what may be affecting your dog’s mental health.
RELATED: How to help your dog with separation anxiety …
How to Treat Pica in Dogs
Once you suspect that your dog has pica, you need to stop her from eating things she shouldn’t. How you treat pica will depend on whether the cause is medical or behavioral.
Pica For Medical Reasons
If you suspect the cause is medical, your holistic vet should be able to help you figure out the underlying reason for your dog’s pica. Your vet may want to do blood tests to help identify any problems.
Nutritional Causes Of Pica
If it’s a lack of nutrition, treating the underlying condition or changing the diet to ensure adequate nutrients might be enough to solve the problem. A study in rats showed that antioxidants such as glutathione, vitamin C, and vitamin E may help reduce pica.
Giving your dog digestive enzymes may also help her absorb nutrients better.
RELATED: When to give your dog digestive enzymes …
Medication Causes Of Pica
If your dog’s pica is caused by medication, your holistic vet can help you find natural alternatives to replace the pharmaceuticals in most cases. Some medications can also cause nutrient deficiencies, so adjusting your dog’s diet may be necessary in this situation too.
Pica Due To Rabies Vaccinosis
If you suspect your dog’s pica started after she was vaccinated for rabies, your best option is to consult a homeopathic vet. Vaccinosis is a well-known concept in homeopathy (but not in conventional medicine).
Homeopathic treatment can help relieve your dog’s vaccinosis symptoms. But you’ll need a professional homeopath to help analyze your dog’s case and prescribe appropriate remedies. You can find a homeopath at The Academy Of Veterinary Homeopathy … and most will do phone consults, so they don’t have to be local.
Pica For Behavioral Reasons
If the reason for pica is behavioral, you should address the source of your dog’s anxiety or boredom. Consider trying the following ways to prevent your dog from eating inappropriate items:
- If your dog is obsessed with eating a specific item, keep it out of her living environment. For example, if you notice her eating rocks, make sure she doesn’t have any access to rocks when you’re not there to supervise her. This may mean restricting her access to part of your backyard, or keeping her on leash outside.
- Keep your dog’s environment free of objects that are easy to bite off and swallow.
- Make sure your dog gets enough exercise and is not bored, lonely, or stressed.
- Give your dog recreational bones, stuffed kongs or other safe chew toys. It’s a good idea to change them regularly so your dog stays interested.
It may take time and patience, but pica is a solvable problem!
Sharma, S.S. et al. Cisplatin-induced pica behaviour in rats is prevented by antioxidants with antiemetic activity. Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology. 1997 June; 3(2): 145-149.
Wiberg, M.E. Pancreatic acinar atrophy in German shepherd dogs and rough-coated Collies. Etiopathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment. A review. Veterinary Quarterly. 2011 Nov; 26(2): 61-75.
Yamada, R. et al. Prevalence of 25 canine behavioral problems and relevant factors of each behavior in Japan. J Vet Med Sci. 2019 Aug; 81(8): 1090-1096.