Pica in Dogs – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Your dog’s naughty antics may make you laugh but some behaviors are unusual enough to be an area of concern. It’s usual for dogs to shred, tear and chew household objects left around the house, but if they end up eating the stuff, it’s dog pica! Unfortunately, Pica in dogs is a condition that is much more common than we might imagine.

What is Pica in Dogs?

Pica in dogs is a health disorder, it causes them to eat non-food items such as paper, rocks, plastic, wood, cloth, and items from the trash. Some vets have observed that dogs prefer eating objects that have their owner’s scent, like underwear, towels, and socks instead of other things.

Pica in dogs - dog outside eating trash

Dogs with pica can develop serious issues like a perforated digestive tract from swallowing sharp objects, they may also suffer from poisoning and choking.

Pica in dogs can either be a compulsive behavior or a result of an underlying medical condition. If your dog has been gnawing at non-food items lately, it’s time you learned a bit about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of pica in dogs.

Causes of Pica Disorder in Dogs

Finding out what causes pica in dogs can be a bit difficult and tricky. You’ll have to examine your dog’s lifestyle and environment. There are two types of reasons for pica in dogs:

  • Underlying Medical Conditions
  • Emotional or Psychological Issues

Underlying Medical Conditions Behind Pica

There can be underlying medical conditions that cause dogs to eat non-food items. Since it is difficult for you to find out these reasons on your own, you’ll have to take your furry friend to visit the vet.

Your friendly neighborhood vet may need to run blood, stool, and urine test to check if parasites are causing pica or if it’s some sort of a digestive disorder or malabsorption of nutrients. Pica disorder can be a sign of other underlying conditions affecting your dog.

Medical reasons behind pica disorder in dogs may include:

  • Starvation
  • Nutritional imbalances
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Liver problems
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid
  • Drugs/Steroids taken by the dog for some disease
  • Anemia
  • Teething in puppies
  • Stomach tumor
  • Malnutrition
  • Bowel disease
  • Neurological diseases
  • Parasitic infection

Psychological or Emotional Issues Behind Pica

Pica in dogs can also be a result of an emotional or psychological issue like separation anxiety or stress. Some dogs can turn destructive due to anxiety and eat a part of, or all of what they destroy. A dog that is not given enough mental or physical stimulation, may seek something unusual to do to relieve boredom or burn off extra energy.

PICA IN DOGS - Dog eating cushions, stuffing all over the floor

If you believe the reason for your dog’s pica disorder is psychological, behavior modification through training or the use of boredom breakers could be a great option.

Other psychological reasons behind pica disorder in dogs include:

  • Frustration
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Attention- seeking
  • Lack of mental and physical stimulation
  • Boredom
  • Fear of punishment (for destroying a house item)
  • Learned behavior
  • Loneliness
  • Lack of socialization

Symptoms of Pica in Dogs

Pica in dogs is usually diagnosed when you observe your dog ingesting inedible items. Objects that your dog consumes can cause choking, a blockage in the digestive tract or may even result in intestinal problems. Your dog may be in a position where he’s unable to pass a stool and could be in a great deal of pain. In the case of a blockage, you must immediately take your dog to a vet who’ll likely investigate the issue through surgery or endoscopy.

Dogs with pica may show the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty in passing stool
  • Drooling
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Excessive drooling
  • Tarry stools
  • Abdominal contractions
  • Burping
  • Chronic bad breath
  • Seizures

Similar Symptoms to Pica Disorder

Although it’s important to be able to spot the signs of pica disease in dogs, it’s also essential not to misinterpret your dog’s odd actions. Dogs can do some pretty strange things, and while some of those things can be a sign of pica, it doesn’t always mean it is pica.

It’s important not to mistake your dog’s odd actions, because the same behavior may be for a completely different condition.  For example, dogs that eat their own feces are more likely to be suffering from a condition called coprophagia than Pica. Eating grass on the other hand is considered normal in dogs, and your dog could be doing this for a number of different reasons, not just pica.

Treatment of Pica in Dogs

Pica in dogs treatment depends on whether the condition has been caused by a medical problem or a psychological problem.

In case the cause is a psychological/emotional one, you may consider taking your dog to a pet behaviorist. You may be advised to increase your dog’s physical activity so that he isn’t driven towards unusual behavior patterns to seek your attention or fight boredom.

Practical things you can do

Bringing lifestyle changes to your dog’s routine can help eliminate the emotional causes of pica. Some other recommendations that you may consider include:

  • Herbal remedies can have a calming effect. For example, chamomile tea is an excellent remedy for dogs with anxiety and stress issues.
  • Using a leash, when taking your dog out for a walk, a leash will prevent him from consuming rocks and other non-food objects.
  • Spraying problem objects, bitter-tasting spray can be used on objects your dog is attracted to.
  • Dispose of garbage and toxic things properly.
  • Chew toys, he’ll be busy and occupied exploring his toys, instead of gnawing at inedible harmful objects.
  • Socializing, try not to leave your dog alone for long periods. Visit the park where your furry friend can socialize with other dogs.
  • Stimulation, give your dog plenty of mental and physical exercise to burn off his energy healthily. Working, or Sporting dog breeds require much more exercise compared to other dogs.
  • Keep harmful objects away from your dog, and keep them safely in a place that he can’t access.
pica in dogs - three dogs socializing

In case your dog has an underlying medical condition, or a disease that is showing symptoms of pica, your vet will provide the following:

  • A new and improved dietary plan if pica developed due to malnutrition or a deficiency.
  • Supplements to provide missing nutrients if your dog is suffering from a nutritional deficiency. Probiotics and enzyme medication may also be advised to improve appetite.
  • If pica is due to a parasitic infection, the vet may prescribe medicine.

It’s wise to make sure your dog has a good-quality, balanced diet, so there’s no deficiency of important nutrients.

For more serious cases, dogs can be given anaesthesia for the following surgical procedures:

  • An endoscopy, to remove the objects lodged in the stomach or esophagus.
  • X-rays and an ultrasound, this is done to locate any digestive blockages.

After surgery for pica, or in cases where the disease is underlying and diagnosed, follow-up visits may also be necessary. This is to check on your dog’s progress and to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment plan.

How Training Can Help with Pica Disorder

Dogs and pica can be a tricky combination. Training, however, can be a fantastic way to take control of a dog with pica disorder. It’s possible to train your dog to safely avoid eating non-food objects through distraction techniques and rewards.

Training has the added bonus of being a great way to spend some special bonding time with your faithful friend. Not only will your dog gain the ability to identify what he can and can’t eat, but mental stimulation is a great way to de-stress.

If training your dog seems too daunting, working with a good Dog Trainer can help greatly. A Dog Trainer can set a training plan for you to follow, and guide you through the techniques to make sure you’re doing it correctly. They can also monitor your progress and modify your training plan to suit your current situation.

How to Prevent Pica in Dogs?

Prevention is better than cure! Pica is a compulsive disorder where your dog may find it hard to stop eating toxic and harmful objects.

Dog eating wires

Here are some useful suggestions to prevent Pica in your dog:

  1. Renowned vets affirm that anxiety is the biggest cause of pica in dogs. Maintaining a regular routine for your dog’s walks, food and play can help reduce his anxiety.
  2. Keep the stressors that trigger pica in your dog out of his living environment.
  3. Loud music, lawnmowers, and fireworks noises that invade the home can be a trigger for Pica disorder. Take your dog on a long walk to somewhere peaceful.
  4. You could try giving your dog herbal remedies to keep the stress and anxiety at bay.
  5. It’s important not to punish your dog for eating junk and inedible objects, always try to find the underlying cause behind the behaviour.
  6. If you find it hard to work out the root cause of the pica disorder, a dog behaviourist or a good vet will be able to help.
  7. Avoid using cheap-quality dog food and use well-balanced, nutritious dog food.
  8. Keep your dog away from sniffing faeces and other toxic materials.
  9. Leash your dog whenever you take him for a walk outside, and give him plenty of exercise and play-time according to its breed and age.
  10.  Always supervise your dog’s outdoor activities.
  11.  You could try crate training your dog, so he’s contained while you are out, but don’t leave him for too long.
  12.  If you’re are planning to be out for long periods of time, why not leave your canine friend with someone you trust.

Conclusion

Just like you, your faithful dog has its own physical and emotional needs. Taking action to deal with these needs can solve a lot of potential problems.

Pica disorder in dogs has a lot to do with lifestyle, environment, and your dog’s emotional state.

It is important as a dog owner to be mindful of your dog’s dietary and play requirements.

Bringing little lifestyle changes to your dog’s routine can help you both to stay out of trouble and avoid painful experiences. Observing your dog’s behavior and identifying stressors can aid you in understanding why your dog acts unusually or identify the symptoms of pica.

Avoid using any medicine for treating pica in your dog without consulting your vet first. Pica disorder can be fatal, so taking your furry best friend to a vet can prevent pica from turning into a life-threatening condition.

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piterest pin showing a dog chewing on a plastic bottle

SOURCES

American Kennel Club

Pica — PetMD

Anxiety in Dogs – The Ultimate Guide

VetMed UCDavis

Endoscopy – VCA Hospitals

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