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dog parent must-knows

Pica disorder in dogs, explained

Sometimes dogs eat rocks and stuff // learn how to identify severe cases of pica and where to turn for help

Updated June 28, 2020

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dog eating shoe

the one inevitability of life

The essentials

  • Pica is not your fault. Pica is one of the most common problems in dogs, and it usually has nothing to do with how much your dog loves their food.
  • It’s usually a behavioral thing. Though it can be caused by certain medical conditions or nutritional deficiencies.
  • Don’t take pica lightly. Eating inedible items can cause serious harm. If your dog constantly ingests foreign objects and recently starting acting odd, start a conversation with your vet.

Pica is a super common disorder with many potential causes, though it’s usually a behavioral issue. Although it can be scary to watch your pupper compulsively inhale rocks, proper training and management can help prevent a life-threatening injury or illness.

👉 Pica isn’t a case of your wrong-doing. Dogs eat weird things because of an underlying cause or medical issue — it has nothing to do with whether or not your dog enjoys their biscuits.

Not all dogs who eat random stuff have pica. Some odd feeding habits in dogs are actually normal. For example, they sometimes eat grass when they’re bored. Mommy dogs sometimes eat their puppies’ poop (known as coprophagia). 💩 Teething puppies will sometimes eat or chew household items to help alleviate pain.

How do I know if my dog has pica?

The most obvious sign of pica is seeing your dog eating non-food items. Of course, it’s not always possible to catch them in the act. If your dog ingests something harmful, they may show the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Pain in stomach
  • Reluctance to eat
  • Choking
  • Constipation
  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Symptoms of infection
  • Shaking and shivering
  • Collapse
  • Gastrointestinal blockage

What should I do?

The first thing you need to establish is whether there are any medical issues that have sparked an incurable hunger in your dog. The medical causes are as follows:

  • Parasites / Gastrointestinal disease
  • Liver disease
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)
  • Diabetes
  • Cushing’s Disease
  • Thyroid issues
  • Side effects from steroids or other medications

If an underlying medical issue is causing pica in your dog, you can work with your vet to put them on a treatment plan.

However, pica can actually be a manifestation of psychological issues in your pup. These include boredom, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, neurological and brain disorders.

The causes pica in dogs

The treatment of pica depends on the cause, but we’ve added some of the most common so that you know what pica treatment involves.

Behavioral Pica is the most common

Pica is most commonly a psychological issue. If your dog is bored, stressed, and anxious, it will help to enroll a veterinary behaviorist or dog trainer. They can get to the root cause of your dog’s behavioral issues or separation anxiety and write out a detailed training plan to help your pup.

In the meantime, you should try and keep your dog happy. Offer them enrichment, make sure their walks are long and stimulating, and use reinforcement training to stop your dog from eating everyday items.

If your dog’s mental health does not improve, your veterinarian may recommend putting your pup on some medication to calm their nerves.

Certain medical conditions or nutritional deficiencies can also be responsible for pica

If pica is caused by a medical condition, your vet can prescribe medication that treats the condition. If the pica is caused by a nutritional deficiency, they might need you to give a detailed list of the food your dog eats.

In the meantime, you’ll have to keep a close eye on your pup to make sure they don’t have access to any non-edible items.

How vets diagnose pica

👉 There are multiple factors that can lead to a pica, so your vet needs to rule out all of them until they find the root cause.

Your vet will have to carry out the needed tests to check for each disease which may be causing pica. These include x rays, checking for parasites in fecal samples, and blood work — all of which can usually be done same-day.

Pica can be caused by one issue, or it can be multiple problems that have caused pica. If your vet finds one possibility, they will treat that cause. If the pica continues, your vet will continue to do further testing to rule out other possibilities.

Once the cause has been established, you and your vet can work on managing the condition. This can be through medication or — after everything else is ruled out — behavioral interventions.

Help to prevent pica

Here are a bunch of simple things you can do to prevent the severity of pica in your dog.

  • Keep objects out of reach. Dogs love laundry and items from the trash because they smell like us. Cat feces is can also be a dog delicacy. 🤮
  • Muzzle your dog on walks to prevent them from eating stones, sticks, and rubbish
  • Do not leave your dog unattended for long periods of time
  • Be patient when you are training them – if the causes are behavioral, you’ll want to make sure you stay consistent with the training regimes.

👉 Don’t shout or hit your dog when they eat something bad. Learn more about positive reinforcement in our housetraining manual.