Compulsive Pica: Why Do Dogs Eat Inedible Items and What Can You Do About It
“The dog ate my homework” is a laughable excuse often made by lazy students, but when you think about the fact that some dogs are diagnosed with a condition called pica, it doesn’t seem so absurd after all.
What Is Pica
Pica is a disorder that occurs when your dog habitually eats items that are not edible or have zero nutritional value, such as socks, rocks, and coins. This is different from a puppy’s compulsion to chew on slippers and toys, which is a normal part of canine development. You should start being concerned, though, when he starts ingesting stuff that shouldn’t be eaten.
This eating habit is potentially dangerous, as the item swallowed can be poisonous, cause stomach problems, or block the intestinal tract. If your pet has eaten something that doesn’t agree with the stomach, vomiting and diarrhea are likely to occur. Blockage in the intestines is a more severe consequence and can be manifested by:
- Frequent burping
- Lack of appetite
- Drooling excessively
- Black or dark-colored stools
- Pain in the abdomen
- Difficulty or inability to move bowels
These symptoms can severely affect your pet’s health. When you notice any of these, book an appointment with the veterinarian as soon as possible.
What Causes Pica
Identifying the root cause of pica is tricky, as several physical and behavioral factors can contribute to the condition. Also, some dog breeds are more predisposed to it. If your dog develops an appetite for non-edibles, it may be due to one of these common causes:
- Boredom and anxiety. Similar to humans biting their nails when feeling anxious, pica is a dog’s way of expressing anxiety when stressed.
It can also be caused by boredom. Your dog is a bundle of energy and needs both physical exercise and mental stimulation. When you don't give him enough of these, he will start looking for something else to do. Remember that chewing is one pastime that a dog loves, so don’t be surprised to find teeth marks on inedible items around your house.
In times when you’re too busy to spend time with your dog or take him for daily walks, an excellent solution is to book a dog sitter to do it for you. Loving pet minders, like the ones you can find in Mad Paws Pet Sitting, will take good care of your dog like it is their own. Getting the needed attention can help prevent your pet from acting up.
- Medical problems. Health issues like malnutrition and hormonal issues can lead to poor eating habits. Diabetes and parasites can contribute to the condition as well.
To correctly identify what causes pica in your pet, your vet will require a full physical exam and perform blood and urine tests. A fecal exam will also be conducted to check for the presence of intestinal parasites.
If the tests rule out any underlying medical causes, he will ask about your dog’s history, diet, handling procedures, and the environment he lives in. Your answers will help him draw up a suitable treatment plan.
Treatment and Prevention Tips
Pica can be treated with a two-pronged approach. First, you need to address any physical or behavioral issues that cause it. Secondly, you have to apply preventive measures to keep your dog from developing the disorder. Below are some useful tips on how this can be done:
- If the pica’s root cause is inadequate nutrition, give your dog supplements recommended by the vet.
- Strictly follow the doctor’s orders when eliminating parasites. Treatments differ according to the severity of infection and the kind of parasite.
- Pica can arise from poor digestion. Sometimes, varying his diet can help. Feed your pet with smaller meals, given three to four times a day. This feeding strategy is better than two big meals daily, as it makes the food easier to digest and absorb. With better nutrition, your dog will be less inclined to eat inedible stuff.
- When deciding a good diet plan, ensure that his meals are nutritious. Include probiotics to aid digestion.
- If pica is related to behavioral issues, you can give your dog anxiety medications. Also, having chew toys around the house can keep him preoccupied and away from trouble.
- Poisonous substances are potentially fatal. If this is what your dog ingested, take him to the vet immediately. Vomiting can be induced at the clinic but only if the treatment is administered within two hours from ingesting.
- Sometimes, your dog will show a certain preference on what he likes to eat. In this case, keep his favorite inedible snack out of reach. For example, if he likes swallowing socks, don't leave them lying around. Instead, be sure to store them in a hamper that’s impossible to break into. To be on the safe side, always cover trash bins and store chemicals in an area that can’t be accessed.
- Boredom and loneliness can be resolved with more physical activities and mental stimulation. Put some variations in your walking routine by going to a different area or interspersing walks with running and jogging. The change of space, along with new sights and smells, allows your dog to expend his energy in an enjoyable way and keeps boredom at bay.
- Identify the situations that stress your dog so you can remove them or find a solution. For instance, if the loud lawn mower next door scares him, ask your neighbor to notify you when he intends to use it. You can then choose this time to bond with your dog and take him out for a long walk, which he will love and enjoy.
- Yelling and punishment will never work as a cure for pica. On the contrary, it can aggravate the condition because harsh treatment can add to a dog’s stress and anxiety.
- Have your dog’s stool checked regularly for parasites. You should have this procedure done at least once a year.
When it comes to pica, an ounce of prevention is so much better than a pound of cure, which can include gastric surgery in severe cases. The best treatment, however, is the kind that is not provided by the vet, but by you. As a member of your family, give your dog what he deserves – good food, plenty of attention, and a loving home.