Pica In Dogs: Causes, Diagnosis And Treatment

Written by: Bojana Radulovic
Pica in dogs stands for a condition when dogs tend to eat non-food items. Interested more in this unusual condition? Keep on reading, because we have covered pica in dogs from symptoms to treatment.

Pica in dogs is something that is not seen often, but it doesn’t make it any less interesting or risky condition.

Pica in dogs is a condition in which dogs crave and usually eat non-food items.

Dogs love food and are willing to try nearly anything, so why would they choose to eat non-food items?

Dogs with pica may eat anything from socks to rocks.

Just swallowing these items is highly dangerous, as it may disrupt the normal digestive process, even get lodged in the intestinal tract, or cause many breathing-related issues.

In other words, dogs may eat anything, but it is common for them to go after items that have an owner’s scent all over them.

This is why dogs with pica may go after the owner’s socks, underwear, or even pantyhose.

They can swallow all those items? Yes, they can. If they cannot swallow it in a single sharpness, they will cut it and swallow it piece by piece.

This is why it should not surprise you that rocks can be found in dogs with pica.

If you leave your bathroom door open, you can expect your Fido to grab towels, washcloths, and even a hard-form soap.

Part of the dog’s bed is something that dogs with pica will commonly chew on and eat.

Some other items that your Fido may attack include books, magazines, batteries, and toys of different textures and sizes (including dog’s and children’s toys) or anything that resembles a toy such as a hockey puck.

With this condition, it is important to note that dogs will repeatedly eat the same type of item, even if it causes them to get really sick.

In some more severe cases, dogs will need surgery.

Before we elaborate further on this condition, know that pica should not be mixed with coprophagia or the ingestion of feces.

Fecal ingestion is something that is commonly seen in puppies, although it may appear in adult dogs as well.

Coprophagia may appear for different reasons, and some dogs may even love the taste, or the texture, making it an extremely hard habit to break once they get started.

Pica In Dogs Overview

  • Pica in dogs stands for compulsive ingestion of non-food items
  • Dogs with pica will chew and eat plastic, woof, clothes, paper, and even rocks in some cases
  • Common causes for this condition are usually behavioral or medical
  • Treatment is possible and always depends on the cause
  • Pica in dogs is preventable

Pica In Dogs: Causes

There are two causes of pica in dogs and they are commonly either behavioral or medical. Let’s elaborate on them more.

1. Behavioral Pica

Behavioral pica is also known as stress eating.

You may link it with human stress eating as it may appear due to different circumstances, such as stress, boredom, or anxiety.

Dogs who are prone to separation anxiety, are more likely to develop pica. This is why you should always be mindful when it comes to getting a dog.

If you tend to spend long hours outside your home you will need a breed that is fine with being left alone for that period. Otherwise, you may end up having a bored and eventually destructive dog.

To get the breed that you want and need based on your living style, use this compare dog breeds tool to help you get the fitting breed.

When under stress dogs may eat anything due to stress eating. Also, when destructive dogs may ingest things such as clothes, bedding, or any item that they can pull out of the trash.

2. Medical Pica

Medical pica may occur when a dog goes through some sort of nutritional imbalance. This may happen when endocrine diseases occur, such as diabetes, or thyroid disease.

Medical pica may occur when diseases of malabsorption or maldigestion occur as they may cause pica. Also, pica in dogs may appear as a result of anemia or even liver disease.

In some rare cases, pica in dogs may occur as a side effect of medication, or even usage of some sort of steroids.

Pica In Dogs: Diagnosis

Before you get a dog, make sure that you search for a proper veterinarian.

By proper, we are talking about veterinarians whom you may trust in both personality and expertise.

Once you get a dog you will need a veterinarian whom you may trust and who will help you provide the right care for your dog.

The right kind of veterinarian will be fast to diagnose any condition in the dog and provide the right treatment.

That being said, if your veterinarian suspects that your Fido may have pica there will first be a physical exam.

Through this exam, veterinarians will check the dog’s general body condition and search for any sign of disease.

There should be an honest conversation about the dog’s complete history, general lifestyle, and living environment, as well as any behavior changes.

This is why it is so important to know how your dog acts when he is 100% healthy, so you can notice when something is off the chart.

Veterinarians will ask a wide range of questions to narrow down the cause of the pica.

This is why you can expect several questions, related to the daily routine, and even the type of exercise that your dog gets.

If the veterinarian suspects that the reason for the pica is medical there might be other tests, such as blood work and a urinalysis.

In some cases, you may expect diagnostic imaging, such as X-rays or an ultrasound. If needed, surgery might be recommended.

Dog Pica Symptomss

As expected, the main symptom of pica in dogs is eating non-food objects, although many other symptoms stand for this condition.

Still, eating non-food items remains the most common and troublesome symptom.

Symptoms may vary depending on which objects or substances a dog eats, which means that you can expect to see some of the following symptoms in your Fido:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bad breath
  • Drooling
  • Choking
  • Abdominal pain
  • Black stool
  • Burping
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Infection
  • Lethargy
  • Collapse

If you notice any of the listed symptoms in your dog, make sure that you act accordingly.

Dog Pica Treatment

Treatment for pica in dogs will always vary and depend on what’s causing the dog to consume non-food items.

If the pica is medical you can expect a treatment that will be specific for that specific health problem.

So far the practice has shown that the pica could easily develop into a bad habit, especially if the dog has been consuming non-food items for a long time.

If that is the case, it is up to dog owners to be mindful of living surrounding and keep items far from the dog’s reach. This is something that is recommended even once the treatment is completed.

If the pica is due to a nutritional deficiency, your veterinarian might recommend a specific diet regime, diverse nutritional supplements, or even a different amount of food.

In some cases, a different feeding schedule can be helpful, while sometimes a mix of these changes can be beneficial.

All in all, it is more challenging to treat behavioral than medical pica.

Treating this sort of condition usually requires a proper combination of training, behavioral training or correction, environmental support, reducing anxiety and stress, and even keeping certain items far from the dog.

Keep Your Dog With Pica Active

Dog experts and veterinarians will often advise that activity as a solution to many dog-related issues.

For dogs with stress-related pica make sure that the dog gets vigorous exercise – think about jogging, walking, or off-leash play in a dog park or any other fenced area.

This is extremely important if you have a high-energy breed that needs vigorous exercise.

Once you make sure that your dog is active as usual, you should do your best to keep troublesome items away.

It is crucial to limit the dog’s access to items that your dog might chew and try to swallow. That is why you should provide enough dog toys that are specially designed for chewing.

Rotate them continually and add new ones from time to time.

Dogs will love new toys and rotating them regularly will keep them interested in playtime.

Chewing toys and chewing items that are safe for dogs to use are great ways to help dogs deal with stress-related times.

Think about possible anxiety triggers. Are there any children who don’t know how to interact with dogs in a calm manner?

Are there other pets who might provoke stressful moments? Is your dog alone for too long time?

Are there any other things that might be upsetting for your dog?

All in all, knowing that determining the cause should help your veterinarian set the right treatment.

It can also be helpful to ask your veterinarian for a veterinary behaviorist recommendation, someone who might address both behavioral and medical issues.

Here is a short overview of common medications for pica in dogs:

  • Fluoxetine hydrochloride (Reconcile). This medicine is made approved to treat separation anxiety in dogs, and should always be used under supervision
  • Clomipramine hydrochloride (Clomicalm). Another medicine carefully made to treat separation anxiety in dogs under supervision, and combined with a behavior-modification program
  • Dog-appeasing pheromones (Adaptil). This is a non-drug and more of a natural option specially designed to help dogs deal with stress and even separation anxiety

Is It Expensive To Treat Pica In Dogs?

There is no single answer to this question because the price will depend on the cause.

What is causing the pica will tremendously determine the cost of treating pica.

Treatment will commonly vary and may depend on the underlying conditions.

For example, canines that suffer from behavioral pica may request only a few hundred dollars, while medical pica may demand a more significant amount.

Since all dogs that experience an intestinal blockage or other health problems from mild to severe require some sort of hospitalization and surgery, which can range from a few hundred dollars to thousand dollars.

How To Prevent Pica In Dogs?

Some ways may help dog owners prevent pica in their furry buddies. The number one prevention tool is exercise.

Getting your dog to experience enough exercise and mental stimulation is something that will next to proper nutrition make sure that you meet the dog’s needs.

If you provide the right nutritional needs, you will help your dog stay on track when it comes to a balanced diet and balanced hormones.

Since dogs tend to eat non-food items keeping their nutrition in order should help keep your Fido healthy and safe in terms of health.

If your dog tends to eat grass, wood, or even rocks when outside, you should keep him on a leash to prevent any sort of issues.

It can be helpful to use crates or even baby gates to keep your dog away from things that he should not eat, or even ever try.

Pica In Dogs: Recovery

Like with any other conditions, you should follow your vet’s advice to help your dog recover fully.

The recovery process will usually include follow-up veterinarian visits and stick to treatment steps.

In the case of intestinal tract blockage, there will usually; ly be post-surgery visits.

If an underlying disease was diagnosed, know that follow-up visits are usually mandatory to check on your dog’s progress and react properly to the treatment plan.

How Common Is Pica In Dogs?

It is fair to say that pica in dogs is a fairly common condition. Dogs will often eat grass, but that is not to be mistaken with pica in dogs.

Pica in dogs will more often include eating rocks than grass or in general more firm items.

Pica-like behavior is something that is commonly seen in puppies. However, this behavior is understandable, as puppies are learning what food is and what are items around them.

Although they may chew chairs or try to eat rocks, they will usually grow out of this.

Natural Remedies For Pica In Dogs

Just like humans, dogs can benefit from various natural remedies.

For example, vinegar is a common remedy that is used in many home treatments, like fighting fleas.

When it comes to pica in dogs and natural remedies there are some things that you can do, that we have already mentioned.

Some of these solutions include providing plenty of exercises, proper mental stimulation, and proper environment enrichment such as games and food puzzles.

Another simple thing that you can do is to eliminate access to objects that your dog may eat.

How Common Is Pica In Dogs – Wrap Up

In most cases, treating pica successfully is possible. However, you will have to invest some of your time, organization, and overall energy to help your dog.

Do not let yourself think that with treatment every pica-related trouble stops, because the recovery process is equally important.

Once your dog starts his recovery process, make sure that you stick to follow-up check-ups as your veterinarian is the only one who can help you guide you through this process.