Pica in people as well as in dogs and cats refers to eating things that are nonfood items.
BY JUDITH LEVY M.ED., CEHP, RMT
Pica in people as well as in dogs and cats refers to eating things that are nonfood items. For dogs with pica, common non nutritive objects eaten are stones. They may also consume plastic items, cigarettes, wooden objects, paper, toilet tissue, clay and soap. Dogs may also eat soil excessively.
If you find yourself stressing about what your dog is putting in his mouth or eating, it is time to consult your veterinarian and schedule a consultation for a behavioral evaluation and interventions. If your dog is lethargic or is vomiting and/or has diarrhea, get medical help immediately. Pica can be extremely damaging to the animal’s intestinal tract and stomach and be potentially life-threatening.
When is it Not Pica?
Puppies often try to eat small objects such as mulch, plastic, most anything they find during the first six months while exploring their environment. It is vitally important to monitor puppies constantly and to “puppy proof” your home. They generally grow out of this phase. I believe however that if a puppy learns that it is permissible and enjoyable to chew on dangerous items such a plastic during the early sensitive periods, this could set them up to develop a bad habit that may get worse and cause problems later.
Other isolated incidences occur when dogs eat nonfood items and it is not considered Pica. For example, a highly food motivated/excitable dog may eat a part of a plastic fork with food on it. The dog that eats a candy bar, wrapper and all, is not necessarily a dog with Pica. And then there are those attention seeking canines who will do anything to get us to chase, play with or pet them They will continually grab a nonfood item and begin chewing on it knowing that it will bring you in. I recommend scheduling a behavior consultation for the latter as this manipulative behavior can also lead to serious injury to the dog’s gastrointestinal system.
Causes of Pica
In my practice I have found that regardless of the cause for Pica, it is important to first address any organic/medical causes and then address the problem holistically. There is almost always more than one aspect to this type of problem and if we don’t address all of those aspects, the problem will remain. Possible Medical Issues: The following are some medical issues associated with Pica as reported by various veterinarians:
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Intestinal parasites
- Increased hunger
- Neurological disease
- Vitamin deficiency
- Thyroid disease
Of course each pet is different and your veterinarian will diagnose any possible issues. Once that is accomplished, it is time to put behavioral interventions in place for out of balance behavior that has likely developed along with the medical problem. These necessary behavior changes generally involve the dog and guardian.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Dogs with OCD may exhibit behaviors such as tail chasing, extreme excitability when shown aluminum foil, excessive barking at anything at anytime, and chasing flies. They may also have Pica that shows up as an obsession with eating objects. It has been reported, and in my practice, the majority of dogs having OCD have a history of abuse or extreme neglect or have lived in an environment where there is a great deal of stress. OCD in dogs can also have a genetic component such as having a mother that was extremely anxious. OCD also needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian as there can be medical issues associated with OCD such as parasites, major organ dysfunction, metabolic diseases and more. Treating OCD also requires a holistic approach. After consulting with your veterinarian, I then suggest addressing diet, changing necessary behaviors in the dog and the dog’s guardians. An exercise program is extremely important and I have found energy work such as reiki and meridian work to be extremely calming and balancing as well.
When Soil and or Grass is only nonfood item eaten
All the causes for dogs eating soil are not yet known but from a behavioral perspective, it often indicates boredom, anxiety and other behavioral issues. It can also stem from a mineral deficiency as well as otherabsorption and diet issues. Soil eating may look harmless but remember that there may be stones or other debris in that soil that will accumulate in your dog’s stomach. And of course this can lead to disruption in the digestive tract and can be fatal.
What to take from this article: If your dog or cat seems to be eating or even chewing objects or is eating soil in a way that seems excessive, unsafe or unusual to you, consult first with your veterinarian to rule out medical causes. Once your pet is medically cleared or you have medical treatment under way, schedule a behavior consultation to begin behavior intervention and/or the use of some complementary treatments such as reiki and meridian tapping to help your pet get back to a healthy state. Visit Judith Levy’s website: www.judithlevywellness.