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What is Pica in Dogs?

Dogs have a well-deserved reputation for chowing down on unusual objects. If you’ve ever had a naughty puppy, you’ve probably lost a few shoes, maybe a rug, or had your garden completely chewed up. You may also have wondered, why your dog does this and what it is called.

When it comes down to it, there is a big difference between dogs chewing on things and dogs craving and consuming them. Non-food chewing is relatively common in dogs, but chewing and swallowing non-food items is not acceptable and should be avoided.

What is Pica in Dogs?

Pica is a condition in dogs that crave and compulsively eat items that are generally not edible or considered food. Dogs do eat grass on occasion, but pica is a much more severe condition.

While pica-like behavior is common in puppies learning what is and isn’t food, most puppies outgrow it. When adolescent and adult dogs continue to eat non-food items, it can be very frustrating for owners as well as potentially dangerous for the dog. Furthermore, according to a Japanese study, pica is the third most commonly reported behavior problem in canines, following barking at noises and unfamiliar visitors.

Frequently, the items eaten are completely inappropriate and provide no nutrition, such as wood, towels, or even plastic. Some dogs may crave and eat only one item, such as socks or paper, whereas others are less picky and will eat a variety of non-food items. This includes dogs consuming rocks, books, and even drywall.

Canine pica is much more than just odd behavior. If left untreated, it is a very complex disorder with potentially dangerous and life-threatening consequences. Pica dogs can develop severe intestinal blockages as a result of their unusual diet, and their inappropriate snacks can cause irreversible tooth damage and even perforation of the stomach or intestines, requiring immediate treatment.

Pica in dogs should not be confused with coprophagia, which is a tendency, especially in puppies, to eat feces. Coprophagia, while more common in puppies, can persist into adulthood but is not strictly classified as pica.

Signs That Your Dog Has Pica

When your dog exhibits inappropriate eating behavior, you can easily detect the symptoms of pica disorder in dogs. There’s nothing like catching your dog eating something they shouldn’t be. However, you may not be with your dog all day, and it may not be easy to catch them snacking on non-food items. In this case, some warning signs may indicate a problem.

Pica in dogs can manifest as vomiting and diarrhea, but it can also manifest as lethargy, loss of appetite, and excessive drooling. One of the side effects of untreated pica in dogs is an intestinal blockage.

If your dog is straining during bowel movements, constipated, burping, drooling excessively, experiencing abdominal contractions, or passing dark, tarry stools, an obstruction is likely, and you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

What Causes Pica in Dogs? 

The first step is to recognize pica in dogs. Finding out what causes pica in dogs is a different story; it takes a lot of time and patience.

Pica in dogs may be caused by a nutritional or hormonal imbalance, causing them to crave non-food items. Other diseases, such as diabetes and thyroid issues can also cause pica in dogs. Certain dog breeds, such as Labrador retrievers, are also predisposed to developing pica.

The issue is most likely emotional or behavioral if none of these tests reveal anything. This complicates treating your dog’s pica. Your dog can experience stress in the same way that you do but will react in unexpected ways.

A dog suffering from separation anxiety may use chewing to self-soothe, and chewing may result in the dog swallowing all or part of what they’re gnawing on. Boredom is another stressor that can lead to inappropriate non-food eating as the dog attempts to burn off excess energy. Pica in dogs, whatever the cause, is unlikely to go away on its own.

How to Treat Pica? 

The underlying cause primarily determines pica treatment in dogs. If a medical condition is to blame, treating it should stop the pica behaviors. The medical causes of pica in dogs are the simplest to treat. If a nutritional deficiency is to blame, dietary supplements, a complete dietary change, or a change in the feeding schedule can help.

Treatment will be more complicated if the cause is emotional or behavioral. A combination of interventions, such as behavioral reconditioning, stress and anxiety reduction, keeping problematic items away from the dog, and changes to the dog’s environment, may be required for successful therapy for behavioral pica.

Behavioral pica is far more challenging to treat because it requires consistency and perseverance on the part of the owner, but with time and patience, a pica dog can be helped.

Spend time assessing your dog’s environment for potential triggers if he has stress-related pica. Other pets that may stress your dog, loud noises that the dog cannot escape (building noises from next door, lawnmowers, or thunder), and even too much time alone are all things that may upset your dog.

Where stressors cannot be eliminated, it is critical to provide a safe and appropriate outlet for your dog’s anxiety. A healthy release for your dog’s anxiety and stress is plenty of exercises and play. Giving your dog appropriate chew toys for self-soothing and stimulating playtime will provide them with acceptable and beneficial ways to deal with stress.

If you give your dog stimulating and challenging toys, it’s a good idea to rotate them regularly to keep your pup engaged and challenged.

To successfully treat pica in dogs, you must work closely with your veterinarian, a dog behaviorist, or a competent trainer to identify your dog’s triggers and retrain your dog to find appropriate ways to manage stress.

Treating any behavioral issue in your dog is a long-term commitment that will necessitate persistence and dedication in order to achieve the best results for both you and your canine companion.

What Medication is Used to Address Pica? 

Medication may be used to treat cases of canine pica that do not resolve with behavioral therapy or are so severe that the dog’s life is endangered.

Antidepressants are sometimes used to help people who suffer from anxiety. The same can be said for dogs, primarily when medication is used in conjunction with behavior modification.

Canine versions of Prozac or Fluoxetine can aid in treating dogs suffering from severe separation anxiety and compulsive disorders. On the other hand, dog-appeasing hormones are a drug-free, natural option for dogs suffering from stress and separation anxiety. Either way, consult your vet first to determine what medications are needed in your case.

Is Pica Easy to Treat?

Pica in dogs is easy to detect but difficult to treat. If you suspect your dog has pica, the first step is to take him to the vet so that the necessary tests can be performed to rule out any medical causes. Do not put off seeing your veterinarian. Pica can have severe and potentially fatal consequences if left untreated, so the sooner you seek medical attention, the better.

Without a medical cause, you’ll need to identify your dog’s stressors, eliminate them where possible, and offer mitigating interventions such as extra exercise, stimulating playtime, and appropriate chewing toys.

Pica treatment for your dog is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and you may need to try a few different approaches before you find one that works. It will be more of a marathon than a sprint, requiring significant time and patience. But if you persevere, you can achieve success. Feel free to enlist the help of professional dog trainers and behaviorists who can help you navigate this tricky situation.

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