Dogs Articles

Share Posts
Share Posts
Share Posts

What is Pica in Dogs and How to Treat it

Pica in dogs can become quite a serious problem if not taken care of. So, it’s best to know all the signs to help you identify the issue quickly and get your pet the help they need. Keep reading to find out some of the most surprising facts about this condition.

What is pica in dogs?

Pica in dogs is a condition where a dog attempts to chew and swallow non-food objects, such as clothing, rubbish or dirt. Pica can often occur as a result of behavioural issues such as lack of socialisation, boredom and anxiety but can less commonly be due to medical issues including a poor diet or nutritional insufficiency, illness and parasites.

It can be hard to know what causes pica in dogs. It’s important to speak to your vet, as it’s usually recommended to rule out potentially serious medical issues before diagnosing a behavioural cause. They can work with you to get to the bottom of your dog’s pica.

What are the symptoms of pica in dogs?

Eating objects not intended for ingestion can be very harmful. Dogs can choke, develop an obstruction or even poison themselves if they eat the wrong thing. If you think your dog is eating things they shouldn’t, look out for these symptoms:

  • Dog vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Choking
  • Lethargy
  • Bad breath
  • Bloated stomach

Any time your dog eats something they shouldn’t, you should speak to your vet to find out whether they need urgent treatment. For some items, inducing vomiting as soon as they’re eaten is the best option.

If your dog is eating things they shouldn’t repeatedly, ask your vet for help. Any object eaten could potentially make your dog very sick and it’s better to know about pica early on so you can prevent it from getting worse.

What are the causes of pica in dogs?

This can depend on whether your dog has pica due to a behavioural issue or a health reason. These will require different treatments and it may be hard to find the answer straight away; diagnosis is usually based on ruling out potential causes. Go to your vet and they will be able to work with you to formulate a plan for diagnosis and treatment.

Anxiety

Dog separation anxiety can cause pets to chew and ingest objects to soothe themselves when you aren’t around. This can also be the case when around other dogs they are unfamiliar with.

Boredom

If your dog isn’t getting enough mental and physical stimulation, they can resort to pica out of boredom. If this is the case, it may be hard for a vet to definitively diagnose. If your dog doesn’t have any significant medical issues but still has pica, consulting a dog behaviourist is a good course of action.

Health issues

There are many medical issues that can cause pica such as anaemia, liver or pancreatic disease, hormonal conditions, gastrointestinal disease and many more. 

Medication

Steroid treatments and some other medications can cause an increased appetite in your dog and therefore lead to pica. See your vet as soon as you notice abnormal eating behaviour.

Other reasons for pica in dogs

Some dogs may get pica for other reasons that are natural. One of the common forms of pica is coprophagia, the eating of faeces, and this is common in nursing females and puppies. This is because nursing females will lick the bottoms of their puppies to encourage bowel movements. Puppies may also do this due to separation anxiety. It’s important to note that these should only be temporary behaviours and if your dog carries on having pica it may indicate an underlying issue.

Can my puppy get pica?

You may find that your puppy tries to chew and eat things that they shouldn’t, but pica in puppies isn’t usually something to worry about, as long as they don’t eat anything harmful. Puppies will be naturally curious and put things in their mouths, and as mentioned earlier, they can also get coprophagia which should go away with time.

Making sure your puppy is exercised and well-socialised can help to avoid any behavioural issues in the future. Puppies should grow out of this urge, so just make sure you’re keeping dangerous objects out of their way and try to avoid other animals’ faeces, which can be riskier for them to consume. This way, they will learn about the world safely and securely.

How will my vet diagnose pica?

Diagnosing pica in dogs can take a bit of time. There may be quite a few tests your vet will do to rule out certain medical issues. If you don’t know whether your dog ingested something, they may need to check for that first, and if a potentially harmful object has been ingested, they may also need to run tests to locate it so it can be removed. Other tests will be required to see if pica has been caused by another health problem.

Lab work

Lab work will help determine certain medical conditions and can also show if your dog has ingested a non-food item. This may include a blood count, faecal check, urinalysis and serum chemistry profile.

X-ray

This may be carried out if your dog has potentially swallowed a foreign object, which in many cases will show up on the x-ray. This will also help them to locate the object and assess how severe an obstruction it might be.

Ultrasound

Your vet may alternatively recommend an ultrasound to check for foreign objects, especially if the object is a material that might not show up on x-ray. An ultrasound can also be helpful to assess organs like the liver, pancreas or bowels.
If nothing unusual comes back from these tests, your vet may diagnose it as a behavioural problem. This may then require you to go to a dog behaviourist to help you further.

How is pica in dogs treated?

Treatment of pica can vary depending on whether it is a behavioural or medical problem. Your vet should give you more details on what will be needed for your dog if it is a medial issue. They may also be able to recommend dog behaviourists if the problem is not medical.

If your dog has ingested something dangerous, this may require a stay at the vets and surgery to retrieve the object before the underlying issue can be treated.

Treating medical pica

This will depend on the underlying issue causing your dog’s pica and will be suggested by your vet. Treatment may include medication, further tests and regular check-ups.

Treating behavioural pica

This will depend on what your vet and dog behaviorist think is the root cause of pica. They may recommend increased exercise and other activities to keep them mentally and physically stimulated. For socialization issues, they may recommend more time spent with other dogs and training to help with separation anxiety.


Can I prevent pica in my dog? 

Whilst medical issues may be hard to avoid, maintaining a good diet and exercise for your dog will help promote a healthy body and mind.  

Some dog breeds, such as Labradors, are actually more prone to pica due to their appetites, but this can still be reduced by ensuring your dog is active and occupied

If your dog already has pica or you want to avoid it as best as you can, here are some tips:

  • Introduce regular dog games and puzzles to keep them engaged day-to-day 
  • Keep them in regular contact with other dogs in safe environments such as a doggy daycare.
  • Maintain regular dog exercise and take them for longer walks and trips when you can.
  • Provide your dog with safe chew toys so they avoid chewing items around the house.
  • Observe them inside and outside to make sure they aren’t eating things they shouldn’t. 
  • Keep potentially dangerous objects out of reach. For example, bottles with chemicals should not be kept on the floor or in low cupboards, and small or fragile objects that can lodge or break in their throat should be cleared away.

If you suspect your dog has pica, do not try to treat it on your own. Always make sure you check in with your vet and other experts so you can offer your dog the best care. 

We hope you found this article on pica in dogs helpful. Why not read our article on unusual illness symptoms in dogs next? Or get useful tips if your dog has started to chew excessively

Wanna Book? Let's schedule a call

More News

Aggression in dogs is the most serious behavior problem that pet owners