Got questions about PICA?

5 02 2009

First things first, since many people may not be aware of PICA, let us begin by explaining it is.  PICA is a common condition for dogs, where they eat objects off the ground or floor.  They ingest these objects (paper towels, rocks, underwear, coins, safety pins, you name it and they’ll eat it)  This also extends to coprophagia, which is just a fancy word for poop eating.  Myself, I have never experienced PICA, but when Tax was a puppy, he used to eat rocks.  I do not remember if he outgrew eating rocks, ate all of the rocks, or we moved and he could not find rocks to eat at our new place.

Animal behaviorists are unsure of the behavioral reasoning behind why some dogs do this.  Some believe that the dogs are lacking something in their diets, some believe they do it for attention.  Whatever the reason, it can be very dangerous!  If you have been reading regularly, you should remember the many times I have said that a dog will do anything for attention. We do not care what kind of attention we get, as long as it comes from our people.  All we know is that when we attempt to eat something that is not from our bowl or we are not supposed to, we get a reaction from our humans.  You could yell at us or smack us on the head, but we do not care.  It is attention from our people, and we will attempt to eat it again and again, so long as we get attention from our people for it.

For a dog experiencing PICA, it is time to go to the vet for a checkup.  They will want to run some tests to ensure he is healthy.  Your vet will want to take an x-ray to rule out any blockages from the ingested non-food items.  Once the “all clear” is given, modifying behavior is the next step.  If the dog is a puppy, he may grow out of the problem, but if he is an adult dog, it is probably time to teach an old dog some new tricks!

For times that your dog is at home, the easiest thing to do to address the issue is to ensure there is nothing on the floor for him to eat.  This means everything, including the little “bonuses” he finds every day during his patrols like bread crumbs, little pieces of cereal and other tasty treats.  You will also have to cease any feeding or treat-giving using the floor as a medium.  The cause of PICA may have been found due to some tasty crumbs once, and he now assumes that everything he picks up off the floor will be just as tasty.

Outside your house, it will not be as easy.  He will require constant and vigilant supervision from you.  If you see him eating something that is not going to cause any harm, do nothing.  Remember, if you give him any attention for that, he will continue the behavior.  A good method to correct without drawing attention is to take a squirt bottle of water outside with them, and when you see the dog “rooting” in the ground, give them a little squirt.  You can also keep your completely occupied during outside playtime with his favorite activity.

Mom worked with Tax on his PICA by having him chase things.  She made a hole through a tennis ball, and she ran five feet of rope through it.  She tied a couple of knots to keep the ball on the rope.  She would throw the ball and pull it back to her and Tax would chase that thing for hours!

You can also try to adjust behavior through altering the dog’s eating schedule to reduce the dog’s appetite by feeding more often, but a lesser amount of food.  You can also ask your vet about adding fiber to your dog’s diet, since this should make him feel full throughout the day.

PICA is prevalent among the terrier breeds, most likely due to their breeding.  They were originally bred to dig out prey that they chased, cornered, and killed it.  Some of the time, the hunters that accompanied them shared the fruits of their labors.



2 responses

6 02 2009

This is a really interesting post Spike as I went through a severe rock-eating disorder with ‘Ger when he was young. He’d eat every single rock you could imagine from the yard, to the point of making us look for and take them out every weekend. The veterinarian recommended a diet high in fiber but what actually did the trick was to “season” some stones with cayenne pepper and place them close to his play area. A week later Mr. Stone-Eater left the building!

But like you said, first thing is that parents should take their dog/cat to the vet because Pica has been known to be a pre-cursor of anemia. See you soon!

13 02 2009

Thanks! The high-fiber diet does work, but going the extra mile with the pepper can really do the trick.

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