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Pica in Pets

Image by Denis Doukhan from Pixabay

What is Pica Disorder? It is a common disorder in pets that is eating non-food items such as rocks, dirt, and clothing. A dog that occasionally swallows a sock does not have Pica. If your dog is always eating your socks and rocks and eating dirt, then they likely have Pica.

What causes dog pica?

Pica can be brought on by other health issues such as anemia, liver disease, pancreatic disease, diabetes, neurological disease, bad diet, a side effect of certain medications, and anxiety.

When you identify that your dog might have Pica the first thing you should do is look at their environment. Sometimes increasing exercise and attention can solve the issue. If your dog is really anxious, giving them toys or crate training can help quell that.  Also, look at their routine. Dogs like routine. If you do not have a consistent routine you may consider implementing one to help quell anxiety.

If you think your dog has Pica you should take them to the vet. Your Albuquerque vet may want to examine your dog for other underlying conditions. It can be difficult to identify why your dog has Pica if test results are inconclusive. If there are not any underlying health conditions you can speak to your vet about how to deal with Pica.

Behavioral Pica vs Medical Pica

If your dog has medical Pica your vet can help you come up with ways to manage it. If it is a medication-based issue then it might be temporary. If it is based on a chronic condition you may need to change your dog’s environment to help.

If medical reasons have been ruled out, then it’s worth consulting a veterinary behaviorist. If one isn’t available in your area or within your budget, consulting with your veterinarian or a trainer may be helpful. Your veterinarian should be able to direct you to other professionals with expertise in dog and cat behavior.

There are some basic things that you can try without working with a behavior specialist, although working with one does allow for the greatest chance of stopping the pica behavior. First, make sure the animal is on a good-quality diet. Sometimes this change is all that’s needed. Along with diet, make sure the animal has plenty of exercises and mental stimulation. Give the pet appropriate toys to play with, make sure he gets plenty of human interaction, and, of course, take him for walks.

Next, if possible, limit the animal’s access to the items he constantly tries to eat. For instance, if your dog eats rocks, keep him out of rocky areas of the yard or parks. If this is too difficult or restrictive, have more attractive options available for the dog — such as treats or a Kong — when he’s in rocky areas. In extreme cases, a basket muzzle may also be helpful, but make sure the muzzle doesn’t restrict the dog’s ability to breathe. Remember, too, that the dog should not wear the muzzle for extended periods of time.


Reducing anxiety in pets

Removing stressors is the first thing you should do to reduce anxiety in your dog or cat. For example, if your pet gets nervous when you play loud music, turn down the volume or wear headphones. If your dog gets agitated when the neighbor mows her lawn, keep your dog inside or take him on an adventure away from the activity.

Providing a regular schedule is a great way to reduce anxiety. Pets respond well to regularity and find comfort in schedules. Regular walks, feeding times, and play times decrease anxiety in their consistency. Your dog or cat will learn to look forward to these events. Consistency is key. If you are inconsistent and are not keeping to a schedule that can be anxiety-provoking.


Remove the Temptation

If your dog loves to eat rocks, try to keep him away from areas that have rocks. If you have rocks in your backyard, try to clean them out of your yard or clean up a designated area that is rock-free. If they won’t stop eating sticks on your walks, try walking them in different areas or put them in a muzzle to prevent them from being able to grab the stick. A word on muzzles, do not put your dog in a muzzle for more than a few hours at a time. Make sure the muzzle fits properly and you know how to use it properly. We recommend having a muzzle fitted before using one.


No matter what, do not get mad and punish your dog or cat for eating inappropriate things. This is not a good way to train them and is not effective.


Veterinary Treatment of Pica

The course of treatment for Pica is dependent on the cause. If Pica is due to anxiety, your vet may give you some anti-anxiety medication or recommend some over-the-counter anti-anxiety remedies such as Rescue Remedy or lavender essential oil for their collar. If the Pica is a symptom of another medical condition your vet will want to treat the underlying condition. If your dog regularly eats things like rocks and dirt, or other inappropriate things, it is important to let your vet know so they can monitor their overall health. Depending on what they are eating they can get bowel obstructions or tears in their GI tract.