Pica: Non-Food Consumption Disorder

Puppies eat all kinds of objects, including nonfood items. Although behavior experts aren’t sure why they do it, many puppies tend to chew and swallow inedible things during investigation of their environments. Most puppies grow out of this behavior by six months of age without anything but mild discouragement from their owners.

The consumption of nonfood items is a disorder called pica. Although pica can be a sign that a dog’s diet is lacking in some nutrient, when pica occurs in puppies and young dogs the most common culprit is boredom. Occasionally, eating nonfood items develops into compulsive behavior, resulting in a dog who’s highly motivated to find and consume specific objects. Rock eating is the most common form of pica, but dogs compulsively consume a variety of inedible objects, including plastic bags and containers, human clothing and wooden objects.

My nephews bulldog, just this past week consumed – a pair of leggings and a zipper, resulting in major surgery on his stomach and intestines, costing $1700.00.  Domi (the bulldog) is doing just fine with his recovery, but my nephew is displeased with the bill.  And poor Domi is having to stay at his vets for yet another week for recovery, due to stomach staples inside and out.  Poor little guy!  Of course still rising in cost above and beyond the initial surgery bill.  Domi will be an expensive pup when he comes home.  And my nephew will have to puppy proof his home better in the future.

Some dogs continue to consume nonfood items even after the initial investigating puppy stage. If you live with a junk-eating adult dog, they may suffer from a compulsive disorder. If they do, you’ll notice that they seem frequently and intensely motivated to find and eat specific nonfood objects, such as rocks, plastic bags, wood or clothing. Compulsive behavior won’t go away on its own, so if your dog often gobbles things that aren’t really food, you’ll need to help overcome their problem with special training.

Dogs often eat grass. Some dogs graze when they feel nauseous in an attempt to make themselves vomit, and some dogs graze to improve digestion. Dogs may also eat grass to get rid of worms or remedy other kinds of stomach problems. Grass and soil may serve as dietary supplements, too. As long as a dog only eats grass or soil occasionally, this kind of pica doesn’t usually cause problems.  Your dog may ingest nonfood items because of a digestive disorder, a parasitic infestation, a metabolic disorder, a nutritional deficiency/dietary imbalance or poisoning. Before concentrating on changing your dog’s behavior, see your veterinarian to rule out possible physical problems.

If your dog has a pica problem, providing plenty of appropriate things for playing and chewing, along with interactive play opportunities, such as throwing a ball or playing tug-of-war, might resolve the issue and prevent the development of compulsive behavior. Keep in mind that when you give your dog appropriate chew items and toys, you’ll need to make sure that they’re extremely durable so they don’t bite off large chunks and choke. Feeding your dog higher-quality dog food can resolve the problem if it’s diet-related, but if you suspect a nutrition problem, you should also consult your veterinarian.