What Is Pica and Why It Causes My Dog to Eat Non-Edible Objects

Written by Sam Hindman
Published: December 8, 2023
Share on:

Advertisement


If you’ve begun to notice suspicious behavior in your pooch in the form of consuming seemingly random household (or outdoor) objects, there is a chance that they are suffering from a medical condition called pica. It may start slowly, with occasional instances of sock-stealing, but it can develop rapidly in a short time. Pica in dogs is a troublesome condition that requires treatment to improve, but don’t worry- it’s not inherently deadly. If diagnosed appropriately and in a timely manner, pica symptoms can be managed and even eliminated.

Still, it can be frightening to notice that your dog is consuming inedible objects. That’s why this article will serve as your guide to this condition. We’ll go over not only what pica is, but also how it can be diagnosed, treated, and the steps that you can take immediately to help improve this condition.

What Is Pica in Dogs?

Dog with knocked over trash

There are a number of non-food items that a dog with pica may be attracted to.

©Masarik/Shutterstock.com

In essence, pica is a condition that compels dogs (or other creatures) to eat non-food objects. This can mean a lot of things, and no two dogs with pica will be attracted to exactly the same items. But, a common denominator for dogs with pica is that they prefer to eat objects with their owner’s scent on them. This means things like socks, used towels and napkins, and other accessories or articles of clothing.

But, dogs with pica also eat other things. Outdoor items like rocks, wood, and dirt are common, and things like plastic and paper can be eaten too. There are some dogs that will consume a variety of these things and others that have one chosen item that they prefer and will continuously seek out.

It’s important to note that, while some dogs with pica do also have coprophagia (ingestion of fecal matter), this is not universal. When it does occur, it’s usually in adult female dogs that consume the feces of their puppies post-nursing.

Common Symptoms of Pica

Naturally, the most striking and identifying pica symptom is the urge to eat non-food objects. But, that’s not to say that it’s the only symptom by any means. There are several other, secondary symptoms that a dog with pica may exhibit. These include:

  • Vomiting
  • Little or no appetite
  • Diahrrea or constipation
  • Bad breath
  • Lethargy

If the condition has developed into something more serious, they may also exhibit symptoms like burping, consistent drooling, or visible straining while trying to defecate. Always get your pet checked if you believe them to have pica. It may seem like an innocent enough condition at first, but the risks that it comes with are harrowing. Over time, the risk increases for your dog to develop a respiratory or intestinal blockage due to their pica habits, which can cost you thousands of dollars in surgical fees.

Why Pica Develops (+ Risk Factors)

Dog with trash on ground

Some dog breeds are inherently more susceptible to developing obsessive behaviors.

©Christin Lola/Shutterstock.com

There are several reasons why pica in dogs might develop, but most of these are related to behavioral problems. If your dog is incredibly bored, for instance, they might develop pica. This also happens when dogs have high levels of anxiety, and in cases where dogs eat their own stool, it might be related to a fear of punishment. If it isn’t behavioral in nature, then it is likely as a result of an underlying medical condition.

Are Certain Breeds More Prone To Pica?

Any and every dog has a risk of developing pica. Whether they’re an adult or a puppy, there’s a chance that they can be susceptible to this condition. However, there are certain dog breeds that have higher risks of developing obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Because of this, their pica rates are slightly higher than other dogs. Here is a list of some of those breeds:

  • German Shepherds
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Great Danes
  • Doberman Pinchers

It is also worth briefly noting that cases of pica are more commonly seen in female dogs than in males.

Treatment Options For Pica In Dogs

French Bulldog in a veterinary clinic. Two doctors are examining him. Veterinary medicine concept. Pedigree dogs. Mixed media

The reasons dogs develop pica vary greatly, but it can be diagnosed through your veterinarian’s thorough investigation.

©Andy Gin/Shutterstock.com

One of the most unfortunate parts of the development of pica in dogs is that it isn’t a condition that a dog will simply “grow out of,” or something that will go away with patience. It is an illness that needs to be treated and actively prevented, as it is a compulsive behavior that will not stop until taken care of.

When it comes to the diagnosis of pica, things need to be quite specific. In fact, the more colorful details you can provide with your veterinary specialist, the better. If it’s easier for you, take the extra step of collecting photos and videos to demonstrate to your vet the specifics of your pet’s behavior.

The reason for this specificity is because pica and its behaviors can be the result of a number of disorders and deficiencies, and each of those subsections of causes has its own unique set of diagnosis and treatment options.

The Various Underlying Causes of Pica

  • Malnutrition: A vet’s first recommendation for dealing with pica is likely going to be a nutritional analysis and intervention into the dog’s diet. Ensuring that your dog’s food has the highest quality nutritional value possible is essential.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues: Not only can pica cause gastrointestinal problems, but those problems can be the source of the pica as well. Irritable or inflammatory bowel diseases, malabsorption issues, and even parasites can all be possible explanations.
  • Endocrine Disorders: Disorders like diabetes and thyroid disease can also be causing your dog’s pica. It’s likely that your veterinarian will diagnose these conditions via blood test, and if positive, prescribe the proper medication.
  • Neurological Disorders: Cognitive dysfunction is unfortunately also a common cause of pica. To rule out this, as well as other possible issues like lesions, your veterinarian will order brain imaging tests.
  • Mental Health Issues: Last, but not least, is the likelihood that your dog’s pica has developed from a mental health issue like anxiety or boredom. The treatment for these issues can be anything from behavioral help to medication.

How Much Does Pica Treatment Cost?

Unfortunately, there is no singular estimate for the costs of pica treatment. That’s because there are, as you’ve seen, so many varying root causes of the condition. Behavioral pica treatment will likely be less costly, as the implementation of a behaviorist may only run you a few hundred dollars. In severe cases (like intestinal blockage that requires surgery) it could be as expensive as $3,000.

Pica Prevention Tips

Smart dog is looking for delicious dried treats in intellectual game and eating them, close up. Intellectual game for dogs. and training of nose work with pet. brain game training for dogs

A good way to combat pica in dogs is by ensuring that they are always mentally and physically stimulated.

©Lenti Hill/iStock via Getty Images

Although some dogs are naturally prone to pica, there are steps that you can take as an owner to decrease their risk of developing this illness. These prevention tactics include things like:

  • Ensure your dog has a healthy, well-balanced diet that meets all their nutritional needs.
  • Implement behavioral techniques that encourage stimulation! Spend more time with your dogs outdoors so they can get their energy out, and provide them with enriching activities to mentally stimulate them as well.
  • Maintain a home that discourages pica by keeping any non-food things far away from your dog’s reach. Keep up with trash, and make sure that it’s all tightly shut and secure.
  • When outdoors, keep them close company and redirect them from stones and wood that they might be tempted to eat.
  • Look out and test for potential underlying conditions that might be causing their pica symptoms.
  • Test out crate training if you haven’t, so your dog can be safe and secure when you’re away from your home.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Chalabala/ via Getty Images

Ready to discover the top 10 cutest dog breeds in the entire world?

How about the fastest dogs, the largest dogs and those that are -- quite frankly -- just the kindest dogs on the planet? Each day, AZ Animals sends out lists just like this to our thousands of email subscribers. And the best part? It's FREE. Join today by entering your email below.

What's the right dog for you?

Dogs are our best friends but which breed is your perfect match?

X-Small
Small
Medium
Large
Xtra-Large

If you have kids or existing dogs select:

Kids
Other Dogs

Should they be Hypoallergenic?

Yes
No
How important is health?
Which dog groups do you like?
How much exercise should your dog require?
What climate?
How much seperation anxiety?
How much yappiness/barking?

How much energy should they have?

The lower energy the better.
I want a cuddle buddy!
About average energy.
I want a dog that I have to chase after constantly!
All energy levels are great -- I just love dogs!
How much should they shed?
How trainable/obedient does the dog need to be?
How intelligent does the dog need to be?
How much chewing will allow?

Share on:
About the Author

Sam Hindman is a writer at A-Z animals covering a range of topics, including pet care, plant care, pest control and travel destinations. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Multimedia Studies at Point Park University, set to graduate in the spring of 2024. A resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when she isn't writing, she's spending time with her beloved cat Archie.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.