Pups eat the darndest things!
Pica is a pattern of eating non-food materials. In people, it is usually paper or dirt.
In dogs, it is usually dirt or feces. But some amazing things have been eaten!
Pica is not when you are feeding your Labrador retriever off the spoon and he takes spoon and all. (Reason number 73 why you don’t feed your dog people food, by the way.)
Pica is the seeking out and ingesting abnormal items. While the sky is the limit for dogs, the National Institute for Health says people have been known to eat animal feces, clay, dirt, hairballs, ice, paint and or sand.
In order to be called pica, the behavior must last at least a month.
So, when the pup is chewing on something and you startle it and it swallows something, that doesn’t qualify as pica either. (Think about the marble in your mouth you accidentally swallowed as a kid.)
It is more in young animals than adults. Puppies are more likely to seek out and eat strange things. Sometimes it can be due to a lack of nutrients.
Iron deficiency anemia and zinc deficiency, may trigger the unusual cravings. In people, some adults may crave a certain texture in their mouth causing pica.
There is not a specific test for pica. We test for anemia and examine the nutrition and think about lead poisoning from objects covered in lead paint dust. But in the end we don’t know why some people and dogs eat weird things.
Treatment should first address any side effects from eating the objects and then address any missing nutrients or other medical problems, such as lead exposure.
So we take them off a generic or name brand diet and switch them to a premium brand diet. Usually we do not care if pets are on vitamins or not, but this is one time they are highly recommended.
Dogs that eat their own stool can be fed a teaspoon to a tablespoon of canned pumpkin (not pie mix) for a couple of weeks. (I don’t know why it works, but it often does and is safe and cheap.) If that doesn’t work, there is a medicine that tastes okay when it goes in, but is extremely bitter when it comes out. (Cat poop doesn’t count as pica when dogs eat it because of the nutrients that are still in it.)
Other treatments are to try aversion therapy for chewing or grabbing things they should not eat. Keeping puppies crated keeps them from contact with the items.
Most puppies out grow pica, but it can be a problem. Items can become lodged, build up blockages or allow for an infection. Lead poisoning or malnutrition can be both a side effect of pica and a cause of it.
As I said, we have taken some weird things out of dogs, GI Joes, full sized dolls, forks, walnuts are all normal things. But this week, an engagement ring, fishing weight and bolt is probably my most unusual collection.
It was a very nice diamond engagement ring, but we were very pleased that the owner really did care more about her puppy than the ring. I do think she was glad to have them both back though.
MJ Wixsom practices veterinarian medicine at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. For questions, call 606-928-6566.