PICA in dogs

Have you noticed an unusual behavior in your dog: it seems that he is always ingesting non-nutritive substances? You find him always eating anything and everything? Paper, plastic, rocks, grass, dirt, etc. You are right, this behavior is not normal. He has what is called pica syndrome.

But what is it? What is the cause? What are the risks? And what should be done? We answer all your questions!

1- What is PICA in dogs?

PICA is a disease, or more precisely an eating disorder, which consists of the ingestion of objects or materials that are not edible and that are not logically intended to be eaten.

It also affects humans, in most cases women, but is especially common in animals: dogs, cats, birds, horses, cows, etc.

2- What does a dog suffering from PICA eat ?

The syndrome of pica in dogs is characterized by this behavior of irremediably wanting to eat non-food materials. The list is long as the dog will tend to eat anything within its reach: earth, sand, gravel, pebbles, plants, fabrics of all kinds, paper and cardboard, plastic bottles, wood, metal and even its own hair, etc.

There are also other forms of PICA in dogs, such as ingesting excrement, also called “coprophagia”, or compulsively licking mineral surfaces (walls, floors, etc.).

On the other hand, the ingestion of grass, if it is not too frequent, is not part of the pica behaviors. The vegetable fibers being necessary to the dog for the stimulation of its intestinal transit. Even perfectly normal dogs with a sufficient level of fiber eat grass. It should not be confused with the normal exploratory behavior of the puppy who tends to “taste” objects in his environment. In the latter case, a firm “no” is usually enough to make him understand what is or is not being done!

3- Origins and causes of PICA in dogs

In dogs, the PICA syndrome can have several causes.

3-1 Boredom or stress

If your dog is frequently locked up during the day, in your apartment, in kennels or kennels without any other stimulating activity, then pica becomes a way to evacuate his stress and/or to attract the attention of his master.

3-2 A nutritional deficiency

In the dog, in the absence of a complete industrial food of very good quality, the PICA can be associated with a food deficiency which would be then due to the exhaustion of the reserves of iron of the organization or to a food too low in sodium.

3-3 A digestive disorder

Several disorders may be involved: the presence of a foreign body in the stomach, inflammation of the intestine, pancreatic disease, internal parasitism, abnormal proliferation of bacteria in the intestine, etc. Pica would then be a way to relieve the pain felt by the dog which will make him vomit.

3-4 A general pathology

Some diseases such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease, or other cancers, can lead to bulimia which incites the dog to eat everything and anything.

3-5 Early separation from the mother

Numerous studies have shown that puppies that are separated too early from their mothers, between 30 and 45 days, often develop behavioral problems, including pica.

3-6 Senility

The older the dog, the more likely it is to develop PICA syndrome, which is part of the CCD syndrome or canine cognitive dysfunction.

In this case, the symptoms of pathological aging are accompanied by whining, disorientation, aggressiveness and mood disorders.

4- What are the risks for dogs suffering from PICA?

The risks can be serious or minimal depending on the nature of the objects or materials ingested by the dog. But in general, the following consequences cannot be ruled out digestive disorders, irritation of the digestive tract leading to diarrhea and/or vomiting, digestive sub-occlusion or occlusion following the ingestion of strings, tissues or plastics; digestive perforation following the ingestion of sharp objects such as pieces of wood, scrap metal, bones; peritonitis; premature wear of the enamel of the teeth, or even fractured teeth if the dog has ingested really hard materials; parasitism or infection if he has ingested large quantities of contaminated soil or sand; intoxication if he has ingested inedible plants or drugs, loss of form and weight if the ingestion of non-nutritive materials is at the expense of the normal food intake.

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