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Pica in Dogs

What Is Pica In Dogs?

Pica in dogs refers to a common behavior where dogs consistently ingest objects that are not intended for consumption. For it to be classified as pica, the dog must actually swallow the item, rather than simply chewing on it.

Common non-food items that dogs with pica may ingest include metal, plastic, cloth, garbage, rocks, paper, dirt, and feces. Objects imbued with their owners’ scent, such as underwear, socks, pantyhose, towels, and wet wipes, are often favored by dogs exhibiting pica.

While some dogs may indiscriminately consume any non-food item they encounter, others may prefer specific types of items. Pica is generally regarded as a psychological or obsessive-compulsive behavior, although it can also stem from medical issues or inadequate nutrition.

Ingesting non-food items poses significant risks to dogs, including toxicity, choking, digestive upset, and potentially life-threatening gastrointestinal blockages. If you observe or suspect that your dog has ingested a non-food item, it is crucial to contact your veterinarian immediately for proper evaluation and treatment.

Symptoms and Types

Symptoms of pica in dogs may manifest through various signs and behaviors. The initial indication could be catching your dog consuming a non-food item, which often characterizes compulsive ingestion. This behavior can result in ulcers and irritation of the gastrointestinal tract, potentially leading to severe stomach or intestinal obstruction.

Apart from the ingestion of non-food items, common clinical signs associated with pica include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea or loose stool
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Broken teeth
  • Decreased appetite or anorexia
  • Pawing at the mouth or face
  • Gagging or retching
  • Abdominal distension (a bloated stomach)
  • Tenesmus (straining to have a bowel movement)
  • Little to no feces produced
  • Dark, black tarry stool
  • Excessive drooling
  • Coughing
  • Blue or purple mucous membranes in the mouth
  • Visible distress or abnormal behavior


Pica in dogs can stem from various causes, including illness, parasites, or nutritional deficiencies. However, it is often associated with mental health conditions such as boredom, depression, anxiety, or extreme hunger.

The most prevalent form of pica in dogs is coprophagia, the ingestion of feces. Nursing female dogs commonly exhibit this behavior, which is considered normal as they assist in stimulating bowel movements for their puppies. Coprophagia is also typical in young puppies but tends to diminish as they mature. Dogs experiencing separation anxiety may resort to chewing and ingesting items when left alone by their owners.

Certain breeds, like Labradors, may be inherently predisposed to pica. Dogs with high energy levels but insufficient exercise or mental stimulation may also engage in ingesting non-food items. Additionally, pica can manifest as an attention-seeking behavior resulting from inadequate socialization with humans or other dogs. Dogs prescribed steroid medications such as prednisone or anti-seizure medications like phenobarbital may experience increased appetite, potentially leading to pica.

Various medical conditions can contribute to pica as well. These include:

  • Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA)
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Liver or pancreatic disease
  • Hookworm infection
  • Stomach or intestinal cancers
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hyperthyroidism

Anemia (low iron) and other medical conditions can hinder a dog’s ability to absorb nutrients from food, prompting them to seek alternative sources such as soil, clay, or dirt. Pica can also arise from malnutrition or an imbalanced diet.


To diagnose pica in dogs, your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination and may recommend various lab tests, including a complete blood count (CBC), serum chemistry profile, fecal check, and urinalysis. These tests help identify any underlying medical conditions that could contribute to the behavior.

If inflammatory bowel disease or pancreatic conditions are suspected, additional blood testing and an abdominal ultrasound may be necessary. Most non-food items ingested by dogs are visible on abdominal x-rays, which aid in identifying any obstructions caused by ingested objects and determining the appropriate course of action for removal.

Once medical conditions have been ruled out as the primary cause of pica, behavioral factors are considered as the underlying cause. Identifying the specific cause of pica can be challenging in some cases, which can be frustrating for both pet owners and veterinarians alike.


The treatment of pica in dogs varies depending on its underlying cause. Medical conditions contributing to pica must be thoroughly addressed to effectively manage the condition. In cases of intestinal blockage, immediate hospitalization and surgical intervention may be necessary to remove the obstructing item. If choking is suspected, contacting an emergency veterinarian is crucial for prompt assistance.

When medical conditions have been ruled out and compulsive behavior is suspected, consulting a board-certified veterinary behaviorist or behavior therapist is often recommended. These professionals possess specialized knowledge and can employ intensive behavior modification techniques or prescribe medications to address the dog’s mental health condition. Behavioral-based pica treatment tends to be more challenging.

Behavior modification strategies may involve reducing anxiety and redirecting the dog’s focus to non-ingestible items. Increasing exercise levels through longer walks or engaging in activities like fetch, along with providing mental stimulation through puzzles or safe chew toys, can be beneficial. Walking the dog on a leash allows for close monitoring and prevents them from consuming rocks, dirt, or feces.

Consistent daily exercise and mental stimulation are essential for managing pica. Taking precautions such as keeping the hamper lid closed and the laundry room door shut can prevent access to items like socks and underwear. In severe cases, the use of a basket muzzle may be necessary, especially when the dog is left unsupervised at home, in the yard, or during walks.

Natural Remedies for Pica In Dogs

There are natural or herbal remedies that can assist in managing pica in dogs. For dogs experiencing anxiety, utilizing an Adaptil pheromone diffuser and/or a calming collar, along with a chewable supplement like Composure, can be beneficial.

Probiotics play a role in promoting gut health and may aid dogs with intestinal conditions associated with pica. Additionally, supplements designed to be sprinkled on stool can create an unfavorable taste, potentially deterring coprophagia behavior.

Recovery and Management

Recovery and management of pica in dogs often require ongoing attention, especially if there isn’t a curable medical condition underlying the behavior. It may persist throughout the dog’s life and necessitate long-term management strategies. Depending on the root cause, resolving this compulsive behavior can take weeks, months, or even years.

Crate training serves as an effective method to prevent dogs from ingesting inappropriate items when unsupervised or during nighttime hours. Consistent mental and physical stimulation is crucial for dogs with pica. Providing toys that can be stuffed with food helps keep dogs occupied and redirects their behavior towards more appropriate choices. However, close supervision is necessary to prevent dogs from destroying the toy and ingesting its pieces.

Ultimately, the best approach to prevent pica involves storing non-food objects out of the dog’s reach while concurrently addressing and managing any underlying conditions contributing to the behavior.

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