Thursday, March 29, 2018

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Pica

The definition of pica is persistent, compulsive eating of non-food things.

That does not include things that are food, just not designated for your dog, things that could technically pass as food to a dog, and poop (coprophagia). It does include items that are unquestionably not food, such as sticks, rocks, DVDs, shoes, underwear ... in other words, anything and everything they can get their paws on.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Pica

Why would a dog not know what is food and what is not?

Puppies, of course, are a different story; they are still learning what is eatible and what is not and what better way to learn than by eating random things to find out? Puppies explore the world with their noses and with their mouths, just like kids do. The rationale in their minds is that if it fits in the mouth it's meant to be eaten unless proven otherwise. Some of these things might smell very attractive (to a dog), such as dirty socks or underwear.

To complicate matters further, human dwellings are packed with inedible stuff.

There is a difference between chewing things up and actually eating them, too.


A bored, stressed, or uneducated dog can shred just about anything they find. Cookie, when we adopted her, would chew up anything in sight. She grew up tied up outside, all along, whatever was there was a fair game. She had to learn that some things are meant to be chewed on and some are not.

What if your adult dog starts eating everything in sight?


Typically, pica is chalked up to a behavioral problem. Though that is sometimes true, is that all there is to it? I don't believe so.

Anxiety, depression or frustration could cause your dog's destructive behavior and perhaps pica as well. With my dogs, I always want to rule out any possibility of a medical reason first.

“Pica could be related to nutritional deficiencies, metabolic imbalance, intestinal parasites or diseases such as diabetes, Cushing’s, gastritis or inflammatory bowel disease.” ~Dr. Rob Butler

I remember a story from Four Paws, Five Directions, about a dog who would wolf down everything in sight to end up sick and even require surgery. Trying to manage the problem has become frustrating enough that the owners decided to consult with an integrative practitioner.

"The dog was trying to put out a fire, literally." ~Dr. Cheryl Schwarts, DVM

When you're approach doesn't get good results, it's neccessary to change a point of view. We ended up dabling into integrative veterinary medicine for a different reason but we did that because conventional medicine was not able to provide an answer or a solution to Jasmine's problems.

What can be this elusive fire the dog is trying to put out?


Better question is how elusive is the fire, really? Enter Bridget. Bridget suffered from severe pica. She'd eat anything not nailed down. Enough grass to explode, blankets, toys ... it was believed she was doing that to make herself to throw up. And throw up she did. But why?

It took many veterinary visits until Bridget was finally diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis. That certainly qualifies as fire.

Another friend's dog would fall into an "eat everything" rage when on steroids. Pica can be a symptom of high blood cortisol levels, whether artificial, such as a dog being on steroids, or internal, such as a dog suffering from Cushing's disease.

High cortisol, a stress hormone, another form of fire that the dog is trying to put out.

To summarize


When dealing with pica, look for the fire. Your dog might be suffereing from GI issues, stomach pain, stomach tumors, endocrine contition, diabetes ...

I always give my dog the benefit of the doubt. I'd be looking for a cause instead of locking my dog in an empty crate to prevent them from eating everything.

The othe day a friend mentioned her dog got sick after eating a bunch of rocks and grass. My question was, did he get sick from eating those things or was he eating those things because he was already sick? That is the million dollar question.


Do you know what your dog is telling you about their health?

Do you know what your dog is telling you about their health?

Learn how to detect and interpret the signs of a potential problem.

Symptoms to Watch for In Your Dog

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog now available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog is an award-winning guide to help you better understand what your dog is telling you about their health and how to best advocate for them. 

Learn how to see and how to think about changes in your dog’s appearance, habits, and behavior. Some signs that might not trigger your concern can be important indicators that your dog needs to see a veterinarian right away. Other symptoms, while hard to miss, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or limping, are easy to spot but can have a laundry list of potential causes, some of them serious or even life-threatening. 

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog is a dog health advocacy guide 101. It covers a variety of common symptoms, including when each of them might be an emergency. 

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog has won the following awards:

20 comments

  1. Interesting, I am not sure I have ever heard of a dog with Pica - this is really great to know they can be affected by it.

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    1. I don't know how commonly it's actually diagnosed and how often it's just chalked up to bad behavior. I know of many dogs who had this or similar problem.

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  2. What a fascinating article. I have heard of pica in humans but did not realise it applied to dogs as well. I was very interested to read about the reasons why some of the dogs were eating so many non food items, and when you think about it it was very clever on their part to do what they thought would make them feel better. I couldn't agree with you more when you say you would always look for a cause, rather than keeping your dog away from anything he could potentially eat. Such an important and helpful post.

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    1. I doubt that much of those things actually make them feel better but their instinct is telling them to do so.

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  3. I never heard of Pica before. Thanks for educating and informing us about the symptoms to watch out for.

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    1. I wish there were many things I've never heard of before :-) That's always a good thing.

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  4. Really interesting read. I have never heard of PICA but now I totally understand it, thank you. I always notice when ours are eating a lot of grass, usually means they have an upset tummy, I alter their food to try and help settle it, obviously if it continued I would always take them to the vets.

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    1. Yes, everything weird and everything new should be investigated.

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  5. I have met one Labrador retriever who had pica and had to have surgery for eating rocks. Thank you for more information and background. (YAYDog Clare)

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    1. A friend of mine has a Newfie who was doing the same thing; has severe IBD.

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  6. Always so interesting to read this blog ... I had NO idea this was a thing. Once again! And a great post ... I understand it. And I do think it's important to ask the "chicken and egg" question.

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    1. Thank you, I'm glad you found it interesting.

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    2. I had a foster dog who I thought might have pica. He was always trying to stuff things in his mouth. The ER didn't find anything though.

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  7. My growing pup is going through stages of only eating when hungry. He does like to unstuff new toys but thankfully leaves the stuffing for me to clean up.

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    1. I think most, if not all, dogs like to unstuff toys :-) As long as they don't eat it it's all good. Cookie is a total surgeon.

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  8. These are such great points & examples, sometimes Pics may not be behavioral. It's always important to rule out a physical problem.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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    1. Thank you; I like using examples wherever possible.

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  9. Thank you for this interesting post. My mom is a psych nurse has has cared for many people who were suffering from PICA. I didn't realize this diagnosis carried over to dogs too. But after reading this post it make so much sense.

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  10. I hadn't heard of pica until I watched some of the vet shows on Animal Planet. Truffle loves to chew on plastic and has been known to chew off the corner of a plastic envelope.

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    1. Dogs chew on all sorts of things. That is different from actually eating them. Just today there is a case on my group, a Border Collie "under the weather" and not eating ... heading for surgery to remove a bunch of rocks from her stomach tomorrow.

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