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What Is Pica?

Do you have a pet who loves to eat things they shouldn’t? Pica can be defined as the persistent craving and frequent eating of non-food substances. Here at Eastern Shore Veterinary Hospital, we see a lot of pets that have eaten many different things such as hair elastics, string, needles, rocks, socks, and even underwear. A lot of owners are extremely concerned by this behaviour and with good reason. Not only is this behaviour ruining owner’s possessions, but also has some serious medical consequences for the pet. Pets eating things they shouldn’t, cause ill effects such as vomiting, toxicity, diarrhea, and life-threatening gastrointestinal blockages.

The cause of pica is unknown, but there are a few different theories regarding why our beloved pets enjoy chowing down on non-edible things. One theory is that this behaviour is attention seeking, meaning the pet is looking for interaction with its owner. Sometimes even a verbal scolding from the owner will be seen as social interaction to the pet, which therefore reinforces the behaviour and may encourage the pet to do it again. Another theory is that the pet eats things they shouldn’t be, due to a nutritional deficiency, although no studies have ever proven this. Frustration or anxiety may also cause pica. Another theory regarding the cause of pica is that it originates while the animal is playing. Dogs and cats enjoy chewing toys during play, which could lead to ingesting the toy, or household object they have found to play with. For example, if a cat finds a needle with a bit of thread attached, they may begin to play and bat around the thread, before beginning to chew on it. This may lead to them chewing on the needle and swallowing it.

Due to the cause of pica not being well understood, it can be a tough problem to fix. If you think your pet may have pica, or another issue involving ingesting foreign bodies, please contact us today. You may require medical assistance or a referral to an animal behaviourist.

If you think your pet may have pica, some common suggestions for fixing the problem include making the inedible objects they enjoy eating taste bad. You can do this by using bitter apple spray, preventing their access to the items, and keeping plenty of safe toys around for your pet to play with. If you think it may be due to the animal being very food orientated, you can try switching to a low-calorie diet to be able to feed them more. Your veterinary team is more than happy to help you pick the best diet for your pet if you suspect this may be the cause of the problem. If you believe that anxiety or frustration could be the cause of the problem for your pet, you can try behaviour modification techniques. Also, try to set aside extra time in the day to spend with your pet, playing, petting, training or grooming, so they do not have to resort to eating things they shouldn’t, as a plea for attention.

Written by Mikaila Cariou, RVT

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