You may have heard of the humans suffering from a mental disorder called Pica. This involves ingesting non-food items such as tissues or newspaper. This is considered a mental disorder in humans because we can be verbally told that we’re not to ingest these materials and we’ll immediately comprehend the meaning of those words. This condition is not limited to humans, though. It is actually quite common in dogs. They might go so far as to eat from the garbage or engage in Coprophagia, which is the eating of feces. Because of the nature of our interactions with the canine species, special steps need to be taken to break a dog of this potentially very dangerous habit.
Pica behavior in dogs can manifest as the ingestion of objects like toilet paper, socks, candy wrappers and the like. As mentioned above, they might even snack on such offensive items as garbage and feces. This behavior is not only a nuisance, but can actually pose a major threat to your dog’s health. It’s clear that the problem requires immediate attention and proper treatment.
Some symptoms of Pica in dogs are vomiting, diarrhea, halitosis or bad breath, lethargy or hyperactivity (depending on the cause of the behavior), or even sudden collapse. You might actually witness the behavior if your dog is scouring your garbage or yard for potential “treats.”
A variety of issues can contribute to Pica behavior in dogs. Medical conditions including dietary deficiencies can cause dogs to go looking for their nutrition from unnatural sources. A condition like esophageal dysphagia can also cause Pica in dogs. Endocrine disorders such as hyperthyroidism or diabetes, both of which cause excessive hunger, could also be to blame. Of course, these would have to be either diagnosed or ruled out by the veterinarian. Excluding the physiologic causes, many other emotional reasons can lead to the Pica disorder. Dogs are great at quickly picking up on what behaviors gain them attention from their owners. If a dog isn’t shown a fair amount of love and attention, even negative attention can be perceived as a reward. If one of these dogs learns that he’ll be scolded for picking up or eating a non-food item, he might do this intentionally to gain the attention he sorely misses. Similarly, a bored dog might develop an interest in chewing on random household items. Since he lacks companionship for too long, he’ll use this spare time to explore unnatural behavioral activities. In this case, his exploration could prove dangerous, and must be stopped. The condition can also be carried over from puppyhood, a time during which dogs are orally fixated.
Regardless of the origin of this problem, it’s a condition that requires treatment and prevention for the future. If your dog is experiencing Pica disorder symptoms because of a lack of emotional stimulus, the problem could easily be solved by simply spending more time exercising your dog and engaging him in active play. Even a long walk or brisk run can tire your dog out and provide a diversion from the boredom he experiences. You can also encourage your dog to chew on items that may not be food, but will be safe for him to hold in his mouth. Provide your dog with acceptable chew toys like rawhide bones or a strong nylon toy. Playing with these toys with your dog can help him become interested in the object and be inclined to play with it on his own time. Just be sure that whatever you’re providing is big enough that your dog won’t be able to swallow it.
In some cases, a dog will exhibit this behavior right in front of his owner. This is clearly a ploy for attention. The best plan of attack for these cases is simply to ignore your dog if he’s already got something in his mouth. He’ll quickly learn that this behavior will no longer earn him the attention he likes. You will most likely have to pay closer attention to your dog, but you’ll be ultimately protecting his health. The best course of treatment for these cases involves preventing the behavior before it starts. When your dog is at rest, use previously taught commands to extract the appropriate response from your dog. Once he’s successfully completed his trick, reward him with a treat and petting.
You can take additional steps to prevent the Pica disorder in the first place. Make sure any loose, enticing objects aren’t left out within reach of your dog. If this isn’t possible, you can make certain objects distasteful to your dog by putting Tabasco or Citronella spray on them. You’ll also want to be sure your dog is being fed appropriately, meaning that he’s getting the right amount of nutritionally sound food. A hungry or malnourished dog might instinctually seek to meet his nutritional needs through unconventional means. Just remember that a happy, well-exercised, well-fed and healthy dog won’t exhibit signs of Pica. Through the simple steps above, you can be certain that your canine friend won’t fall victim to this malady.