Pica in Dogs

Pica is a condition in which animals or humans eat non-food items. While illness, parasites, or nutritional deficiencies can cause pica, it is more commonly due to boredom, depression, anxiety, and hunger.

Items like paper, dirt, and rocks are often consumed by dogs with pica, but probably the most disturbing non-food items our best friends eat are undergarments. Due to the ability to detect their owner's scent, dogs find consuming these personal articles of clothing both relatively easy to ingest and comforting at the same time. 


While this behavior can be observed by pet owners, the habit typically increases when the dog is left alone or without supervision. The first step to take to avoid this tendency is clearing potentially dangerous temptations in the area where your dog spends most of their time. Providing plenty of engaging, sturdy chew toys and making sure your dog has had enough to eat and drink are also vital to their overall health and well-being. 

When to See the Veterinarian

Animals can have strong digestive systems and sometimes pass socks, paper, string and other flexible objects over one to three days. They can also suffer intestinal blockages, ulcerations, and gastrointestinal irritation from items they ingested. If your dog is vomiting, having a hard time with bowel movements, or suffering from diarrhea, you should see a vet as soon as possible. In addition to these symptoms, if they stop eating, it is an emergency. 

For the vet to determine the best approach to take, explain that your dog has pica, and has most likely swallowed something. An x-ray should be obtained to check for hard objects but doesn’t routinely show soft items like fabric. Teeth are also examined to check for damage. Some veterinarians now offer dental health treatments or can refer you to a specialist.

After performing diagnostic tests to rule out other causes, and depending on the condition of your pet, the vet may give your dog a day or two to pass the object on their own. If there is no improvement, they will probably suggest surgery to examine the stomach and intestines as well as to remove any item(s) discovered.

Curbing the Behavior

According to the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), this compulsive activity does not typically subside on its own. A veterinarian can determine if your pet is acting out or has any underlying medical conditions. Puppies are known for exploring their world through their nose and mouth so don’t be too alarmed if your puppy eats some paper or another benign object. This behavior is typically seen in puppies and firm, but gentle reminders of what is and isn’t appropriate to consume are usually effective.

Be sure that your dog is getting enough exercise. Pets with compulsive pica tend to be fast eaters as well. This can lead to bloat which is another dangerous condition. Food bowls that are specially designed to prevent these eating habits are available and can teach your dog to slow down and gain self-control. Crating your dog in your absence is a good preventive measure and can be used to teach your dog better habits. Another technique is to spray taste deterrents like Bitter Apple® on your dog’s non-food items of choice. 

Call Antony Animal Hospital in Hesperia, Today

If you believe your dog has damage to their teeth, or are in distress after ingesting a non-food item, bring them into Antony Animal Hospital. Our Hesperia veterinarian has experience with pica and other issues that can cause problems in your pet. We can determine the exact cause of their discomfort and correct damage to your dog’s teeth. 

Dr. Amy and her team welcome your questions on this and all matters regarding your pet’s health!

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