We’ve all laughed over the old excuse “the dog ate my homework,” but even a phrase as innocent as that might not be funny to someone whose dog has compulsive pica.
Pica is characterized by a desire to consume substances that are non-nutritive, and it can affect not only dogs but also cats, as Julia covered in her article Does Your Cat Eat Strange Things?In fact, people can suffer from pica, too.
The first dog I had as an adult—a rescued black lab—had pica and I didn’t know it. When she was 10 years old she got very sick. My regular vet and an emergency vet had no idea what was wrong and, surprisingly, multiple x-rays revealed nothing. I lived in a college town with a well-respected veterinary school, so my vet took my dog to the school for examination. After more fluid-bags and pills than I could count, with my sweet baby barely hanging on, my vet said the only thing he could do was exploratory surgery.
I still credit that vet with saving Sadie’s life. Apparently she had an extreme case of pica. He had a quart-sized bag full of treasures that he found in my dog’s intestinal tract, including seashells, twist ties, rocks and the finger of a garden glove. He said her system had probably done a good job of passing these things in the past, but what got her in trouble this time was a pinecone with a piece of twine wrapped around it. The piece of twine was long and prohibited the pinecone from passing through.
Dog behavior can be hard to figure out. Some dogs spend their days licking everything in sight. Why do dogs lick walls, floors, the carpet, a toy, us, themselves and even cats?
Most dog licking isn’t anything to be concerned about, as long as it isn’t excessive and the dog isn’t ingesting bad things along with his licking. Dogs use their tongue and mouth to investigate and determine what things are. They’re always exploring their world, tasting what they find. The problem with allowing a dog to constantly lick surfaces like carpet, furniture or floors is they can ingest hair, fibers, string, toxic products or other small objects, and these could end up blocking their intestinal tract.
I have a “foodie” cat that likes corn, beans, peas, pasta, Cheetos, popcorn, scrambled eggs – pretty much any food that doesn’t eat him first. As a responsible pet owner I don’t give him these things, except for a small morsel once in a great while; I’m just saying he would eat them if he could. Although Rocky’s obsession with food is not exactly typical for a feline, it’s far less worrisome than the eating disorder known as pica.
Pica (pronounced “PIE-kuh”) is the voluntary ingestion of non-food items. While more common in cats, pica can occur in dogs and people too, especially children. Cats who have pica will eat things like yarn, tape, plastic bags, wool and other fabrics, electrical cords, plants, kitty litter, shoelaces and paper.
Why do cats eat weird things?
Although the exact cause of why some cats have a penchant for eating non-food items is not fully understood, a genetic component is suspected since the disorder is more commonly found in oriental breeds like Siamese and Burmese. According to Dr. Karen Sueda, DVM, pica has also been linked to a variety of diseases, including feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus. Other suspected causes of pica include mineral deficiencies, diabetes, brain tumors and other illnesses. If all medical causes have been ruled out, pica may be a manifestation of behavioral or psychological issues such as boredom, anxiety, attention-seeking, comfort, compulsive urges, and learned behavior.
Cat pica is sometimes associated with wool-sucking, although the two are not really the same thing. Wool sucking is generally believed to be a compulsive, misdirected form of nursing behavior, caused perhaps by abrupt early weaning of kittens. Additionally, cats who engage in wool sucking usually do not progress to the stage of actually eating the blankets, sweaters, stuffed animals and other “objects of their affection.” You can read more about wool sucking in cats here.
Is pica dangerous for your cat?
Beyond the obvious perils of chewing on power cords, ingesting plants that are poisonous for pets, or consuming potentially toxic non-food items, pica is dangerous because the items could become lodged in their stomach or intestine. This blockage can be fatal since it prevents the passage of food and may cut off blood supply to the organs. If your cat regularly eats non-food items and becomes lethargic, vomits or displays erratic behavior, see your veterinarian immediately.
Treatments for cat pica
Because pica may be a sign of an underlying health problem, any cat who shows an interest in consuming unusual non-food items should be examined by a vet. If no medical issues can be found, treatment may include:
● Keeping the targeted items (blankets, tape, cords, plastic bags etc.) out of your cat’s reach.
● Redirecting their impulse to more appropriate and safer items, such as food-dispensing toys or durable cat toys. For felines who like to snack on plants, you could try growing some catnip or cat grass just for them.
● A copious amount of interactive playtime can help if the cause of your cat’s pica is related to boredom.
● Increasing the fiber in your cat’s diet (but please consult your vet before making any changes to their diet).
● Deterring the chewing by applying hot sauce, Bitter Apple or other aversive substances to the objects they favor.
If your cat eats weird things, it might be pica, or it might not be. It’s crucial to have them examined by their vet to determine if there are any underlying medical issues. This quirky behavior might seem cute, but it’s really not. And since it could be harmful to them, it’s something you will certainly want professional help with, so your kitty can live a long and healthy life.
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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, firm, corporation or brand names, in this blog is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. All opinions in this blog are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company.