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PICA in dogs + How to Identify and Treat it

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PICA is a condition where your dogs feel the urge to eat non-food items. These could include different objects like plastics, metals, paper, clothes, dirt, and rocks. PICA in dogs is a condition that requires urgent care from a veterinarian to keep your dog safe and healthy.

PICA may be a psychological issue due to compulsive behavior resulting in the urge to eat unhealthy objects. In addition, this condition can also be caused by poor nutrition or underlying medical conditions. Therefore, getting professional advice to help get to the root of this issue is essential.

Causes of PICA in Dogs

PICA may feature several causes that are either psychological, triggered by a medical condition, or resulting from appetite-inducing drugs. 

Psychological causes of PICA are linked to behavioral disorders like, 

  • Depression
  • Loneliness & boredom
  • Anxiety & stress
  • Frustration
  • Attention seeking

Common medical conditions that may lead to PICA are linked with a significant increase in the dog’s appetite. Some of these conditions include;

  • Malnutrition
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Hookworm infestation in the intestines
  • Inflammatory bowel issues
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Stomach tumor
  • Diabetes
  • Vitamin deficiency

If your dog suffers from any of these conditions, watching out for PICA is essential. Keep an eye on what they eat to help address the problem earlier. 

How to Identify PICA in Dogs

The most apparent symptom your dog has PICA is when they start consistently eating non-food items. However, other symptoms will help you identify PICA in your dog.

When your dog eats plastics and other objects, they become hard and indigestible. Therefore, it results in stomach ulceration, gastrointestinal irritation, and intestine blockage. These issues bring forth different symptoms, including;

  • Chronic bad breath
  • Loose stool
  • Vomiting & diarrhea
  • Bowel movement difficulties
  • Burping
  • Excessive drooling
  • Abdominal pain
  • Choking
  • Infections
  • Lethargy
  • Collapse

If you notice any of these symptoms, ask a vet for the way forward to ensure that you provide comprehensive treatment for your pup. Your vet will likely want to conduct different tests to check for underlying conditions.


Depositphotos_42638231_L(Image from Deposit Photos)

In addition, your vet may also request a body scan to ensure that no objects are blocking your dog’s digestive or respiratory system. Some of the tests you can expect when you visit a vet include;

  • Checking the ears, mouth, and eyes for redness and discharge
  • Your dog’s weight, skin, coat, and overall outward appearance
  • Listening to your dog’s lungs and heartbeat
  • Complete blood count and urinalysis

Such comprehensive tests will help identify the root cause of PICA to allow for an effective approach to treatment. So, ensure that you take your dog to a vet who can help identify the exact issues and treat your dog appropriately. 

How to Treat PICA 

Treating PICA in dogs begins with the diagnosis to identify what is causing the condition. Trying to treat this condition without any professional help may prove unsuccessful.

When your vet determines the cause of PICA, they will recommend a treatment option that will suit your dog. The treatment will depend on whether the reason is psychological or an underlying medical condition. 

If the problem is psychological, your vet may recommend adding more play time and activity to your dog’s schedule. Doing this will help keep them occupied and reduce the compulsive need to eat non-food items.

Your vet may also recommend durable chew toys that will help keep your dog busy and remove their attention from other objects. Additionally, improving your dog’s diet and ensuring it is well-fed is essential to the success of these treatment approaches. 

If your dog wants to keep eating non-food items, pay attention to its favorite objects. Then, get a bitter-tasting spray safe for your dog and use it on the object. Doing this may be an excellent way to help your dog lose interest in non-food items.

Planning play dates with other dog owners or relying on dog daycare is a good option for lonely dogs or those not correctly socialized. It will allow your dog to slowly get used to other dogs and improve its social skills

If your dog suffers from anxiety, here are a few things you can try to help reduce it.

Remove obvious stressors

 Different things will make your dog feel agitated and trigger anxiety. So, it is essential to pay attention to what those things are and get rid of them or keep your dog away from them. 

If loud music agitates your dog, turn down the volume to give it a better experience. In addition, if you can’t control the stressors (like your neighbor mowing the lawn), take your dog for a walk and come back when it's clear.

Provide a safe space for your dog

Being that safe space for your dog when they feel anxious will help them manage it better. Therefore, avoid punishing your dog even when it eats non-food items. 

It is a gradual treatment process; it will take time before they fully adapt, but your dog will get there. In addition, creating a safe space that it can cozy up to and release the tension is a great idea.

Have a structure for your dog

Anxiety in dogs can be relieved by having a routine that your dog can rely on and repeat daily. Therefore plan for regular walks, meal times, and playtime to help reduce your dog’s anxiety. Different things will make your dog feel agitated and trigger anxiety. So, it is essential to pay attention to what those things are and get rid of them or keep your dog away from them. If loud music agitates your dog, turn down the volume to give it a better experience. In addition, if you can’t control the stressors (like your neighbor mowing the lawn), take your dog for a walk and come back when it's clear.

However, your vet may recommend working with a dog behaviorist if your dog's behavioral disorder is advanced. This professional will help your dog shift what it is used to and instill better behaviors and practices.

On the other hand, if your dog’s PICA results from an underlying condition, your vet will recommend a specific treatment approach depending on the issue. So, the treatments will differ significantly from one dog to another. 

If your dog has any blockages in the respiratory or digestive system, surgery will be the best option to help solve the issue. Removing those small foreign objects from your dog will help avoid any further complications to its health.

PICA treatment will require you to commit to follow-up vet visits to ensure that the treatment is effective and yields desired results. Over time, your dog will improve and stick to eating a healthy, balanced diet that suits all its needs.


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