Pica is a scientific term defining ingestion of non-food items.
It usually refers to pathologic conditions in animals and humans
that induce compulsive material ingestion. In some cases, material
ingestion is simply a behavioral trend, habit, or even a normal
Most animals do not have organic diseases but rather a compulsive or a stereotypic behavior. Chewing and sometimes swallowing objects is normal in puppies. Every dog owner goes through the growing pains of puppy rearing. It is a daily experience for puppy parents to return home and find that the young dog chewed up the house, shoes, clothes and even the walls.
During its exploratory period, the normal dog uses the mouth to
feel and taste its environment. Garbage, of course, is always
attractive...even to older dogs. Some cats, especially oriental
breeds like Siamese and Burmese, will constantly chew on plastic
bags, shower curtains, shoe laces, phone cords, wool and other
fabrics. Many kittens will play with fishing rods and swallow
fish-hooks and artificial bait.
Pets may develop bad eating habits, which can be interpreted as
eating disorders rather then true pica.
Coprophagia is one the most disturbing habits in pet dogs. Many
dogs share beds and have close loving relationships with their
owners. Licking and kissing becomes a little problematic when the
dog has the habit of eating feces...their own, their canine room
mates, the cat's litter or the occasional visitor in the yard.
Mother dogs normally eat their offspring's feces as a hygienic and defensive mechanism. Some puppies learn this behavior and retain it beyond weaning. Dogs learn and develop this dreadful habit from other dogs, even at adulthood, and it may become a joyful form of entertainment. As disgusting as it is, they may even just like the taste.
Some dogs seem to like playing with stones when bored, which they
end up chewing and ingesting (lithophagia). Small
stones may pass through uneventfully, but larger stones may lacerate
the intestines or obstruct passage of food, resulting in severe,
often fatal consequences.
Phytophagia, or plant eating, is normal in many cases. Plants may be an occasional and normal part of a pet's diet. Pets may be attracted to both indoor and outdoor plants. Oral investigation (tasting, chewing and possibly swallowing) is common in young cats and dogs. Cats normally eat plants and grass, even in the wild. Plant ingestion may be induced by nausea and other digestive problems; however it is not a specific sign of intestinal parasitism or worms.
Pets with worms do not necessarily eat grass or anything strange.
Pets can destroy ornamental plants, or even ingest poisonous plants
both in and out doors.
How is Pica treated?
The first and the most important thing you can do is have your
pet checked by the veterinarian. The problem and its origin need to
be diagnosed. Once different health issues are explored, a treatment
plan can be formulated.
Bad habits, including puppy/young dog or other pet destructive
behavior, need not be encouraged. Pet-proofing the house is the
first step. Keep various objects, such as garbage, shoes, bags and
sewing/knitting material out of reach in secured places. Pets are
smart and can learn how to open cabinets and zipped bags. Sometimes
you need to limit access to objects by keeping the pet confined to a
crate or a certain area when not supervised, or using a comfortable
and safe muzzle.
Making the pet's experience unpleasant by coating or spraying
objects with bitter apple, chew-guard and other oral irritants
available on the market, might work in some cases. In other cases a
loud noise or a spray bottle will do the job.
Any undesirable behavior should be discouraged. Be on top of
things and act promptly, or else the pet will not make a
cause-and-effect connection. If you let things happen, you are
reinforcing that behavior and the problem will get worse.
'No Means No'- it does not mean 'usually no' or 'just occasional
chewing'. Give your pet attention and play/exercise time. Pets may
develop bad habits out of boredom or attention deficit. Sometimes a
pet companion or social pet play time will help. Offer acceptable
substitutes, treats, food and chew toys as a replacement to the
object in question. Many pets will convert and adopt the
Outdoors issues such as stone/wood ingestion and coprophagia
(feces eating) are prevented by leash confinement and quick removal
of the object. Pick up the feces right away. This is a good habit
every pet owner should develop. Feces may contain worm eggs and
parasites, which are hazardous to animals and people. They also
attract flies and smell bad. In some cases, coprophagia can be
curbed by adding meat tenderizer, MSG, or a product called 4-bid to
Offer grass and edible fiber to cats to prevent from chewing on
plastic bags and strings. Keep poisonous plants out of rich or
replace them with edible ones.
Some cases need medical management with behavior modifying drugs.
Your veterinarian may incorporate such drugs in the treatment plan
together with any necessary medical management.