Pica in Dogs: Why Is My Dog Eating That?

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6 min read
6 min read

Updated - Jun 15th, 2023

Any seasoned dog parent knows dogs eat some questionable things. But when eating non-food items such as rocks, plastic, clothing, and feces becomes commonplace, it may be due to a medical condition called pica. 

“Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between normal chewing behavior and your dog possibly having pica, especially if you have a young dog,” says Dr. Candy Akers, DVM, a holistic veterinarian at Journeys Mobile Veterinary Services. She says that while bored dogs or young pups chew non-food items, dogs with pica ingest non-food items.

Whether your dog has recently been diagnosed with pica or you suspect your dog might have pica, we’re covering everything you need to know here.

Key Points

  • Pica in dogs is a condition that causes dogs to crave and ingest non-food items.
  • Symptoms of pica include obsessive licking of objects, consuming non-food items, and vomiting or defecating non-food items.
  • Pica may be caused by medical conditions such as parasites, neurological disorders, endocrine disorders, or a nutritional deficiency. It can also be caused by mental health conditions such as boredom, depression, or anxiety.
  • To treat and manage pica in dogs, it’s essential to work with your veterinarian to identify the underlying cause of the condition.

What is pica in dogs?

Pica in dogs is a condition that causes dogs to crave and ingest non-food items. “It’s basically your dog deciding that inedible things are suddenly super appetizing, even though they have no nutritional value,” Akers says.

Pica can be life-threatening to dogs since foreign objects can cause gastrointestinal blockages, nutritional deficiencies, and poisoning. While not life-threatening, chewing non-food items can also injure your dog’s teeth.  

Although dogs with pica may consume a variety of objects, some of the most common non-food items eaten by dogs with pica include:

  • Rocks and stones
  • Plastic items
  • Clothing and fabrics
  • Paper and cardboard
  • Sticks and wood
  • Metal items

What are the symptoms of pica in dogs?

If you catch your dog obsessively licking objects like concrete, wooden fences, or the rug, Akers says that might be an early sign of pica. Other signs of pica include consuming non-food items and vomiting or defecating non-food items.

What are the causes of pica in dogs?

Medical conditions such as parasites, neurological disorders, endocrine disorders, or nutritional deficiencies can cause pica. Pica can also be a result of mental health conditions such as compulsive behaviors, boredom, depression, or separation anxiety. While any dog is at risk of pica, Akers adds that younger pups and dog breeds with high oral fixations — such as retrievers — may be at higher risk of pica.  

“In my experience, pica is typically the result of some sort of imbalance in the body, whether it’s caused by disease, lack of the right minerals in their diet, or stress and anxiety,” Akers says.

How do veterinarians diagnose and treat pica in dogs?

Diagnosis and treatment options for pica in dogs vary depending on the underlying cause. Akers says to prepare for your vet visit by taking videos of your dog’s behavior problems when it’s safe to do so. “Taking detailed notes of any triggers at home or in their environment and a detailed history of the dog’s life and experiences, diet and medications, surgeries, or traumatic events is also super helpful in these situations,” she adds.

Nutritional imbalances, malnutrition, and deficiencies

To address nutritional deficiencies in dogs, an evaluation of their diet and lab tests may be necessary. Akers says the first step in treatment is feeding pups high-quality complete and balanced dog food. Veterinarians may also recommend dietary supplements and address any underlying medical condition.

Gastrointestinal disorders

Pica in dogs can be caused by gastrointestinal disorders ranging from intestinal parasites to complex issues like inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatic insufficiency, and malabsorption, Akers says. To diagnose these disorders, various tests ranging from fecal testing to blood panels, imaging, and sensitivity testing may be required. Treatment may include deworming, medication, and dietary changes.

Neurological disorders

Pica in dogs caused by neurological disorders can be challenging to diagnose and manage, Akers says. Whether caused by cognitive dysfunction, seizures, or brain lesions, your veterinarian may use imaging and lab tests for diagnosis. Treatment may include diet changes and medication.

Endocrine disorders

Endocrine disorders such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease, and thyroid disease can be diagnosed using blood tests. Treatment may include diet changes and medication.

Mental health disorders

Eating non-food items can be self-soothing for bored, stressed, or anxious dogs. Your veterinarian will rule out any underlying health conditions and suggest ways to reduce stress and boredom at home, such as increasing social and mental stimulation. In severe cases, your veterinarian may recommend medication or help from a veterinary behaviorist.

How do I manage pica in dogs at home?

First and foremost, pet parents should work with their veterinarian to identify and treat the underlying cause of their pup’s pica. To keep dogs with pica safe, Akers suggests the following:

  •   Teach your dog the “leave it” or “drop it” command.
  •   Ensure that all hazardous objects are out of your dog’s reach.
  •   Keep a close eye on your dog when outside or during walks.
  •   Provide your dog with regular exercise and mental stimulation and enrichment such as scent work and puzzle games.
  •   Prevent ingestion of toys by offering safe and indestructible chew toys.

Coat objects in bitter apple spray or hot sauce to make them less appealing to your dog.

In severe cases, Akers says a basket muzzle might be required on walks so your dog can’t physically get things into their mouth.   

Pica in dogs: The bottom line

Pica in dogs is a condition that causes dogs to crave and eat non-food items, which can cause serious threats to their health, including nutritional deficiencies, poisoning, injury to their teeth, and gastrointestinal blockage. Symptoms of pica in dogs include compulsive licking of objects, and ingesting, vomiting, or defecating non-food items. Pica can have many underlying causes, so it’s essential to work with your veterinarian to diagnose it and get your pup the treatment they need.


How do I know if my dog has pica?

Pica disorder in dogs refers to the behavioral issue of eating non-food items, such as rocks, plastic, clothing, or poop (also called coprophagia). Some signs that your dog may have pica include excessively licking objects, vomiting, defecating foreign objects, and eating non-food items. While puppies and certain breeds are more prone to pica, adult dogs and senior dogs are also at risk. If you think your dog might have pica, it’s important to take them to the veterinarian for a diagnosis and treatment plan.

How do you treat pica in dogs?

To treat pica in dogs, it’s crucial to work with a veterinarian to identify the underlying cause of the condition. Depending on the diagnosis, your veterinarian may prescribe dietary changes, deworming, or medication. Behavior modifications at home might be necessary too, such as teaching your dog to respond to training cues like “drop it”. If the diagnosis is mental-health related, your veterinarian can work with you to keep your pup mentally and physically stimulated.

What dog breeds are prone to pica?

Dog breeds with a high risk of obsessive-compulsive behaviors, such as Dobermans, Labradors and Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, and German Shepherds, are most prone to pica disorder. However, any dog can be at risk of pica, including young dogs, adult dogs, and dogs with underlying medical issues.

Janelle Leeson

Janelle Leeson

Janelle Leeson is a Portland, Oregon-based freelance writer, where she shares her home with her fiancé, two adventure cats, a flock of urban hens, and, sometimes, a foster cat or five. Her work on pets and other topics appears at Insider Pets Reviews, Daily Paws, Great Pet Care, Rover, Shop Today, USA Today Reviewed, Fetch by The Dodo, and elsewhere. Her work has also appeared in print in Inside Your Dog's Mind, Inside Your Cat's Mind, and Paw Print magazines.
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