Recently, a friendís Labrador Retriever needed surgery to remove a sock from his intestinal tract.
During the surgery, the veterinarian found three additional socks, an oven mitt, and a bandana. My friend had seen her dog swallow the one sock, but had no idea about the other items. No wonder her poor dog had an extreme belly ache. Once her dog was on his way to recovery, though, she asked me, ďI give him chew toys to chew on. He gets plenty to eat. Why on earth does he constantly try to steal clothes and why does he eat them?Ē Unfortunately, there is no easy answer as to why some dogs and cats eat non-food items.
The practice of eating things that are not food is called ďpicaĒ. Many animals, including dogs, cats, horses, cows, and even humans, have been known to practice pica. Unfortunately, this can be extremely dangerous as my friend found out. Her Lab could have died from the intestinal obstruction. In addition, poisonous or toxic items, such as flakes of lead based paint, some houseplants, or medication, can cause severe illness or death. Cats have been known to consume rubber bands, shoelaces, ribbons, pieces of shower curtains, and chunks of houseplants. Dogs have eaten rubber items, stucco off of houses, pieces of wood, rocks, coins and clothing, to name just a few. There is rarely any rhyme or reason as to why something gets eaten.
The Causes of Pica
Pica is not uncommon in kittens and puppies. Cats who are weaned before they were ready or who have been separated from their mother too early are often driven (sometimes frantically) to nurse. Often itís a wool blanket or sweater, sometimes anything soft. This sucking can then turn into chewing on and consuming pieces of that item. Doberman Pinschers also share this trait.
Itís certainly not unusual for puppies to chew on anything that will fit in their mouth and, although many will swallow bits and pieces, most do not eat the entire item being chewed. My friendís Lab, however, isnít the only Lab who has needed to get items removed from his intestinal tract; this is so common itís almost a breed trait.
Unfortunately, there are other reasons why animals practice pica. Diabetes, leukemia and brain tumors and disorders have all been linked to eating disorders, including pica. Nutritional deficiencies, including mineral deficiencies, have been linked to pica although no major studies have confirmed this.
Dogs and cats who are bored will look for things to do and can become quite destructive. One dog owner who enrolled in a dog training class confided that she was there because her dog chewed up the rubber bumper on their brand new car and they found pieces in the dogís feces.
Has anything changed in the household? Has a child left for college? Have work hours changed? Have you moved? Although stress alone rarely causes pica, if a dog or cat with the tendency to practice pica has additional stress, it can trigger an episode of the behavior. Trying to determine why a dog or cat chews and consumes non-food items often requires some detective work.