PICA Disorder in Dogs


Pica in Dogs

PICA  in Dogs By Will Bangura, M.S., CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, (Dog Behaviorist) Certified Behavior Consultant.

PICA  in Dogs, the consumption of non-food items, is a dangerous and potentially life-threatening behavior in dogs. Pet owners must understand the causes of PICA in dogs, the potential dangers, and how to treat and prevent it.


Medical Causes of PICA in Dogs.

Medical causes of PICA in dogs can include gastrointestinal disorders, nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, and dental problems. Gastrointestinal disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, foreign body obstruction, or constipation may make a dog feel nauseous or uncomfortable, leading them to chew and eat non-food items. Similarly, a nutritional deficiency can lead a dog to seek out other sources of nutrients in non-food items. Hormonal imbalances such as hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, or Addison’s disease can also cause PICA. Finally, dental problems such as gingivitis or tooth decay may cause a dog to chew on non-food items to alleviate discomfort. Note: This article is not intended as medical advice. This article is for information purposes only. This article is not meant to be medical advice, nor is it meant to diagnose or treat any medical conditions. Always consult with a licensed veterinarian about any medical conditions or questions.

Behavioral Causes of PICA in Dogs.

Behavioral causes of PICA in dogs are often related to boredom, anxiety, and stress. Dogs may chew and eat non-food items to alleviate feelings of boredom or to relieve stress and anxiety. Additionally, some dogs may learn this behavior by watching other dogs or by being rewarded for this behavior in the past.

Dangers of PICA in Dogs.

PICA in dogs can be dangerous in several ways. Consuming non-food items can cause gastrointestinal blockages, which can be life-threatening. This is especially true when the object is large or sharp, making it difficult for the dog to pass. Ingesting toxic substances, such as household cleaners or pesticides, can also be dangerous and may lead to poisoning. Additionally, chewing on inappropriate items can damage a dog’s teeth, leading to dental problems.

Medical Cases of PICA and Treatment.

If a dog exhibits PICA, it is essential to determine the underlying medical cause and treat it accordingly. For example, medication or surgery may be necessary to alleviate the symptoms if the dog has a gastrointestinal disorder. If the dog has a nutritional deficiency, a change in diet or supplements may be necessary. Hormonal imbalances may require hormone replacement therapy, and dental problems may require dental cleaning or extractions.

Preventing PICA in Dogs.

Preventing PICA in dogs involves identifying and addressing the underlying causes of the behavior. Providing appropriate toys and chews can help alleviate boredom and stress. Regular exercise and mental stimulation can also reduce the likelihood of PICA. Ensuring the dog has a healthy diet and receives regular veterinary care can also help prevent PICA. Additionally, pet owners should keep their homes safe and free of non-food items that may be tempting for their dogs.

Training and Behavior Modification to Stop PICA in Dogs.

Training and behavior modification techniques can help stop PICA in dogs. Here are some steps to follow.

  • Determine the underlying cause of PICA and address it if necessary.
  • Remove all non-food items that the dog may be tempted to eat.
  • Train the dog to leave inappropriate items alone by using positive reinforcement training. For example, teach the dog to “leave it” and reward them for doing so.
  • Provide appropriate toys and chews to redirect the dog’s attention away from inappropriate items.
  • Supervise the dog at all times and limit access to areas with non-food items.

To start, place a non-food item on the ground and tell your dog to “leave it.” If your dog ignores the object, praise and reward them with a treat or toy. If your dog tries to approach or pick up the object, say “no” and redirect their attention to a toy or treat. Once your dog reliably responds to the “leave it” command, you can use it in real-life situations.

Providing appropriate toys and chews to help prevent PICA in dogs.

Providing appropriate toys and chews can also help prevent PICA in dogs. Dogs need to chew to keep their teeth and jaws healthy, and providing them with appropriate chew toys can help redirect their chewing behavior. Some good dog chew toys include Kongs, Nylabones, and bully sticks. Supervising your dog when chewing is essential to ensure they do not choke on small pieces or swallow them.

If the behavior persists, seek the help of a professional dog trainer or behaviorist. A professional can help identify the underlying cause of the behavior and develop a training plan specific to your dog’s needs. They can also help you implement training and behavior modification techniques effectively.

It is essential to note that punishment-based training is not effective in stopping PICA in dogs. Punishment can increase anxiety and stress in dogs, making the behavior worse. It is important to use positive reinforcement training to teach dogs what behaviors are appropriate.

PICA in dogs can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Identifying and addressing the underlying cause of the behavior is crucial for effective treatment. Preventing PICA in dogs involves providing appropriate toys and chews, regular exercise and mental stimulation, and ensuring that the dog has a healthy diet and receives regular veterinary care. In addition, Training and behavior modification techniques, such as positive reinforcement training, can also help stop PICA in dogs. If the behavior persists, it is important to seek the help of a veterinary behaviorist, professional dog trainer, or professional dog behaviorist.

Counter-conditioning for Dogs


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