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Pica in Dogs

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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Pica is the term used to describe the craving and ingestion of nonfood items. One form of pica is coprophagia, which is the ingestion of feces.


  • Behavioral disorders
  • Primary gastrointestinal maldigestive and malabsorptive disorders (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, severe inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal lymphosarcoma)
  • Endocrine disorders(hyperadrenocorticism, diabetes mellitus) cause polyphagia (increased appetite)
  • Iron deficiency anemia

    What to Watch For

  • Ingestion of nonfood items such as rocks, feces and grass.
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Collapse
  • Chronic bad breath

    Diagnostic Tests

  • A complete blood count (CBC), biochemical profile and urinalysis are performed to assess general organ function and to rule out underlying diseases such as a low red blood cell count seen with iron deficiency anemia, low total proteins seen with malabsorptive disorders, elevated blood sugar seen with diabetes mellitus.

  • Trypsinogen-like immunoreactivity (TLI) should always be performed to rule out exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (especially in the German shepherd dog).

  • Abdominal radiographs (X-rays) may be helpful in ruling out gastrointestinal foreign bodies and blockages secondary to pica.

  • Endoscopic examination may facilitate visualizing what has been ingested, removing it if its presence is causing associated clinical signs, or diagnosing an underlying diseases that causes pica (such as inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal lymphosarcoma).


  • Avoidance of the offending material is the most effective therapy.

  • Treat the specific disease if an underlying cause can be identified (such as pancreatic enzyme supplementation for exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, or corticosteroids and dietary changes for inflammatory bowel disease).

  • Administer prescribed psychoactive drugs if your veterinarian if it is feels that pica is related to a behavioral disorder.

    Home Care

    Complete avoidance is the most effective prevention and should be instituted if at all possible.

  • Keep your dog indoors and leash-walk to prevent eating rocks and feces.

  • Store plastic away so your dog has no access to them.

  • Apply a bitter taste to objects to discourage their consumption.

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