Pica (Eating Nonfood Items) in Cats

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Pica in Cats

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.

Causes of Pica in Cats

  • 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 for Pica in Cats

  • 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.
  • 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 (like inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal lymphosarcoma).
  • Treatment of Pica in Cats

  • 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 psychoactive drugs recommended by your veterinarian if it is felt 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.

  • Store plastic items away so that your cat has no access to them.
  • Applying bitter taste to objects may discourage their consumption.
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