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Pica: Why Do Dogs Eat Strange Things?

Posted April 23, 2014 in Dog Behavior

Have you ever wondered why dogs eat dirt? Or why some have the disgusting habit of eating poop? The abnormal habit of ingesting non-nutritive items like dirt, sand, clay, paper, chalk, fabric or plastic is referred to as pica.

Coprophagia refers to the ingestion of feces and is the most common form of pica in dogs. Yes, poop eating! So why do so many dogs seem to delight in dining on these odd, and in the case of feces, disgusting things?

What causes pica?
Nutitional deficiencies, electrolyte imbalances and starvation can lead to pica and coprophagia. However, not all animals with pica or coprophagia have an underlying medical condition. In fact, coprophagia is considered normal behavior for canine mothers.

Moms lick their puppies’ bottoms to clean them and to stimulate their puppies to eliminate. Not surprisingly, they often ingest puppy poop in the process. The things moms do for their babies! But moms are not alone; young puppies can also exhibit coprophagia. Most puppies outgrow this habit but some do not.

Then there is the cat poop issue. Everyone knows cat poop is a dog delicacy. Ever wonder why? The typical feline diet contains a higher quantity of protein than dog food making their feces a protein-rich energy bar for dogs.

Is pica a problem?
Okay, we all know poop eating is gross—but is it dangerous? Coprophagia, though disgusting is usually not harmful. However, ingesting feces from another animal can expose your pet to a number of different intestinal parasites. In the case of Pica, ingesting things like rocks, chalk, fabric, sand, string and plastic can lead to gastric upset, vomiting, diarrhea and even worse—intestinal obstructions.

How to stop pica
The best way to prevent your dog from ingesting non-nutritive things like plastic, rocks and string is to limit their access to these objects. Be sure to keep things your dog is attracted to out of reach. In the case of coprophagia, there are several things you can do to help stop this gross behavior:

  • There are products sold at pet stores such as Deter™ and For-Bid™ that are designed to eliminate this yucky behavior. They are given to your dog orally and then pass through the digestive system to give their stool an unpleasant taste (as if poop needs something extra to make it taste bad). Meat tenderizer can also be sprinkled on your dog’s

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Ruth has more than 15 years of experience in the veterinary industry as a companion animal veterinarian in private practice. Along with being a writer and media personality, she is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.