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Questions for Dr. Shawn - Pica

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"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"I have two Labrador retrievers, seven and eight years old. Recently, they’ve started digging up the grass and actually eating dirt—a lot of dirt! They are healthy dogs that eat high quality food with a Missing Link supplement. I’ve read online it can be Pica disorder (an appetite for non-nutritive substances) or a mineral deficiency, and one vet even suggested they may just be bored. Is there anything I can do to stop them from eating up our lawn"

”This is a good question and one I commonly get asked. Dogs dig and chew things for a variety of reasons. Puppies commonly chew and eat many things they shouldn’t as they are exploring their environments and are teething until about six months of age. Certain breeds of dogs, such as Labrador retrievers, our mouth oriented and need to explore and frequently chew. As you suggest, some pets exhibit destructive behaviors such as digging and she reigned due to boredom. Many of these pets also exhibit other destructive behaviors, such as destroying kennels, doors, and door frames. Some also to excessively on themselves, as a result of boredom or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Pica refers to eating inedible objects. This can be dirt, rocks, mulch, and even fecal material. The cause is usually not determined in most cases. Some pets that exhibit pica may have vitamin or mineral deficiencies, digestive or absorptive diseases, or intestinal parasites. Most are physically normal except for the pica. While serious problems such as gastrointestinal irritation, ulceration, or blockage can occur, depending upon which foreign objects are ingested, in most cases no specific harm occurs from the behavior.

My approach to the dog exhibiting pica is as follows. If the pet is a puppy or mouth-oriented breed the behavior is considered normal. In both cases I encourage the owners to make sure the pet has suitable objects to chew and to minimize exposure to other unacceptable items. Puppies will usually grow out of the behavior by 6-12 months of age.

For other patients I like to do a microscopic fecal analysis, checking for parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms and giardia (which can be difficult to detect.) Even if the pet’s fecal sample does not show the presence of these parasites, I will often do a prophylactic deworming. I then make sure the owner interacts with the pet as much as possible to minimize boredom. Sometimes behavioral modification and medical therapy (with conventional medications or psychoactive herbal supplements) is needed.

Finally, I evaluate the pet’s diet. Pets eating diets containing byproducts and chemicals are switched to a healthier natural diet. Sometimes switching from one natural brand of food to another will help solve the problem for pets already eating a good diet. Often I add several nutritional supplements to the diet, including enzymes, probiotics, Glutamine, another ingredients that can assist in the digestion and absorption of nutrients from the diet. Finally, the owner must do everything she can to minimize the pet’s access to the foreign objects to which the pet is attracted. This is not always easy but is important in order to prevent gastrointestinal obstruction or damage from the foreign objects which are ingested by the pet.”




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