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     Why does my pet eat strange things?  

At times dogs or cats will eat non-food items such as dirt, feces, fabric or even plastic. When this becomes a common occurance, it is called "pica". This behavior can be quite disturbing to owners and even harmful to the pets. Dirt and feces can carry infectious agents and fabric, plastic and other things can obstruct the passage of food and water through the gut and bring about the need for drastic measures such as surgery.

One of the causes of pica can be some sort of nutritional deficiency, often iron, but any mineral or nutrient. This can be due to a poor diet or a problem with digestion or absorption of nutrients. Any inflammatory digestive disease, such as irritable bowel or inflammatory bowel disease can bring this about. Intestinal parasites can cause irritation and also steal the pet's nutrients from the gut. Also, liver disease or pancreatic issues can create the same trouble with the absorption of the nutrients even though they are being fed and in proper amounts and balance.

To see if there is any medical issue, certainly basic lab tests for liver and pancreas function can be done. Parasites should be ruled out with fecal exams. Inflammatory bowel issues are harder to diagnose and can require biopsies to be certain, but food allergy tests that are less invasive may give data on those being present.

Other causes can be purely behavioral. Boredom, especially in young or active pets can lead to this. Some pure bred cats are known for pica if they were weaned too young especially if they eat a low roughage diet and don't hunt or eat grass. In this latter case, the issue can be handled with giving access to grass (sometimes catnip helps), increasing the fiber in the diet or even giving hard meat chews to the cat.

Handlings for this are firstly to ensure there is no medical cause and if there is one, to treat it. If it is behavioral, then make sure you give pets plenty of exeercise and entertainment to handle any boredome issues. If they like a certain type of non-food item, try to find a reasonable non-harmful substitute. There is of course, pet proofing your home and yard, which means cleaning up all trash, feces, etc and putting clothes in hampers where they cannot be chewed or eaten. When walking dogs, be sure to have them on a short leash so you can control access to any such items.

Lastly, you can put something that tastes bad on whatever item(s) the pet wants to eat which can create diversion from it. I have to admit, I have seen pets persist past these bitter tasting sprays and such though.

If you really observe your pet and notice when the behavior happens you may find a clue to handling this as well. I have a cat who is crazy about chewing on tape. I have to keep it in places where he can't reach it. Though usually he just wants something to play with and the tape makes sounds when he chews it. I give him something else noisey to play with and that usually handles it.

As a word of warning, DO NOT ever let anyone talk you into putting your pet on antidepressants or antipsychotics (behavioral medications) as they are very dangerous with many side effects that cannot be assessed in a non-speaking patient. And they are based on a falsity. For full disclosure on this data, see what psychiatrists and other experts themselves have to say about this at www.cchr.org in the video listed there entitled "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual: Psychiatry's Deadliest Scam"

I hope this helps.

For extra nutrition, check out our vitamin/mineral supplements here:pet vitamins and supplements

Recommended entertainment: I have to go back to the classic of the book "All Creatures Great and Small" Love that book.

Until next time best wishes for health and happiness,

Dr. Jan

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