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Pica is the compulsive urge to consume non-edible items, such as rocks, soil, clay, cardboard, and clothing. Pica does not include the consumption of grass or poo.


There have been no studies in dogs as to why they may do this but we can potentially theorise from studies in humans.

In a  meta-analysis of pica and micronutrient status, researchers find that pica is "significantly associated with increased risk for anemia and low Hb (hemoglobin test), Hct (red blood cells), and plasma Zn (zinc).


Although the direction of the causal relationship between pica and micronutrient deficiency is unknown, the magnitude of these relationships is comparable to other well-recognised causes of micronutrient deficiencies".

PetMd states that both anemia (low iron) and medical conditions can prevent a dog from absorbing nutrients from their food, often causing them to eat soil, clay, and dirt however, they do not provide a citation for this statement so we cannot confirm its accuracy.  They go on to say that pica can occur with the following medical conditions:

  • Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA)

  • Iron deficiency anemia

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

  • Liver or pancreatic disease

  • Hookworm infection

  • Cancers of the stomach or intestines

  • Diabetes mellitus

  • Hyperthyroidism

  • Malnutrition or an unbalanced diet

PetMD outlines how your Vet may diagnose pica:
Your dog’s veterinarian will do a complete physical examination and will recommend lab work, including a complete blood count (CBC), serum chemistry profile, fecal check, and a urinalysis to assess your dog after ingesting a non-food item. These tests will be able to diagnose some underlying medical conditions.

If inflammatory bowel disease or conditions of the pancreas are suspected, your vet will need to do more blood testing, in addition to an abdominal ultrasound. Most non-food items ingested by a dog can be seen on an x-ray of the abdomen including the stomach and intestines.

An X-ray will also help determine if your dog has an obstruction from the object they ingested and to determine how to remove the item.

Once all medical conditions have been ruled out as the cause of pica, behavioral conditions are then diagnosed as the underlying cause. The cause of pica might be difficult to identify in some dogs, and can be a source of frustration not only for both pet parent and veterinarian.

How to improve Zinc levels

  • Minimise cereals, corn, and rice.

  • Give plenty of animal products as zinc from animal-based foods is better absorbed than from plant-based foods.

  • Make sure your dog is getting plenty of vitamin D from natural sources i.e. eggs, seafood, and offal.

  • Avoid overdoing legumes, seeds, and nuts as they can affect Zinc absorption.

  • Food a variety of foods on rotation that include good amounts of Zinc that are dog safe.


How to improve Iron levels

  • Have the dog eat slowly and away from other dogs or stressful things, this allows for more productive digestion. 

  • Bitter foods can be helpful with improving digestion i.e. apple cider vinegar as can a digestive enzyme.

  • Animal products

  • Vitamin C helps the absorption of iron, so you can be sure to include foods with good amounts of Vitamin C that are dog-safe.

  • Beans, seeds, and nuts are great options but don't go overboard as the phytates (present in legumes and seeds), or oxalates (found in nuts) can affect Zinc absorption.  Seeds and nuts should be overnight soaked and then ground before giving them to your dog.

  • Steam your green leafy veggies - keep your greens that are high in oxalates such as spinach to a moderate level as too much can affect Zinc absorption.

If your budget allows, consider a consult with a fresh food feeding Vet who does distant nutritional consults such as Bentons Road Vet Clinic and Mont Albert Vet Surgery.

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