It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and while the modern, properly nourished canine wouldn’t necessarily resort to cannibalism, he may, given the opportunity and inclination, snack on a straw dog. Or toilet paper. Or paper towel. Or newspaper. Deposition. Memoir. Homework (which, if you happen to be a student, is a brilliant, if hackneyed, excuse for that late term paper). We pet-sat a Vizsla who consumed all manner of paper products which, while intermittently amusing, was mostly annoying when that important phone number ended up in his belly and, inevitably, in the poop bag during the morning walk. What’s up with all this pulp friction? Well, turns out there’s a name for our paper boy’s habit: pica. Nope, not a type size, but technically, “craving for a non-food item”.
Some dogs hunger for an entire smorgasbord of inedible objects, like clay, dirt, rocks, soap, wood, even clothing (our niece’s French bulldog racked up a hefty vet bill from panting after panties) with the same gusto normally reserved for a thick, juicy steak. But the items mostly have no taste or smell, no nutritional value, so what’s the attraction? Well, as with any abnormal behaviour, get Fido thoroughly checked by a vet to rule out any medical issues, such as diabetes, anemia, parasites, poisoning, digestive disorder, thyroid disease or vitamin deficiency. If it turns out it’s a serious psychological or emotional response, a vet, animal behaviourist or trainer can help. If it’s simply nutritional causes or boredom/anxiety/attention-getting, no need to “ream” out Rover; there are things you can do, but do them you must, because pica can be serious if it leads to intestinal blockage. Proper nutrition is a no-brainer. Get your dog on good-quality food and healthy snacks.
If it’s boredom, he’s entertaining himself by shredding your favourite novel. Get him outside for long, vigorous walks, throw him a ball, take him for a swim. As Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, often says, a well-exercised dog is a happy, relaxed dog. Give her appropriate chew toys, and toys you can stuff with food so she has to work at getting it out.
Obviously, prevent access to the objects of her obsession. And while a closet is “obvious”, it wasn’t so much when we cared for this particular Vizsla, who is quite dense in some ways, but annoyingly clever in others. Left alone for less than a half-hour, he not only pried open the closet door, but rifled through all the pockets of the coats therein, pulled out tissue and note paper, and dined on those that most appealed to his unrefined palate. Which was everything.
You may have to get creative when stashing inedibles out of reach, but definitely close the bathroom door, put the laundry away, move the tissue box to higher ground, and muzzle his muzzle if he has a hankering for a rock on a walk. If she still manages to snare a foreign object, remove it from her jaws immediately. Interrupt and redirect her attention, praise her when she chooses an acceptable toy. Teach the “leave it” or “drop it” command. You can even try taste deterrents, like pepper, hot sauce or citronella spray on the items.
Resolving pica isn’t easy, and it’s possible the behaviour could rear its ugly head down the road. It takes lots of patience, repetition and commitment. If all else fails, you may need to crate your pooch when you’re not home. You may even need to medicate him occasionally; send him three sheets to the wind, as it were. But you do need to cut the paper chase because it’s unhealthy and potentially fatal. And teachers have heard every excuse in the book . . .