Animal Doctor Articles Weekly on March 21, 2011

Question

My 8-year-old female English cocker spaniel has recently developed an obsession for eating paper and other things. My displeasure does not seem to stop her for long.

Could she be lacking something in her diet? She eats high-quality dry food, maintains a healthy weight, and is in overall good health. Is there anything I can feed her to keep her from craving these forbidden things? I am afraid she may get a blockage.

S.D., Annandale, Va Mar 20, 2011

Answer

Any time a dog develops a compulsion to chew and swallow non-food matter (a condition called pica), a thorough veterinary checkup is called for. Chronic oral inflammation, abdominal discomfort (as from internal parasites or cancer) and nutritional-deficiency diseases (such as anemia) can lead to pica.

It is important to rule out possible physical/medical causes before considering behavioral/psychological reasons. The latter includes boredom, no available safe chew toys, addiction to the taste or texture of certain materials, and displaced "cleaning up" behavior.

Certainly the possibility of intestinal obstruction following the ingestion of a lot of paper, which could require surgery, is something to avoid. Many years ago, we had a dog that enjoyed snacking out of the cat litter box, and one day he broke down the barrier and consumed at least a pound of the litter. An early diagnosis and emergency enema saved his life!

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