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The list of nonfood objects that veterinarians have retrieved from the digestive tracts of pets is nothing short of amazing: knives, razor blades, steel guitar strings, children’s toys, nails, socks, screwdrivers and even rocks. Once, while performing a rectal exam on a dog, I even discovered part of a five-dollar bill!
The ingestion of nonfood items, known as pica, tends to occur more in dogs than cats.
“Anemia has been associated with cats eating clay litter,” says Dr. Churchill. "However, there’s rarely a nutritional cause for pica [in cats]."
In another twist on pica, some felines will suckle, chew and even swallow portions of wool blankets, sweaters and socks.
Although any cat can take to wool sucking, it occurs most often in Siamese and Burmese breeds.
“There is a genetic link in Oriental cats,” says Dr. Pachel. “But the problem can also be strictly behavioral or related to dietary or gastrointestinal issues.”
Few things disturb pet owners more than a dog who snacks on stool. Unfortunately, coprophagia, or the ingestion of feces, is common in dogs.
Although many would like to blame this disgusting behavior on nutritional deficiencies, it’s just not the case.
“Since dogs often eat feces when cleaning newborn pups, it’s just an aberration of normal behavior that can become a bad habit they enjoy,” says Dr. Churchill.
There are behavior culprits to poop eating, as well.
Dogs who are punished for having accidents in the house may eat their own feces to hide the evidence. And others may use it to seek attention because it’s almost certain to draw attention — even if it’s negative — from their owners.
Some pets simply prefer to dine with company.
Certain dogs, for example, may not eat when they're alone due to separation anxiety, while others are accidentally conditioned to behave this way by their owners.
“Dogs that get more attention for holding out than eating will often go on a hunger strike,” says Dr. Pachel.
Bottom line: Whether your pet shuns the food bowl or begs for extra helpings, if there’s a change in your critter's eating habits, it’s time to see your veterinarian.
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