If your pet has an appetite for such oddities as socks, rocks, or even feces, chances are you've wondered--and worried--about her unusual eating habits. In this case, your worry may be justified: Not only can your possessions be destroyed or damaged, but objects such as clothing and rocks can produce life-threatening blockages in your pet's intestines. Eating non-food items has a name: It's called pica. A specific type of pica is stool eating--either the dog's own or that of another animal. It's called coprophagy. Rarely seen in cats, coprophagy is fairly common in dogs, especially those who tend to be highly food-motivated. And although it's not necessarily dangerous to the animal, it probably is unacceptable to you.
The causes of pica and coprophagy are not known. Many theories have been proposed by various experts, but none has been proven or disproven. One idea is that such behaviors may be attention-seeking behaviors. If engaging in one of these behaviors results in some type of social interaction between the animal and his owner--even a verbal scolding--then the behavior may be reinforced and occur more frequently.
Others think these behaviors may be attempts to obtain a necessary nutrient lacking in the diet, although no nutritional studies have ever substantiated this idea. Pica and coprophagy may also stem from frustration or anxiety. It's even possible that the behaviors begin as play; as the animal investigates and chews on the objects, she eventually begins to eat or ingest them.
Some experts have suggested that coprophagy is carried over from the normal parental behavior of ingesting the waste of young offspring. Others believe that coprophagy occurs more often in animals who live in relatively barren environments, are frequently confined to small areas, and/or receive limited attention from their owners. It's also possible that dogs learn this behavior from other dogs.
Because pica and coprophagy are not well understood, stopping these behaviors may require assistance from an animal behavior professional who will work individually with you and your pet.
Because the cause of coprophagy isn't known, no techniques or solutions are known to be consistently successful. However, the following techniques may be effective in resolving the problem:
Pica can be a serious problem because items such as rubber bands, socks, rocks, and string can severely damage or block an animal's intestines. In some instances, the items must be surgically removed. Because pica can be potentially life-threatening, it's advisable to consult both your veterinarian and an animal behavior professional for help. Here are some other suggestions: