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Pets eat the darndest things

Original Publication Date: January 5, 2015
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Rocks, sticks, socks, light bulbs, fish hooks and other very strange things show up in the stomachs of some well-fed pets. This is especially true of dogs but happens in cats, turtles, lizards and other species.

Pica is the term used to describe the behavior of ingesting nonfood items.

It is not known why some pets top off their meal with odd desserts. My 6-year-old Irish Wolfhound, Banjo, surfs countertops and delights in eating paper towels with or without the scent of food on them. At 165 pounds, a paper towel is not likely to cause a gastrointestinal obstruction in Banjo. In a smaller pet, it could be a problem.

Some pets have an underlying medical condition like inflammatory bowel disease, anemia, vitamin deficiency, or diabetes that triggers the unusual behavior. For pets like Banjo, the cause may be boredom, curiosity, or some perplexing mystery.

Veterinary Practice Newsmagazine sponsors an annual "They Ate What?" contest that invites veterinarians to submit x-rays of unusual gastrointestinal contents. Several of the most bizarre reports include a 3-year-old Great Dane who ate 43-1/2 socks; Marley, a German short haired pointer, who ate meat, vegetables and the shish kabob skewer that held them; Cody, a 10-month-old golden retriever, who swallowed a light bulb; Maya, a young Jack Russell pup who ate a 101/2 inch serrated bread knife; and a 10-month-old mixed breed pup who swallowed a pin cushion with about 40 pins in it.

Of course, all of the items were removed from the intestinal tracts of the dogs.

Happily, all of these pups made speedy and complete recoveries.

Cats are not exempt from such odd behavior. Rubber bands and strings are enticing, but can be deadly to a cat.

Others find stranger objects to ingest like the 3-year-old Maine Coon cat that had a sewing needle embedded in her tongue or the 2-1/2 year-old cat that swallowed a 40-inch steel guitar string.

Symptoms of pica include, but are not limited to, vomiting, diarrhea, refusing food, and lethargy.

Changes in your pet's behavior should be reported to your veterinarian, especially if you are missing any unusual items.

Prevention of pica is strongly recommended but not always easy to achieve if your pet is stealthy in his quest for odd things to eat.

Don't feed table scraps as this can encourage scavenging and lead to a desire for nonfood articles.

Keep lids on garbage cans and watch your pet as he or she participates in his or her outside activities. Some dogs are quick to pick up a stick, rock or other object when you are not looking.

Hopefully, your pet is satisfied with the tasty food in his bowl. Be aware, however, that pets like Banjo search for additional things to eat. Unfortunately, some find strange objects that can be hazardous to their health.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at