The dictionary definition of pica in medicine is the “pathological craving for substance unfit for food”

Does he suffer from Pica?

Wilson – one pale eye and one dark eye

I would hardly interpret Wilson’s ingesting of inappropriate items as a ‘craving’. It’s not constant. From my questioning the behaviour is likely to happen under certain circumstances.

Five weeks ago the wonderful young Bernese Mountain Dog had to be cut open for a second time to remove a buildup of things he had swallowed – a child’s sock and a dummy.

Just fourteen months old, Wilson suffers from IBD in the small intestine. He was referred to a specialist vet for his stomach issues and is on daily steroids. For medical reasons they won’t be able to open him up again.

If he gets another blockage it will be curtains for the wonderful Wilson.

Are there degrees of pica?

If from time to time the swallowing of inappropriate objects is pica, then that’s what Wilson has. However, if pica is defined by being a craving, it may not actually be pica.

Not being a vet or expert in this I can’t say. Perhaps someone will enlighten me. There is a list of possible medical causes for pica of which IBD is one.

Malnutrition or vitamin deficiency is another – pica can be caused by lack of nutrition. In this case it does seem a bit chicken and egg. The dog has a delicate stomach so can only eat certain things without an upset so his diet could be better and possibly he doesn’t digest it properly.

In addition to this, I can see a strong behavioural element. Mainly it’s when Wilson becomes frustrated, bored or stressed that the lifting of anything he can put in his mouth objects is triggered. He lives in a family with two very young boys. Noise and excitement could well cause Wilson to steal toys and any rubbish.

The walk situation gives a big clue to the main trigger.

Because he is mostly walked by the lady with a buggy, the big dog’s pulling could be disastrous. He wears a Halti. He hates it. All the way until he’s is let off lead he is trying to scrape it off on the ground.

To see him so unhappy with it is distressing for the lady also.

One can imagine that when he does get the instrument of torture and restriction removed, Wilson will be brimming with frustration and built-up tension.

He is free! The lady may well then be paying attention to the little children. Not to Wilson. About six weeks ago he took the tiny boy’s sock as it dangled from his foot, ran off with it and swallowed it. Later he picked up the child’s dummy from the ground and ate it. Neither items passed through.

Hence the final operation.

When Wilson is walked minus children he is less inclined to pick things up. So long as they call him soon enough he will usually come back. He now has to be much more motivated to listen to them and come away from things every time when called, rewarding to him in terms of food, fun or both.

I suggest they train him to the whistle – something a lot more piercing. Even if the walks have to be shorter, one of them should walk him alone more often and give him their full attention.

They must abandon that Halti. With a bit of practice he will walk a lot better on a Perfect Fit harness with a training lead fastened front and top than he does on a head halter, and they will have just as much physical control. Wilson will then arrive at the park happy and in a good state of mind.

.A muzzle is a must.

As it’s so vital he swallows nothing else that might get stuck, if they are walking with the children or any other time they can’t give him their full attention, they must muzzle Wilson so that he simply can’t pick things up.

I feel that, medical issues aside, psychologically Wilson is trying to find some fulfillment in one way that he has control over – by swallowing things. It’s exacerbated by frustration and boredom. It earns attention of a sort. He’s a clever dog lacking sufficient mental activity. This vacuum in his life needs to be filled by his humans with activities that provide him with healthy stimulation.

One walk a day may not be enough. Two shorter ones may be better.

To help him de-stress he needs lots of ‘allowed’ things to chew – marrow bones, Stagbars, stuffed Kongs and so on. They can be rotated to retain novelty value. He needs plenty of games and training in bringing things, ‘give’, ‘drop’ and exchanging things.

With plenty of company and loving owners you would think Wilson had a perfect life, but it’s mostly about fitting in with the family and children. In essence, while he’s young and energetic, Wilson needs more ‘Wilson’ time.

Then he will become a more fulfilled dog with less need to find inappropriate ways of fulfilling himself.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Wilson and I’ve not gone into exact details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where health issues of any kind are concerned where consulting a vet is vital. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)