Consider Physical or Behavioral Causes

Question:
Our Siberian husky eats towels, clothes, bedding – had surgery yesterday to remove a hand towel from his small intestine. 3 incisions later and almost losing him show we need help!

Dr. Nichol:
Eating nonfood items, called pica, is not a rare problem. Your husky is fortunate that his latest dietary escapade ended well. Some dogs are more discriminating, preferring-sorry about this-women’s underwear. Wadded-up fabric can quickly compress intestinal blood vessels, causing tissue breakdown, bacterial leakage, and even death by septic peritonitis.

There are multiple possible causes for this high-risk behavior. Some dogs have underlying stomach or intestinal disease. Separation anxiety triggers others to gorge on household items. Dogs who lack opportunities to engage in canine-specific activities may eat rocks, TV remotes, or fashion accessories as a displacement behavior.  Dental disease, brain disorders, hormone imbalances, drug side effects, and liver or kidney disease can also be responsible. Elderly dogs with dementia (cognitive dysfunction) may consume unusual things.

The best starting point with all unhealthy behaviors  is to rule out physical causes. Ask your husky’s veterinarian to examine him and submit a blood and urine profile. Since more than half of dogs with pica have chronic intestinal disease abdominal x-rays, ultrasound, and endoscopic biopsies will determine if this is a physical or behavioral problem.

If internal disease has been ruled-out for your dog I recommend a trial of heavy duty, sustained daily exercise. A full day of active play with other dogs 5 days a week for 2 weeks at doggy daycare would answer an essential question: Does your dog collect junk simply because it’s the only employment he can find at your house? On the other hand if he comes home after an honest day’s labor at the “club” and still plays canine vacuum cleaner you’d better contact my office for a behavioral diagnosis and a custom tailored treatment plan. This is a big problem; without major changes it will get expensive and risky.

Finally, when I was a kid, a long, long time ago, we bought our Levis by body type: slim, regular, or husky. I was always slim but I aspired to husky. I think my body image is OK now but what about your husky? Think about it.