Felis ISSN 2398-2950

Pica

Synonym(s): Wool eating, Fabric eating

Contributor(s): Patrizia Piotti

Introduction

  • Ingestion of non-nutritional substances.
  • Cause: unknown.
  • The most common age at onset is 2-4 months.
  • Signs: persistent and recurrent chewing or ingestion of fabrics (wool, cotton), rubber, electric cables, paper, etc.
  • Wool is often the preferred target substance - hence the name wool eating.
  • There is a reported increased incidence in Siamese and Burmese but the behavior also occurs in other breeds.
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Pathogenesis

Etiology

  • Unknown.
  • There are various theories regarding the cause of pica.
    • As a stereotypic behavior induced by short-term acute stress (oral compulsive behavior).
    • A form of redirected ingestive behavior.
    • An extension of neonatal comfort seeking behavior (thought to be more significant in non-orientals).
  • Ingestion of plant material is considered a way to facilitate gastrointestinal function, creating increased gastric fill or encouraging regurgitation.

Predisposing factors

General

  • Genetic factors (oriental breeds show an increased incidence and there is some indication of familial inheritance).
  • Early adoption of kittens (2-4 weeks of age), and consequent early and sudden weaning are thought to favor comfort seeking behaviors and the development of pica.
  • Anxiety or emotional conflict may be facilitating factors in predisposed individuals (environmental stress such as rehoming, medical illness, introduction of a new cat, etc can be a precipitating event).
  • Lack of appropriate stimulation through being kept indoors.
  • Possible comorbitity with other behavior problems - causality relation is not clear.
  • Low residue diets.

Pathophysiology

  • The condition is not fully understood.
  • Individuals are believed to have a genetic predisposition to exhibit the behavior but it is thought that an environmental trigger is needed for the behavior to begin.

Timecourse

  • There is evidence that many cats displaying pica often begin by sucking or chewing wool and then progress to other fabrics and/or to ingestion.
  • If it is an oral compulsive behavior, it is generally shown initially in conflict situations and then generalizes with time to other contexts.

Diagnosis

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Treatment

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Prevention

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Outcomes

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Ellis S L (2009) Environmental Enrichment: practical strategies for improving feline welfare. J Feline Med Surg 11 (11), 901-912 PubMed.
  • Luescher A U (2004) Diagnosis and Management of Compulsive Disorders in Dogs and Cats. Clin Tech Small Anim Pract 19 (4), 233-239 PubMed.
  • Bradshaw J W S, Neville P F, Sawyer D (1997) Factors affecting pica in the domestic cat. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 52 (3/4), 373-379 VetMedResource.
  • Neville P F & Bradshaw J W S (1994) Fabric Eating in cats. Vet Pract STAFF (5), 26-29 VetMedResource.
  • Neville P F & Bradshaw J W S (1991) Unusual appetites. Bulletin of the Feline Advisory Bureau 28 (1), 5-6, 32.

Other sources of information

  • Horwitz D F & Mills D S (2009) BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural Medicine 2nd edn, pp 109-110.
  • Bradshaw J W S, Neville P F & Sawyer D (1997) Pica in Siamese csts: association with other behavioral abnormalities. BSAVA Congress Scientific Proceedings, p 609.

Organisation(s)

  • For veterinarians wishing to refer cases on to a behavioral counsellor:
    • Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC):  www.apbc.org.uk/.
    • A list of registered Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourists (CCAB) is available from the website of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour at: https://www.asab.org/.
    • European College of Animal Welfare and Behaviour Medicine - Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law (ECAWBM-AWSEL) www.ecawbm.com/.
    • American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB): www.dacvb.org/.


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