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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Gracie's eating disorder!

Gracie has a secret. She has an eating disorder. She loves cat litter. Yes, she loves the cat poo, what dog doesn't, but Gracie's problem goes further. She loves eating the actual cat litter.

And it's a big problem at our house. So much of a problem, that Mum has to monitor Gracie nearly 24 hours a day to keep her away from the litter. Mum uses the corn based litter so that Gracie won't get too sick (even though she has tried many other types of litter - from pine, to recycled newspaper, to, to, to....and Gracie still eats whatever type of litter is in the litter box).

How did this start? Well, Mum has a theory. You see Gracie was rescued from a hoarder. She lived with a pack of fairly wild dogs (70, to be exact) for the first 4 months of her life and most probably had to scrounge for food. When the local Sheriff confiscated the dogs, she was taken to a local rural vet with the other 20 puppies. They were put in cages, four to a cage, and given all the food they wanted so that they wouldn't fight. And to make things worse, they were never taken out of their cages for any reason. So, during Gracie's first four months of life she was basically starved, and the 5th, and part of her 6th month of life, she lived in filth, eating everything she could get her paws on.

When we rescued her she was a very chubby little thing, and had to immediately go on a diet. That's when Gracie found the cat litter. And that's when Mum decided that Gracie had an eating disorder - what pup wouldn't after going through all that? Gracie mind is all messed up about how she thinks, and should think about food.

Mum has tried an incredible amounts of things to keep her out of the litter - from clicker training, diversion and reward tactics, lots of love and attention, and modified processes for feeding Gracie, to huge amounts of exercise trying to keep her busy and tired, barriers to the litter, doorstops on the door to the cat litter room, and many, many other tactics. But Gracie is determined to get the litter. She'll rip at doors, barrel through openings until the door starts coming off the hinges, sit at the door and scream at the top of her lungs. She'll do anything and everything to get to that litter.

Another problem that compounds this one, is that our kittie brothers are big cats - part Maine Coon - and one has arthritis, which limits where the littler box can go to be readily accessible for the kitties.

For two years, Mum has battled this battle with Gracie. And just recently, being on a little diet myself to drop a half pound I picked up this Fall, I started getting into the litter, as well, and gained another half pound. So, yesterday Mum had had it. She decided she was going to try one more thing that came to mind - she put the vacuum in the doorway to the cat litter closet, where the litter is kept. The kitties can get through, but Gracie and I are pretty scared of that vacuum, and guess what, it's working.

Yesterday, Gracie started to go in the room, around the vacuum, but came right back out when Mum gave her just a little no, no. Of course she got a huge Good Girl for that! And me? I barked at the darn thing and left immediately. Could it be that the magic formula what this simple? Could Gracie now start to live a normal life and not constantly be all consumed and manic about the cat litter? Could I drop my lb easily! Well, Mum most certainly hopes so.

Mum has done a lot of Internet research about dogs with eating disorders to help Gracie. And has learned a lot. The University of Saskatchewan, Western College of Veterinary Medicine has a great article, and outlines the following two types of eating disorders in dogs - pica, the ingestion of unnatural objects; and coprophagy, the eating of stool. The typical reasons that pups have these are:
Medical - There are many medical conditions such as dietary deficiencies and esophageal dysphagia which should first be ruled out through a veterinarian's examination. In the absence of any physiologic or pathologic causes, there are a number of behavioral reasons for pica.

To Gain Attention - A dog can quickly learn that picking up a foreign object or a non-food item will gain the owner's attention. The attention provided by the owner can be rewarding and reinforced even though the reward is unintentional. Even if a scolding follows, this may act as a reward for a dog deprived of attention.

Boredom - Boredom or lack of exercise for long periods of time without companionship can play a major role in a dog's interest in chewing on non-food items. A dog with little to do in his day will "explore" behavioral activities, such as chewing on foreign objects.

From Puppyhood - Pica is often a carryover from puppyhood. Puppies which were orally oriented, encouraged to pick up objects and play with them, can retain the attribute into adulthood.

Accidental - The dog's mouth is an organ by which he explores and takes possession of objects, as well as eats them. Sometimes these two functions are so closely associated with each other that the dog ends up partially ingesting something that it originally intended only to investigate and release.

And they have given some great advice on steps to help prevent pica behavior:
  • Remove loose objects from areas around the house within the dogs reach
  • Booby trap objects or lace objects with taste deterrents such as Tabasco or one of the many commercially available sprays like Citronella spray
  • Reduce the dog's appetite by feeding lesser amounts more often, and by adding fiber to the diet to promote a feeling of fullness.
Mum understands that sometimes when you adopt rescued pups, they have issues. Gracie sure did have a lot when we got her - from being afraid of cars and men, fear of being confined, and her inability to sometimes focus because of her manicness. Mum has helped her get over a lot - including the car, men and confined issues; and Gracie is much better on her focus.

This is really one of the last things for Gracie to get over, and after two years, Mum finally thinks she is making huge progress. Maybe putting the vacuum in front of the door because Gracie and I are afraid of it isn't the complete answer, but if it gets Gracie to a different level of thinking about the litter, Mum is willing to try it. Gracie just needs this vicious cycle to be interupted, so that Mum can help her on the associated issues that are really affecting her.

Way to go Gracie, we are routing for ya, girl! We love ya and hope you keep up the good work - and if you stay out of the litter, so will I!


  1. Hi Johann,

    Has your mom tried the plastic storage tote trick for the litter box?
    My mom got one of those big and deep storage totes with a lid, then cut a cat-sized hole in the lid. That way, my cat brother can get in and out of the litter box, but if I stick my head in, the litter is too far down for me to get.

  2. I'll tell Mum about this, another great idea she can try! Thanks!


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