Pica is a medical disorder characterized by an appetite for substances largely non-nutritive (e.g., metal, clay, coal, sand, dirt, soil, feces, chalk, pens and pencils, paper, batteries, spoons, toothbrushes, soap, mucus, ash, gum, lip balm, etc.) or an abnormal appetite for food ingredients (e.g. flour, raw potato, raw rice, starch, ice cubes, salt).
The condition’s name originates from the Latin word for magpie: a bird that is reputed to eat almost anything. Pica is seen in all ages, particularly in pregnant women, small children, and those with developmental disabilities. Pica can also be found in animals, and is most commonly found in dogs.
Research that has been done on the causes of pica suggests that the disorder is a specific appetite caused by mineral deficiency in many cases, such as iron deficiency, which sometimes is a result of celiac disease or hookworm infection. Often the substance eaten by someone with pica contains the mineral in which that individual is deficient. More recently, cases of pica have been tied to the obsessive–compulsive spectrum, and there is a move to consider OCD as the cause of pica. Pica is currently recognized as a mental disorder by the widely used Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). Sensory, physiological, cultural, and psychosocial perspectives have also been used by some to explain the causation of pica.