This is one of the most common questions I get, and one one the most disgusting topics as well. The simple fact of the matter is that coprophagia, for a number of reasons, is a normal canine behavior. Female dogs will instinctively remove their puppy’s waste from the nest in order to keep the nest clean. Females will also stimulate urination and defecation in their pups by licking their genitals. Okay, so we can somewhat make a case for why females would do it, but why not all females? Some do, some don’t, right? And what about males? What about puppies of both sexes? In this post I will try to shed some light on why dogs engage in this behavior and what you can to to stop it.
Many people feel the reason that dogs eat poo is because they have a nutritional deficiency. This would be an easy fix, but unfortunately this is just not the case. There are MANY reasons proposed as to why dogs engage in this lovely behavior, here are the most common:
- Anxiety, stress, or boredom
- If a dog was punished for defecating in the house he will eat his stool in order to hide the evidence.
- It tastes good! (to your dog anyway)
- Exploration of their environment
- Your dog may be trying to clean his environment, which you should be doing.
- Mimicking the behavior of other dogs
- If your dog eats a diet high fat.
- Certain medications and dietary supplements can change the taste for the stool and make it more appealing.
- Only feeding your dog once a day (hunger)
So what can you do to help prevent coprophagia? The ONLY way to get a 100% sucess rate in treatment of this issue is to pick it up as soon as it hits the ground. Also, direct supervision is a must because some dogs will eat it as it is coming out! There are several things that can be attempted if, for some reason, supervision and immediate pick up are not practical.
- Be sure to have your dog examined by your veterinarian and have his stool checked as well. All dogs should be dewormed monthly.
- Be sure to feed a high quality, nutritionally balanced dog food that is formulated for his age, breed and size.
- Do not overfeed your dog. 40-50% of my patients are overweight or obese. There is A LOT of overfeeding going on out there.
- Feed your dog twice a day. If he is thin, feed a little more.
- Have your dog on a leash and wearing a Gentle Leader head harness. This way you will be there and able to control what happens after he has a bowel movement. Be ready to distract him and reward him for leaving the poo and focusing on you :-).
- If your dog comes across some other dogs’ poo, the Gentle Leader makes it incredibly easy to control your dogs’ muzzle and prevent him from consuming it. You will then be in a better position to redirect his focus and reward him for doing something good.
- If he’s defecating in the house, there many be several reasons. Improper house training, separation anxiety, and a number of illnesses could be responsible.
- There are several items that can be added to his food, Coproban, canned pumpkin (1-5 tablespoons), canned pineapple, pineapple juice, meat tenderizer, MSG and spinach to name a few.
- You can also try to have your dog develop a taste aversion by sprinkling hot sauce, bitter apple, or lemon juice on the stool.
A special class of dogs with this problem does exist. Dogs that are products of puppy mills and that are confined in small cages while awaiting a home will often develop this habit out of necessity. It can be very difficult to get these guys to stop this behavior and a multi-modal approach that includes diligent clean up and monitoring will give you the greatest chance for success.
Most of the time, coprophagia is not a health issue to your dog, especially when it’s his own. They can get parasites and other infections from eating the stool of other animals. But lets face it, it’s nasty! Most dogs are going to try to lick your face sooner or later. The last thing I want to worry about is the topic of this post. Getting started on the right foot is paramount. It’s always easier to shape than it is to undo. Thanks for reading!
Photo courtesy of iansand via Flickr