You are snuggling up with your dog and you smell it. You search his paws and backside hoping to find an answer and then you realize it is his muzzle. Your dog has been eating poop. This may be one of the most disgusting things your dog will ever do but he is not doing it to gross you out. Coprophagia (kop-ruh-fey-jee-uh) is a term that refers to the consumption of feces. It is actually common in puppies as well as in adult dogs. Some studies note that 85% of dogs will eat another dog’s poop and 16% will eat their own.
Coprophagia in adult dogs can be either behavioral or stemming from one or more of the many medical problems that can result in your dog ingesting poop. Coprophagia is more common in puppies, neutered pets and dogs in households with other dogs. Border Collies and Shelties are 40% more likely to eat poop while Poodles rarely do. If your dog is eating poop, it is important to take measures to decrease the behavior immediately. You can work with a trainer to investigate behavioral concerns and a veterinarian to eliminate medical ones as well.
The Root of the Behavior
In the wild, wolves will consume poop so that predators cannot find them. Similarly, dogs may eat their poop in a desire to keep their area clean and safe. Dogs are not repulsed by poop the way we are and they tend to be scavengers. Finding a fresh poop, or a frozen ‘poopsicle’ may give your pet a thrill. To dogs, their own poop and that of others can actually be enticing. Dogs who are left alone all day may simply be bored and turn to eating poop to entertain them. Dogs who are anxious or in need of attention may also eat their poop as a way to draw you in. Dogs will take any kind of attention, even if it is negative. Confined dogs, in a crowded shelter or puppy mill, will also take to eating their poop.
There are many medical reasons why your pooch is eating poop. Your dog could have a deficient diet that is lacking necessary calories and nutrients. He could have malabsorption problems or parasites. Several conditions that can increase hunger, such as diabetes, a thyroid condition, or Cushing’s disease could cause him to search out more food in his poop. Finally, taking steroid drugs could also cause him to seek additional nutrients in poop. Eating his own poop will not hurt him, but eating the poop of others could be dangerous as it may contain parasites. If your dog has never been a poop eater, and suddenly he is showing other symptoms such as weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, behavioral changes or discomfort you should seek medical attention. Ingesting poop is not your dog’s way of hurting himself but rather trying to heal. If he is lacking a nutrient dense diet, or he cannot properly digest his food, he may be seeking those nutrients in his stool in an effort to fix his own problem. Basically, your dog is hungry and he knows his poop has nutrition.
Encouraging the Behavior
How to stop dogs from eating their poop? There are a few recommendations on how to curb this habit. If you find your pooch munching down on poop do not punish him. Any attention will only encourage the behavior. Make it a practice to keep his area clean from poop by picking it up as soon as he eliminates. While on a walk, keep him on a leash and guide him away from his own or other’s poop. Distract him from the poop and offer him a reward when he leaves it and comes to you instead. Work hard on the commands of “Leave It” and “Come”. Hire a trainer if your efforts are not making a change. Do not leave him alone for too long or in a confined space where he could poop and then be left alone with his stool. Offer him toys that stimulate him and alleviate boredom that may contribute to his seeking stimulation in eating his poop.
Also very important is to feed him a nutritionally balanced and dense meal that is easily digestible. Ideally, it is human grade, unprocessed and wet. Adding in a probiotic and digestive enzymes can also help him get all the nutrients he needs during ingestion of his food so he does not need to re-feed himself with poop. You may also need to consider whether or not you are feeding him an adequate amount of calories and perhaps increase the amount. Consider having him tested for medical problems with your veterinarian. At minimum, your dog should be tested for parasites.
Other Solutions and Considerations
There are food additives that you can give to your pet that will make his stool not so tasty to his palate. The idea is that it will deter him from wanting to eat it. This can be dangerous as the additives are not always natural and may have side effects. Many contain MSG, garlic and pepper-plant derivatives that are toxic to dogs. It takes just as much time to spray the poop as it does to pick it up, so it would seem cleaning up after your pet is just as easy. Also, studies have shown that the spray really only deters dogs less than 2% of the time from eating stool.
Another option is when preparing his meal, add human foods thought to make the feces taste bad. Put canned, unspiced pumpkin in his dog food to stop him from eating poop. Pineapple juice and spinach are also thought to change the enticing flavor, making the poop unappealing. Dogs who live in homes with other dogs also tend to be more frequent stool eaters. This is often because there are one or more dogs who eat their food quickly and then take from others. Feeding your multiple dogs in various locations and protecting each pooch’s bowl may help them get the food they need so they do not search for it in poop.
Most dogs find no problem in eating poop, either their own or another animals. For them, it can even smell and taste good and often provides much needed nutrients. Mother dogs clean up their own pup's poop as a form of caring and nurturing them. The ingestion of feces is common among dogs. Before you can eliminate the behavior and stop coprophagia, you need to investigate the source of your dog's desire to eat poop as well as his access. Keeping his area clean, him well stimulated, and well-fed can go a long way from having his cute puppy breath smelling like poop.