Coprophagy is defined as eating feces and may involve consumption of the animal's own stools or the feces of other animals. Coprophagy is probably widespread among pet dogs and probably more disturbing to owners than it is harmful to dogs. Bitches normally eat the feces of their puppies during the first three weeks of lactation. In rural areas and in the free-living state, the ingestion of large animal feces by dogs is also considered normal behavior. In many cases, however, coprophagy can be related to certain diseases or behavioral problems.
Feeding a poorly digestible diet, underfeeding, and medical conditions that decrease absorption such as digestive enzyme deficiencies or parasites, could lead to malnutrition, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and therefore an increased appetite and possibly stool eating. In addition, if the stools contain large amounts of undigested food material, there is an increased likelihood that the dog would find them attractive. Any condition that might cause an increase in appetite or an unusual appetite, such as diabetes, Cushing's disease, thyroid disease, or treatment with certain drugs such as steroids, may lead to an increase in stool eating. Some dogs that have been placed on a highly restrictive or poorly balanced diet may also begin to eat their stools.
In adult dogs the innate behavior of grooming and cleaning newborn puppies and eating their excrement, along with the well documented fact that dogs tend to be attracted to sniff and lick discharge of their pack-mates, may explain some of the motivation for coprophagia. Also, remember that it is normal for dogs to regularly clean their most private parts, so feces would not be considered distasteful.
Dogs are Scavengers
How Can Coprophagia be Treated?
Diet: Dogs with medical problems should be treated to try and correct the underlying cause. A change in diet to one that is more digestible, or one with different protein sources may be useful. Ensure the dog's nutritional requirements are fulfilled and adequate amounts of food are being fed. Dogs on restricted calorie diets may do better with additional fiber (vegetables) added to the diet. Some dogs may be improved by adding enzyme supplements to improve nutrient digestion or absorption.
Bad taste on feces: This is perhaps the most common treatment used for coprophagia. Owners are advised to put something like hot sauce on or in their dogs' feces. The theory is that the dog will consume the treated feces and will have an aversive response to it and will eventually cease the behavior. For this behavior to be effective, it would have to be used 100% of the time. Every feces must have hot sauce or other noxious tasting element on it or else the dog will not associate the bad taste with eating the feces. A better suggestion would be to have the owner simply pick up the feces instead.
Scolding/Punishment: This is a common method of trying to have an animal stop an unwanted behavior. However, punishment almost never works and may actually lead to more coprophagia as the dog learns that it gets attention if it eats its feces.
Ignoring: This is often used by owners because they have figured out that their dogs may want attention from eating the feces, so they ignore the dog when it's engaging in coprophagia.
Dietary Additives: There are many purported additives used for coprophagia, including homeopathic remedies, pumpkin seeds, breath mints, papaya, anise seed, and pineapple. None of these have shown to be consistent in their results.
Wait: Anecdotally, this seems to be a behavior most often occurring in younger dogs. Many owners report that their dog eventually grows out of it. While not exactly treatment, it is possible that the dog will stop being coprophagic as it ages.
Positive Reinforcement: This is the process of reinforcing another behavior instead of the coprophagia. When the dog is about to begin eating feces, the owner can use any variety of commands. "Leave it", "come", "sit", etc. can all be used. The idea here is to distract the dog long enough to allow the owner to pick the feces up and make the dog forget about the coprophagia behavior.
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