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Why Dogs Eat Poop


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.

Medical Causes
Any medical problem that leads to a decrease in absorption of nutrients, causes gastrointestinal upset or an increase in the appeal of the dog's stool, could lead to coprophagia. In addition to a complete physical examination, the dog's diet and its stool frequency and consistency should be evaluated by your veterinarian.Stool testing for parasites would be the minimum level of testing.

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.

Behavioral Reasons
Coprophagia is a common problem in some puppies, which usually clears up by adulthood. When left unsupervised, puppies may simply begin to play with, and even eat stools as a playful or investigative activity. Since coprophagia may attract a great deal of owner attention, the behavior may be further reinforced. There may also be an observational component since the bitch cleans and ingests the puppy's excrement in the nest, and puppies may learn to mimic the behavior of their mother or playmates who perform this behavior.

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
"Interspecific Coprophagia" is the term used to describe an animal eating feces from another species. Why do dogs eat the stools of other animals? One reason is because they are natural scavengers! As scavengers it is quite normal for them to eat feces. From a nutritional point of view, feces contain protein, essential fatty acids, B vitamins, bacteria and fiber. To a dog this represents a quality food worthy of eating! It is not unusual for dogs to steal food items, raid garbage cans, and chew on, or eat non-food items that most humans would consider unusual or even disgusting.

How Can Coprophagia be Treated?
The simplest way of correcting coprophagia is by thorough cleaning of the pet's property and by constant supervision when the pet is outdoors. Most dogs will stop engaging in coprophagia if the cycle is broken by picking up feces.

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.

Health Implications
Most of the time, coprophagia is merely a habit which is disgusting to owners but causes no real problems for the dog who is eating it. There are some exceptions to this. One is the possibility of ingesting internal parasites. Usually this will happen if a dog eats the feces of unfamiliar, infested dogs or the feces of wild life (such as deer). If kept properly dewormed, the dog eating the feces of these animals is usually not at risk for internal parasites. It's also possible that the feces, if left to sit too long, can become infested with fly larvae, foreign bacteria, fungus, etc. Bottom line? Be sure to keep your dog away from strange feces when on a walk and clean up any old feces in your yard as soon as possible. To a dog, poop, apparently, is just another snack on the big green lawn of life.