Does your dog eat poop ? How to deal with coprophagia in dogs

Does your dog eat poop ? How to deal with coprophagia in dogs

Health & Safety

Coprophagia is the complicated-sounding name for a simple if rather disgusting behaviour- eating poop. If just reading this description has made you wince, then you are probably lucky enough to be one of the vast majority of dog lovers and pet owners who has never had to deal with this unpleasant behaviour in their own pet! There are no firm statistics for what percentage of dogs eat poop, although a small but significant amount of pet owners will have faced the problem at some point. Coprophagia in dogs may present itself as eating the stools of other animals (such as horses, foxes or rabbits) or even eating their own stools, which is of course particularly horrible as well as potentially harmful to both the dog and the people that he comes into contact with.

What causes coprophagia in dogs?

Coprophagia is not classed as a veterinary condition or symptomatic of an underlying medical problem (although in some rare cases, dogs will eat faeces for their nutrient content if not fed an appropriate diet) but is considered to be a behavioural issue, and so something that should hopefully be able to be trained out of your pet. Even so, your vet may be able to help out with suggestions and recommendations as to why your dog might be eating poop and what you can do about it, as can a canine behaviourist or professional trainer. But before you call in the big guns, try out our ten tips to identify the causes of coprophagia in dogs and how to address them.

1. Attention seeking behaviour

If your dog has somehow stumbled upon the knowledge that poop is nasty and that you don’t approve of him rolling in it or sniffing around it, he may use this knowledge to get your attention. For some dogs, negative reactions and reinforcement are better than getting no reaction at all, so if you suspect that your dog is eating poop to gain your attention, in the first instance, try simply ignoring it. It is of course important to address any underlying causes for why your dog might be attention seeking- such as how much time you are spending with them and if all of their needs are being met.

2. Oral fixation

The term ‘oral fixation’ refers to the process that all puppies (and human babies and children) go through, when they are investigating the world with their mouth, and establishing their understanding of different tastes and textures. Generally, a poop eating oral fixation will go away on its own as your dog matures, but in the meantime, try to keep their mouths busy with a selection of toys and other items that are safe to play with.

3. Learned behaviour

Dogs often learn by mimicry, particularly in the case of puppies and juvenile dogs that are particularly open to training. If your dog observes you cleaning up after him and bagging his poop, in a small proportion of cases, he may simply be mimicking your behaviour by picking up his own poop with his mouth. If this is the case, try to clean up discreetly when your dog is not around to watch.

4. Inappropriate toileting guilt

If your dog is left in the house or a crate and cannot get out to go to the toilet when he needs to, he may defecate in the house or the crate. Most dogs that are house trained know that this is bad, however desperate they were to go, and know that you will be displeased. Your dog may then eat his poop to try and ‘hide the evidence’ and avoid displeasing you. Ensure that your dog has ample opportunity to go to the toilet when he needs to, and that you listen to the signals telling you that he needs to go out.

5. Maintaining their territory

If your dog spends a lot of time in an outdoor run or a small enclosed yard that forms his territory, he may be reluctant to do his business there, even if that is part of the reason for providing him with that facility in the first place. If he has to go to the toilet there, he may be eating poop in a simple attempt to clean up after himself. Make sure that you clean your dog’s yard, garden or run on a very regular basis to stop your dog from doing this.

6. Genetic memory to guard against predators

In the wild, wolves and dogs go to great lengths to hide their presence and associated scents from other animals that might threaten their territory or harm them, and part of this involves erasing their scents from detection. Dams often eat their puppies’ poop for this reason, and in nursing dams, this behaviour usually goes away after the puppies are weaned. If it continues or occurs in an adult dog, trying to train your dog out of this behaviour is often effective, as is cleaning up after them promptly yourself.

7. Hunger

If your dog is not being fed enough, he may seek to eat the nutrient- rich stools of other animals, or his own. Make sure that your dog is getting enough food so that he doesn’t have to scavenge in distasteful places!

8. Dietary deficiencies

Most dog owners feed a ready prepared complete food that takes care of all of their dog’s nutritional requirements, and so poop eating due to a dietary deficiency is very rare these days. But if your dog is lacking a particular vitamin, mineral or nutrient, they may simply be seeking to replace it by eating the nutrient-rich stools of other animals.

9. Worming and parasites

Make sure that your dog is wormed regularly, as internal parasites can cause malabsorption of the food that they eat, leading to an ongoing cycle of hunger and insufficient nutrients that can cause poop eating. Also, eating poop for any reason places your dog at much greater risk of contracting worms and other parasites, and so if your dog is coprophagic for any reason, regular worming is especially important.

10. Enjoyment of the taste and texture

Perhaps the hardest to address and most unpalatable (to humans!) reason for dogs eating poop is simply because they enjoy the taste and texture of it. There really is no accounting for personal taste... You might want to consider adding some pineapple (tinned or fresh) to their diet if they have a tendency to eat their own stools, as this can significantly change the smell and taste of the faeces and make it unpalatable to your dog.

Protect yourself

Don’t forget, if your dog is eating poop, that means that faeces and the associated harmful bacteria contained within it will be present in his mouth and possibly round his face. Never let your dog lick your face or hands, and take care to wash your hands thoroughly after coming into contact with their saliva or any area of your dog that may have come into contact with poop.



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