Eating Poo

Question:  Why does my dog eat feces (poo)?


Coprophagy- the act of eating feces, either one’s own or the feces of another animal is such common canine behaviour that every dog owner has had experience with it in one form or another.

In the right situation, coprophagy is normal behaviour.  For three weeks after whelping, female dogs consume the feces of their pups to keep the nesting area clean.  The dam’s desire to eat feces eventually subsides as the pups become independent, but the puppies themselves may start to consume feces as they begin to investigate their surroundings.  They should outgrow the behaviour as they mature.

Wild dogs normally eat the feces of horses, sheep and other herbivores.  Domestic dogs too, possess this survival instinct, but their owners frown upon this behaviour.It is well recognized that coprophagy can be triggered when the dog does not get as much attention as he or she desires.  Companion dogs need play sessions, exercise periods and ample amounts of love and care.  Some dogs get so little attention that they crave any type of interaction, even if it’s in the form of a reprimand for doing something wrong.  If eating feces will cause his owner to pay attention to them, the dog will continue the activity because he feels rewarded.

Stressed dogs are also more likely to eat feces.  A sudden change in lifestyle or environment can trigger the behaviour.

It has been suggested that a dog is stimulated to eat feces when he is suffering from a nutrient deficiency.  This is based on the supposition that a dog can satisfy his nutrient requirements by eating feces and the undigested food it contains.  The data supporting this theory is more anecdotal than proven.Some diseases can stimulate a dog to begin eating his own feces,  A dog with pancreatic-enzyme insufficiency will have feces that contains partially or totally undigested nutrients, giving the feces an attractive smell that prompts the dog to consume it.  Coprophagy has also been linked to a wide spectrum of diseases such as intestinal parasitism, malabsorption (the inability to absorb nutrients through the intestinal wall), diabetes and Cushing’s Syndrome.

If a disease process is responsible for coprophagy, successful treatment of the condition may eliminate the cause, but the solution is rarely that simple.  The behaviour itself must be addressed in just about all cases.  Feed your dog an easy-to -digest, balanced diet.  This will ensure there’s no lack of nutrients.  As well, the feces will have little food value.  Look on the side of the dog food bag and read the ingredient carefully.  It should not  contain any animal by-products, nor corn/corn meal, nor wheat, nor fillers.  It may cost you more for quality dog food but they will eat less of it.    Feeding the right amount can also help.  Underfed pups may be so hungry that they seek out feces.  Overfed pups may not digest their food completely.  The undigested nutrients will make the stool very palatable.

Some form of behaviour modification is usually needed to eliminate coprophagy.  One approach is to make the stool taste less desirable.  This can be accomplished by adding meat tenderizer, pancreatic enzymes, canned pumpkin or the product Prozyme 9 Digestive Enzymes to the dog’s diet.  This will not work if the dog is eating another’s animal’s stool.Continuous supervision is an excellent approach to managing coprophagy.  This means your dog should be kept on a leash when outside.  As soon as they show interest in feces, pull them away and give a treat as a reward.  The goal is to train your dog to seek out a treat whenever they see feces.  He is discouraged from eating feces through positive reinforcement.  The backyard must be poop-scooped regularly.  Your dog should never see you picking up the feces because he will be come more focused on the stool out of curiosity.  If they start showing interest in stool, a shaker can (a pop can with coins inside it and the hole taped over) can be thrown in the opposite direction of the feces to divert his attention.  No matter what the cause of coprophagy, give your dog plenty of exercise and loving care.  Boredom and lack of attention are big contributors to this undesirable behaviour.

              Dogs eating cat feces

 Many dogs consider ‘kitty crunchies’ a fine delicacy.  To guard against this type of coprophagy, you must clean the litter pan daily, cover it or make it inaccessible to your dog.  Conversely, you can uncover the feces and baste it with a hot, spicy ingredient like Tabasco, then let your dog have free access.

If your dog finds cat feces buried outdoors, rake your cat’s preferred toileting area so you’ll know when your cat has visited the site.  You can then uncover the feces, put a deterrent (cayenne pepper for example) on it and leave it for your dog to find.

Cat food has more protein in it and the dog can smell the undigested protein in the food.