By Diane Morgan
The fancy term for eating feces is coprophagia. Unpleasant a habit as this may be, it’s fairly common in dogs, especially puppies. Eating feces is an unsavory habit that can introduce some vicious internal parasites into your hapless dog’s body.
WHY DOGS EAT POOP
We’re not sure why dogs develop this habit. Mother dogs routinely eat their puppies’ feces until they are about three weeks old; this practice keeps the “den” clean and odor-free. So puppies may be copying behavior they have noticed in their mothers. More likely, they are just going through an oral phase in which they eat anything that has an interesting smell or texture. Most dogs grow out of this habit, but a few do not. In fact, devouring feces is considered normal (but highly undesirable from our viewpoint). There is probably still some nutritional value left in the stuff, and dogs are by nature scavengers. Some dogs even practice coprophagia to get attention from their owners. It works.
Almost all dogs will eat cat poop if given the slightest chance, but with some it can become compulsive. Cat feces carry Toxoplasma gondii, a nasty organism that causes nerve and muscle damage. Put the litter box up high where the cat can jump up onto it but Fido can’t. An alternative solution is to place the litter box in the bathroom and secure the door with a hook and eye arrangement that offers enough play for the cat to slither through but that stymies the dog. Clean the litter box as often as you can.
In a few cases, there’s a medical excuse for coprophagia. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, pancreatitis, certain malabsorption syndromes, infections, and overfeeding a high-fat diet have all been blamed.
HOW TO MANAGE COPROPHAGIA
Unfortunately, once dogs acquire this unsavory habit, it can be difficult to stop. You need to approach the problem systematically.
- Accompany your dog to the yard for his bathroom breaks and clean up the mess immediately. It helps to teach your dog to eliminate in one specific area.
- Buy products that discourage dogs from eating their own feces, such as Four Paws® Potty Mouth®, a chewable tablet specially formulated to keep dogs from eating their own feces. Other products are designed to be sprinkled on your dog’s food.
- Teach your dog the leave it command to prevent his grabbing a snack while you’re out walking. And keep him on a leash. Dogs can be pretty quick, though, so you might consider using a basket muzzle while out walking with him.
- Try feeding your dog more frequent (but smaller) meals so that he won’t feel so hungry and ready to gobble anything. And feed him the very best food you can to make sure that he’s getting all the nutrients he needs.
One thing that doesn’t work is berating your dog for eating feces. This has no effect at all except to hurt his feelings.