Have you ever felt this embarrassment when your dog is caught eating feces? There are various explanation for this behavior, and even if coprophagia, or stool eating, might not be the most appealing subject, it is a necessary one.
The first thing to know is that this habit is present in all canine species – dogs, coyotes, wolves… Before dogs were domesticated, they were scavengers, and survived on whatever they could find. They commonly fed on the waste of others animals, and this behavior in modern dogs might just be a remnant of dog history.
Nowadays, the only moments when coprophagia is to be expected and is acceptable is when a female has a litter. For a mother taking care of her newborn pups, eating poop is instinctual and completely normal. She has to keep her den clean so as not to attract predators with scent cues. This is the reason why she quite often will clean up after her young by consuming their waste.
Otherwise, many dogs have a medical reason for coprophagia, including pancreatic insufficiency or enzyme deficiency. Intestinal malabsorption and parasites are also common medical reasons that can prompt a dog to eat his own poop. The pancreas secretes enzymes to help the dog’s digestion, but some dogs don’t secrete enough of these and end up enzymes deficient. Since the feces of other animals are a source of digestive enzymes, dogs with a deficiency will ‘recycle’ by eating the enzyme rich poop. This is one of the reason why it’s essential to feed your pooch high quality food. Many cheap dry foods contain ingredients that are not bioavailable and that are passed out in the stool undigested, providing scavenging dogs with the opportunity to “recycle.”
Coprophagia can also be a behavioral problem. A dog that has been punished for a housebreaking accident, might try to hide the evidence if it happens again. Stress and anxiety can be a reason as well, especially for dogs in kennel situations or dogs with separation anxiety. A dog might also eat its own poop when he’s craving for attention and a neglected dog will do anything for some attention, good or bad. Finally, it could be a learned behavior: other dogs with this bad habit can teach the younger dogs in the households.
How do I keep my dog from eating poop?
The first thing to do is to take your pooch to the vet for a check-up and make sure that Fido doesn’t have any parasites or is not nutrient deficient.
If your dog eats poop for behavioral reasons, try removing stools from the environment as quickly as possible, and make cat litter boxes inaccessible to dogs since they’re particularly fond of cat’s waste. Distract your pup with extra exercise and interaction with pets and humans and provide suitable chew toys that may also help prevent coprophagia caused by boredom. Sometimes, giving the dog canned food to provide a similar texture may help.
And finally, just train your dog! Dogs are good student and are eager to learn and to please their parents. If they can be taught to go to the bathroom only outside and not to jump on people, they can be taught not to eat feces, if it’s only a behavioral problem. Ask your vet or your trainer for professional advice.