Coprophagia- the nice and less disgusting word used for “poop eating.”
Coprophagia is caused by two different problems, medical and behavioral. I will discuss both. As we all know, this is a really gross habit and if we can find a way to keep our dogs from doing it we are much happier dog parents and can more enjoyably share kisses and love with our dogs…who wants poop kisses? Not me!
I do need to state that there is one time when poop eating is totally normal, natural and you need to let your dog do it. When a mother is first caring for her puppies from immediately after birth until weaning, she will eat their poop. This is totally natural and encouraged. First, on newborn puppies their mother needs to stimulate them through licking to make them go to the bathroom, so she inevitably eats it. Second, it’s a natural instinct coming from ancient ancestry of when dogs/wolves were in the wild. The mother cleans up the poop to prevent predators from smelling it and finding her den. So, she also does it to protect her puppies. Please NEVER discourage a mother from doing this, as it could be detrimental to the puppies health and development.
Now, for the the not-so-naughty poop eaters out there, the first cause, and the most important cause you want to rule out immediately is medical. Some of the diseases or medical problems that cause coprophagia are severe disorders of the pancreas, pancreatic insufficiency, enzyme deficiency, intestinal malabsorption, malnutrition, starvation and parasitic infestation. These cases are not very common, so don’t freak out thinking your dog has some severe medical problem if he/she eats poop, they will most likely fall into the “behavioral problem” category! Just take them to the vet and consult with them to rule out a medical problem.
Second are the naughty poop eaters out there who do this because of a behavioral issue. Most behavioral issues stem from lack of exercise and mental stimulation. Always thoroughly exercise your dog and provide them with activities that stimulate their mind. Afterall, their ancestors, wolves/wild dogs, spend about 98% of their awake time hunting for food. Most of us give our dog a bowl of food that’s gone in 2 minutes and then they have nothing else to do to keep their mind occupied. This is when bad habits and obsessive compulsive disorders happen. Some researchers believe poop eating indicates a vitamin deficiency of some sort, possible Vitamin B deficiency if eating herbivores (plant eating animals) poop. Sometimes they just do it because they think it tastes good! In this situation there’s a few options and products on the market to be added to your dog’s food (or your cat’s food if your dog is getting in the litter box) that will make the poop taste bad. Yeah, I agree with what you’re thinking right now…”how can poop taste good?!?” but, to some it does. These products can help in some cases.
Ways to curb this behavior if your dog is a poop eater:
- Get to your vet and have medical issues ruled out immediately!
- Always pick up your yard immediately or as soon as possible after you dog(s) go to the bathroom
- Keep your dog on leash when walking so you have control of where they go and what they do
- Add toys or other diversions to your pet’s environment
- Feed your dog out of a toy/game type feeder…I like the Starmark Bob-a-Lot. This stimulates their brain and makes them work for their food like they do in the wild
- Elevate your cat’s litterbox or put it in a room where you can secure the door for an opening only big enough for your cat to fit through
- Work on your dog’s training and obedience. Setting other boundaries and expectations for them will help with compulsive, unwanted behaviors
- Add a supplement that is marketed to make their poop taste undesirable
In conclusion, sometimes there’s a reason behind why dogs eat poop and other times there’s not. Always remember, any time your dog displays a strange behavior or is doing something out of the ordinary, consult with your vet, they know best! Make sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. Try some of the tips listed above or seek professional help from a behavioral trainer if need be.
Thanks for reading!