If you have been a dog owner for any length of time, chances are that you have noticed him eating his or other animals’ feces. This is a condition that is known as coprophagia. In this article, you will find some background on this condition and some tips on what you can do to discourage your dog from taking part in this very common and natural behavior that humans typically find to be quite disgusting.
Background on Coprophagia
This is a condition that compels dogs to eat feces- either theirs or another animals’. So, why does he do this? Perhaps he’s hungry and doesn’t have access to food. Perhaps the food that you are feeding him doesn’t have sufficient nutrients and may not necessarily be appropriate for your dog.
After all, if a dog is being given food that is low-quality and/or inappropriate, he feels like he needs to eat more of it to satiate his body’s craving for nutrients. Therefore, when he eats too much food, a large portion of it will travel through his digestive tract without being digested. This means that his stool looks and smells pretty much like the food he has been consuming, so he tries to eat it again.
This is not simply a vulgar habit or him being disobedient- this is your dog’s way of crying out for his health. Your dog needs a better diet so that his body can absorb the nutrients that he needs.
On the other hand, if he’s eating feces from another animal, chances are that the dog food you are giving him is lacking in certain nutrients and minerals that his body needs. If you are allowing the yard/kennel where your dog is kept to pile up with poop, he is likely to “clean up” his poop. Make sure to take the time to clean the area where he stays every day, preferably right after the dog poops.
Your dog may be eating poop because he is bored, lonely, anxious, or stressed. If he is confined in a kennel, or restricted to a small area in the yard, he may eat his poop to keep his area clean and keep himself occupied. He needs to be played with and exercised several times a day. In addition, when a dog is left without companionship of his caregiver for a long period of time, it can cause emotional stress which causes some dogs to eat their own poop.
There are some breeds of dogs that just like to carry things in their mouth. If your dog is picking up poop and carrying it in his mouth, it’s a good indication that your dog needs more exercise, interaction with people, and mental stimulation.
In some cases, a dog may have an internal parasite that causes him to eat poop because the parasites take the nutrients away from the dog’s system- which leaves the dog feeling hungry all the time.
If you punish your dog for pooping in the house, he may eat his poop to avoid being punished. Usually, when a dog is pooping inside it’s because he is unable to hold it in. You may have heard that some dogs poop out of spite- this is not true- spite is a human emotion, canines do not experience it.
You, as the owner, must be more responsive to your dog and work more on training- not punishing the dog. In addition, you must realize that a dog pooping in the house could be an indication of a health problem from a parasite to something more serious.
It’s quite common for female dogs who have just had a litter of puppies to eat their poop so that she can hide evidence of the pups from predators. It’s also quite common for puppies to try to eat poop.
There are some researchers that believe some of the components of poop are beneficial for the brain and immune system in young animals. Still, any benefits offered are outweighed by the risks to their health. Therefore, it’s best to try to prevent it. Don’t allow them to indulge in this behavior and they won’t develop the habit of eating it.
Finally, prevention is much better even with older dogs, since this condition is typically self-rewarding, which means that ingesting poop satisfies the dog, so he is much more likely to keep repeating this behavior.
Tips for Stopping Your Dog from Eating Poop
Here are a few tips to help you keep your dog from eating poop:
- Make some changes to your dog’s diet. Purchase or prepare food that is nutritious or food that is formulated for your dog’s medical issues, age, and breed.
- If you believe that your dog is eating poop because he is hungry, try feeding him more and be sure that you’re feeding him food appropriate for his personal needs.
- Make an appointment with the dog’s vet to have him examined for any underlying medical/health issues, parasites, and other potential problems that are causing him to eat poop.
- Be sure to take the time to clean up the poop right after your dog goes- before he has a chance to do it himself. Avoiding giving him access to the poop is one of the major keys to stopping this habit.
- Be sure that you’re walking your dog on a leash so that you can tell him to “leave it” and you can keep him away from his poop. Then, be sure to praise your dog for listening to you- reinforce this praise with treats.
- When you do see your dog approaching poop, tell him to “leave it” and distract him with praise and a treat or with a training clicker or even playtime/activity that your dog enjoys. This reinforces the idea that paying attention to you is more rewarding than paying attention to poop. When he does turn his attention to you, give him a treat or other reward. Distract him from the undesirable behavior of eating poop and substitute a desired behavior such as sitting or interacting with you. When a dog is interacting with you, he can’t be investigating poop.
- If you have a dog that is pooping in the house, make sure to start feeding and walking him on schedule so that he can poop before bedtime or before you leave the house for the day. You may need to housetrain your dog. Instead of punishing him for his natural behaviors, teach him the right thing to do.
- If you have a puppy/dog that is pooping in his crate, start exercising him more and giving him a chance to poop before putting him in the crate. In addition, take some time to learn more about crate training. Dogs don’t really like to use the bathroom in their living quarters, so you need to crate train him properly. However, you must also understand that puppies can’t keep from using the bathroom for more than a few hours and even adult dogs don’t need to be left in a crate for more than 6 hours. Be sure to take the time to train your dog so that he can be alone in your house instead of locked up in a crate.
- Visit your local pet supply store to purchase or ask your vet about products that you can apply to the poop to discourage your dog from eating them. Or, you can add some canned pumpkin to your dog’s food each day. Pumpkin is yummy to eat but tastes awful when in poop. Add a spoonful of spinach, pineapple juice, or canned pineapple to your dog’s food.
- After your dog poops, sprinkle some lemon juice or hot sauce on it. Be sure to block your dog’s access to any kitty litter boxes to avoid him developing a taste for cat poop- or break the habit. Try keeping it in a room that the cat can reach, but not the dog- or covering the litter box so that the cat can get in but the dog can’t.
Since coprophagia is a self-reinforcing habit, it can be a truly tough one to break. However, don’t be discouraged. Simply follow the above tips and give them time to work.
If you have a dog that is eating poop- start feeding him a nutrient packed/balanced diet, give him plenty of exercise/playtime/interaction, keep his living areas/crates/kennels/yard as clean as possible, avoid locking him up and leaving him alone for a long period of time, and take him to the vet on a regular basis for checkups so that you can catch any underlying medical issues early before they get out of control.