Dog owners typically react with disgust and confusion when they see their beloved pet eating their own poop or the poop of another dog or animal. They wonder what they can do to stop the behavior known as coprophagia (copro = feces; phagia = eating).
Although coprophagia is troubling and gross from the human perspective, the motive behind your dog's behavior may not be. It's helpful to look at the problem from both a wellness perspective and a behavioral standpoint. Brodie Animal Hospital is here to help you make sense of this puzzling behavior.
WHY DO DOGS EAT POOP?
Poop eating may be related to survival instincts but can also stem from boredom, stress, or a craving for certain nutrients.
- Some dogs eat their own feces because they're bored and lack stimulation.
- In some cases, coprophagia may stem from stress and anxiety. Your dog may be exhibiting this behavior to cope with being left alone or moved into a new environment.
- Other dogs will eat the feces of other animals to obtain nutrients they need that are missing from their regular diet.
CAN DIETARY PROBLEMS CONTRIBUTE TO THE BEHAVIOR?
Dogs need certain nutrients in their diet to stay healthy. For instance, they need protein to build muscle and energy and fat for energy storage. Vitamins A, C, and E help support healthy skin and immune function, while iron is essential in hemoglobin production. These vitamins and minerals are found in a balanced diet with sufficient calories.
Dogs fed an inappropriate diet (a vegetarian diet, for example) may eat feces because they're looking for essential nutrients such as protein and fat. If your pet has a deficiency in any of these nutrients, they may engage in coprophagia to try to get those missing nutrients from their own feces or the feces of other animals.
Feeding your dog nutritional food is essential, but dogs' needs vary. Some pet owners swear by homemade dog food for optimal health, and others use a particular brand of high-quality commercial food with good results. The best dog food for a puppy may not be best for a senior dog.
Your veterinarian understands your dog's health background and can recommend the best food based on that knowledge and your pet's age, weight, or other factors. And if a health problem is suspected to be the cause of your dog's coprophagia, your vet can help.
COULD A MEDICAL PROBLEM BE TO BLAME FOR THE BEHAVIOR?
Intestinal parasites like whipworms, hookworms, and roundworms can cause digestive problems in your dog that could lead them to eat their own feces. Parvovirus is a highly contagious viral disease that affects dogs-particularly puppies-and has been linked to coprophagia.
But poop eating isn't necessarily a sign of illness.
Dogs regularly do things that leave their human companions scratching their heads, like chasing their own tails or drinking from the toilet. Some dogs simply have an unusual interest in ingesting their own or other dogs' feces. While it may be gross, it's not necessarily dangerous. Still, trying to diagnose the underlying cause of coprophagia is important because it can help you treat your dog more effectively.
If a dog is only eating their own poop, they most likely have no underlying medical problem and simply needs the training to stop the behavior.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO TRAIN A DOG TO STOP EATING POOP?
One way to train a dog to stop eating poop is to keep them on a leash to prevent them from eating it. If you catch your dog in the act, gently pull them away from the poop. Then, reward them with something they enjoy, such as a treat or praise. With consistency and time, the behavior may cease.
Some experts recommend adding pumpkin or pineapple to a dog's food to discourage poop eating. Dogs usually don't mind the taste of these ingredients when mixed with their regular food, but pumpkin and pineapple are thought to make feces less appealing. Commercial supplements are also sold online and in pet stores specifically to discourage coprophagia.