You’ve taken your dog for a walk, you’ve just finished telling the neighbour how well behaved he is and all of a sudden you catch him eating dog poo. Ugh! What could possess him to do this?
Coprophagia (the technical term for faeces eating) is unpleasant but not uncommon behaviour among dogs. The good news is that eating faeces won’t generally hurt your dog. The bad news you already know; it’s disgusting, messy and leads to the worst bad breath imaginable. There’s also the risk of acquiring parasites if your dog eats faeces from other animals.
Curiosity No one is entirely sure why dogs do this but there are a couple of possible reasons. It may simply be that they enjoy it. Dogs interact with the world through their mouths, they like to carry sticks and love to chew on toys or bones.
Dogs also like things that have strong smells and excrement certainly falls into this category. It might seem odd, but eating faeces may just be your dog’s way of examining something that interests him.
Confused pups Puppies will sometimes eat their own toilet during house training. It happens because they’re still unsure of where they’re supposed to defecate and where they’re not supposed to defecate. Afraid they may have done something wrong they will ‘destroy the evidence’. This kind of cleaning behaviour can also happen with adult dogs inside the house.
Mother dogs will frequently eat their puppy’s faeces when cleaning them. This is possibly a residual instinct. In the wild, eating the puppy poo would reduce the likelihood of predators finding her vulnerable offspring.
Dietary deficiencies One of the most common theories for why dogs behave like this, is that they’re compensating for deficiencies in their diet. The faeces of herbivores may provide vitamins that aren’t part of your dog’s regular diet. Cat food is high in protein and so cat litter may prove appealing to your dog. You must curb this behaviour immediately, as cat litter can be toxic for a dog.
Prevention The easiest way to deal with the problem is simply to try and pick up as soon as your dog has done his business. Some people suggest sprinkling pepper, Tabasco or paraffin on the faeces to make it taste ‘worse’.
There are also additives for your dog’s food that will taste fine on the way in, but become bitter when digested so the faeces becomes unpalatable. Unfortunately, these methods aren’t effective for all dogs.
To deal with coprophagia it is first of all very important to work out why this might be happening as it is not always straight forward.
In our experience we have found that asking a few questions of the owner we can find patterns which help to explain why this happening to a particular animal:
- Was the dog chastised excessively as a puppy for indoor toileting or even just shouted at?
- Was the puppy purchased older than normal (over 8 or 10 weeks) and therefore left with its mother longer than normal?
- What sort of breed is it for example is this a very sensitive breed (which would react very badly to strict training) or maybe a very greedy one (like a Labrador which tend to eat their food too quickly)?
- What diet is the dog being fed on? Is it a high cereal diet? Does the diet have low digestibility?How much is this dog being fed?
- How many dogs are in the house? Is there competitive feeding happening? How fast does this dog eat his food?
- What size kibble is your dog food? Is it too small and therefore being swallowed rather than chewed?
- How do you feed the dog? Do you feed the dog wet or dry?Where is the food bowl on the floor or on a bowl stand?
- How old is the dog and how long has the problem been happening? (it is always easier to change a habit the shorter the length of time it has been occurring) Should the dog be on a diet more appropriate for its age? (for instance feeding an older animal on a performance food might mean that the faeces is still carrying more undigested matter etc as the dog was unable to process it)
Once we have a a bit more information we will suggest a complete change of feeding patterns and owner habits. The reason we ask so many questions is to help the owner understand how coprophragia can happen and that it is a quite natural behaviour but can be made worse for many reasons, yet cured with some simple changes.
We recommend the following for coprophragic dogs;
Feed a higher meat content diet.
We absolutely reccomend a raw complete diet like Natures Menu or Nutriment to solve this problem.
Place a large rubber ball in the bowl to help stop the bolting down of his food
Feed your dog from a bowl stand.
Clean up after your dog as soon as he has toileted, but don’t get cross with him/her.
Interupt any toilet eating from a distance with perhaps a squirt of water or a Pet Corrector.
Ensure your pet is on the correct diet for their size, age and activity level.
Feed greedy dogs seperately.
You could try feeding pineapple in his food as it tastes horrible on the way out! (this is an old fashioned remedy and apparently has worked!)
Finally try to be patient….they do not know that it is wrong!
Scampers Natural Pet Store is located on the A142 Soham By Pass, between Ely and Newmarket and only 15 miles from Cambridge.
Scampers, Your Pet’s Natural Choice.