Sometimes many dogs put things in their mouths that we consider disgusting, including feces. But why do dogs eat poop? Is it because they lack vitamins or minerals? Is it because they have a behavioral problem?
To answer all these questions, explain the consequences of this bad habit and help you to put an end to it, we have prepared this article from Las Almenas.
What is canine coprophagia?
Canine coprophagia is a behavioral disorder in which dogs voluntarily eat their own feces (autocoprophagia), those of other dogs (intraspecific coprophagia) or even those of other animals, such as cats (interspecific coprophagia).
Of these three types of coprophagy, the last two are the most dangerous, since the dog can catch serious diseases and infections, such as toxoplasmosis, if it eats the feces of a cat.
The only coprophagia that is not considered an abnormal behavior, but a behavior fixed in the instinctive behavior of females, is maternal coprophagia with the feces of puppies. In the case of dogs or wolves, the mother eats the feces of the puppies to keep her “nest” (the whelping box) clean and in good hygienic conditions, in order to prevent the appearance of diseases in her puppies.
The behavioral problem of coprophagia is more common in puppies. At this age, the fact of ingesting feces is part of their exploratory behavior so necessary for their learning. The rearing conditions of the puppy also have an influence on the appearance of this behavior.
Thus, for example, if the first months of their life are spent in small spaces and without adequate hygienic conditions, as often happens in dogs that are bred and sold in unauthorized breeders, it is common for the puppy to have this acquired bad habit.
Why do dogs eat poop?
There are different causes to explain why dogs eat the poop of other animals, from nutritional problems to behavioral causes to the presence of an underlying disease:
- As we have explained, puppies investigate, play and experiment with everything in their environment. This may explain why dogs eat their poop when unsupervised.
- It could also be due to an imitation of the mother’s behavior when she ingests her puppies’ droppings to keep the nest clean.
- Another reason why dogs eat their poop is because they want to avoid angering their owners if they have done this necessity in an inappropriate place. This behavior is more frequent in puppies, as they ingest their feces to make them disappear as soon as possible.
- Stress or separation anxiety is also associated with the appearance of coprophagia and its maintenance over time.
- Boredom, loneliness and lack of interaction with the owner and environmental stimulation may explain why dogs eat their poop. The dog simply plays with the feces to entertain himself and eventually ingests it. If you want to identify if your dog is lonely, we recommend reading My dog is sad – how does loneliness affect him?
- Maybe the reason why your dog ingests his feces is because he wants to get your attention, so that you are aware of him at all times.
- If you live with cats they may be curious about your feces and even find them “appetizing”.
- If they live with other dogs, they may eat their feces out of submission to their dominant conspecifics, or imitate the behavior of other dogs that ingest feces. This is quite common in dogs that spend a lot of time alone, without family or confined in a small space, as is the case with dogs rescued from shelters where there were too many dogs.
Why it is so harmful for your dog to eat feces?
Even if you are not clear about why dogs eat their poop, you are sure to dislike this attitude. But, besides being a disgusting habit, it can be detrimental to the health of dogs. Undoubtedly, the most obvious risk is that the dog ingests the droppings of another dog that may have a parasitic or viral disease that is transmitted.
Thus, coprophagia can cause different diseases, such as:
- Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (usually the most frequent).
- Intestinal parasitosis.
- Malabsorption syndrome.
- Intestinal infections.
- Hyperadrenocorticism, also known as canine Cushing’s syndrome. This is an endocrinopathy characterized by a chronic excess of glucocorticoids.
- Other intestinal or digestive causes.
Diagnosis of coprophagia in dogs
Although most of the time the explanation of why dogs eat poop is due to behavioral problems, it is necessary to visit the veterinarian to diagnose this problem.
At your visit to the vet, he will probably ask you about your dog’s diet and how often you feed him. He will also want to know what your dog’s daily activities are, in order to find out if he spends enough time playing and walking with you, or if, on the contrary, he spends too much time alone at home.
Obviously, the veterinarian will also perform a physical examination of your dog in order to rule out any other medical problems. In that basic examination, he will check weight, temperature, pulse and blood pressure. He will also likely perform a blood test to check the condition of your dog’s platelets and red and white blood cells.
In addition, he will check the good functioning of his organs, and may request a urinalysis and stool analysis to measure fecal fat and whether or not there is the presence of any parasites.
With all these tests, your veterinarian will be able to determine if the dog suffers from anemia, bacterial infection or any other pathology mentioned above.
Treatment of canine coprophagia
In case it is a medical problem that explains why dogs eat their poop, then the treatment of canine coprophagia involves treating the underlying problem:
- In case of pancreatitis or if the diet is deficient in any nutrient, it is necessary to buy better quality food. And possibly the dog will have to take some dietary supplements and vitamins.
- If your dog suffers from anemia, it may need vitamin B12 injections.
- If your dog has parasites, it will be necessary to eliminate them with the appropriate deworming treatment. If there are no diseases or presence of parasites that explain why dogs eat poop, then we are talking about behavioral coprophagia.
In this case, to eradicate this misbehavior you will have to get down to work:
- Never allow access to the feces. You will have to clean them or remove them as soon as the dog defecates. Keep in mind that dogs that eat their feces usually do it immediately. So you should make them disappear without the dog noticing.
- Congratulate him if he defecates in the right place. If he is a puppy and defecates in the soaker, congratulate him and remove the soaker immediately. It is important that you do not allow him to play with it or with the feces.
- Try to let him relieve himself in the street. It is advisable to take him for walks often and, if possible, at the time when he does his needs. In this way, the stimulus of being in the street will make him stop obsessing about eating his poop.
- Correct the behavior and modify his behavior in a positive way. When you see that he is going to eat his stool, it is time to say “no” loud and clear. But instead of scolding him, you should give him a command that will make him stop the unwanted behavior. For example, you can ask him to come to you or throw him his favorite ball, and at that moment you can reward him. This way you can distract him so that he forgets about the stool.
- Taste aversion. When the dog has this behavior very ingrained, you can resort to some products that taste very good and they like them very much, but that make the poops taste bitter and that the dog rejects them. These products have not shown 100% satisfactory results, however, they must always be supervised by a veterinarian.
What if the problem is not behavioral or medical?
Sometimes why dogs eat their poop has a psychological answer. Behind coprophagia there may simply be boredom and the dog may do anything to entertain himself. If your dog is alone for a long time and bored, he will do his poops at home and, until someone comes and picks them up, he may eat them. In these cases it is not so much a problem of the dog, but of the attention we give him.
We hope that all this information about why dogs eat their poop helps you to understand a little more about your dog’s behavior and the care he needs. However, if you still have doubts about why dogs eat their poop, the best thing to do is to consult your veterinarian. Here below this article you can leave us a comment or share with everyone some advice that can help to end this habit. You can also do it through our Facebook, Instagram and YouTube profiles.