Ever have a pup who liked to hoover up rabbit droppings in the yard as if he were playing Pac-Man? Curious why your pooch loves to dive into the cat’s litter box and “help” you clean it? Ever wonder WHY some dogs eat poop?
In the spirit of last week’s blog “Why do dogs eat vomit”, I decided to swing into another gross dog habit: COPROPHAGIA. That is veterinary medical term for consuming feces (sounds a lot prettier than it really is, huh?). This originates from when mother has a litter of pups, and eats their stools to keep the den clean and less detectable by intruders. However, some dogs develop this unpleasant habit for a variety of other reasons…
First and most importantly, coprophagia in dogs could be for medical reasons. More and more studies have shown that many commercial dry dog foods do not provide enough digestive enzymes for our pets. Poop, in so many words, has tons of healthy, natural digestive enzymes. Rabbit droppings in particular are high in vitamin B and their cecotropes (“night stools”) are chalk full of natural and helpful enzymes. The theory is that most dogs who eat only dry kibble tend to be more deficient in these essential digestive enzymes, increasing their likelihood to seek out other sources — such as poop — to aid their deficiency.
The simple solution here is to visit your trusted veterinarian. They can rule out medical reasons, such as intestinal parasites, pancreatic issues (where digestive enzymes are secreted), or malabsorption problems, for your dog’s poop eating. De-worming for parasites, transitioning your pooch to a higher quality diet, and adding probiotics and/or digestive enzymes to their meals may help curtail their coprophagic tendencies.
Second, some dogs eat poop for a variety of behavioral reasons. Often times, it can be a learned behavior. Some dogs have to eat poop for nourishment to survive. Others are just bored and lack mental and physical exercise. The goal here is to train and work with your dog to discourage this nasty habit.
I trained a Bassett Hound who sadly came from a hoarding situation where she was living with almost 40 other animals in 1 home. She learned to eat stool to feed herself, as there was never enough food to go around. When she was rescued and placed into an adoptive home, she continued to eat poop, despite getting plenty of adequate nutrition. With patience, re-training, and being diligent about picking up poop in the yard, her stinky habit was reduced significantly.
The old wives tale that you should “rub your dog’s nose in it” when they have an accident is a fabulous way to train your dog to eat poop! Humans that try this technique often create so much anxiety in their dogs, that the pup will “eat the evidence” so they will not be punished. Moral of the story: DON’T DO THIS!
There are other dogs who are just downright quirky about their poop-eating, and we may never understand why. In the picture attached, you will see my old man Boomer, who used to LOVE poopsicles (frozen turds in the winter). He would dig them out of the snow, pick them up in his mouth, and fling them around like a toy. He never would consume them, but just enjoyed playing with them time to time. I found that if he had been cooped up recently from inclement weather, it increased the likelihood of him playing with poopsicles. This was always an indication to me as the owner that I needed to provide more physical and mental stimulation.
The long and short of it is if you have a dog who eats poop, the #1 step is to visit your vet. They can give you recommendations for stool eating deterrents that are safe for your pooch. Many vets carry For-Bid, a powder you sprinkle of your dog’s food that makes their stool taste awful, hopefully deterring them from consuming it. Then, consider diet changes, adding supplemental enzymes, and provide more healthy exercise for your pup. Manage your environment to set your dog up to succeed — always pick up right away, and keep the cat box clean and somewhere the dog doesn’t have access to it.