The Age Old Question:
Coprophagia – when dogs eat their own stool. It’s disgusting, and most of us have seen it happen. Some are even unlucky enough to have a pup that’s constantly looking to snack on its own poopie bon-bons. But why? What on earth would make any animal eat its own feces?
There are a few theories that involve the behavioral standpoint of stool eating in puppies and dogs. Many believe that dogs are curious by nature, and therefore may start to play or eat with their stool as an investigative or scavenging behavior. Others feel that since the mother cleans after her puppies in the den, they learn the behavior from her. Either way, it is a behavior that can easily be reinforced without proper guidance. Stool eating generally creates a great reaction from the pet owner, which may actually encourage your dog to continue the behavior for the excited attention. However, with simple supervision and guidance early into the behavior, it can be prevented from becoming a long-term habit.
There is sometimes a medical component to dogs wanting to eat their stool. Any medical condition that could result in gastrointestinal upset or poor absorption of nutrients could make the feces seem more enticing. These conditions include digestive enzyme deficiencies, and intestinal parasites, but could also come from being underfed, and/or a poorly digested diet. Malnutrition or vitamin and mineral deficiencies cannot only cause increased hunger, but an attraction to stool because it contains a certain amount of undigested food. Malnutrition can cause very serious problems, and many of the medical conditions associated with unusual appetites are diabetes, thyroid disorders, and Cushing’s disease. If your dog suddenly starts eating stool, or if you have never consulted your veterinarian about the coprophagia, it’s a good idea to make a vet appointment. Remember that if you working towards weight loss by smaller meals, the meals are not so small that your pet is looking to his stool for satiety.
How Can I Make it Stop?
As stated earlier, simple supervision and guidance early on can prevent your dog from wanting to continue eating stool. Once he realizes this is not an acceptable or desired behavior, he should not continue to have any interest in it. Making a big deal out of the situation can cause him to feel that the excitement is a good thing. However, one of the best reasons to keep this from happening as well is to make sure that your dog is in a clean environment. Picking up stools daily limits your dogs accession, and sometimes you might have to be ready and waiting to pick your dog’s most recent deposit up before he decides to do it himself. This can also be accomplished by accompanying your pet out to the yard on a leash so he doesn’t have time to wander around eating his stool. However, remember to always have your pet checked by a veterinarian. If it’s a medical issue, your dog may not need any behavioral training, as the treatment will clear up the symptom. Soon enough, regardless of the cause, your pet should stop finding his stool so enticing and you won’t have to worry about his nasty little habit.
About the Author
Katie is a professional dog trainer located in Southern California, with a background of experience as a veterinary assistant as well. She has trained and competed with multiple breeds in AKC Obedience and Rally, agility, herding, Schutzhund/IPO, French Ring and conformation. She has been involved in dogs since she was a child, and specializes in protection dogs, working dogs, and aggression issues. You can visit her website, Katie’s Dog Training, to find out more information about her training and accomplishments. When she’s not helping others and writing, she’s out on the field with her Belgian Malinois and Pembroke Welsh Corgi.