Treating Coprophagia In Your Dog
Does your dog grab a few gobbles of the poop he finds on walks? Don’t panic! This is actually pretty normal behavior. Like many mammals, dogs will occasionally eat poop (a habit known as coprophagia), although nobody is 100% sure why they do it. One thing we do know is that it’s a disgusting habit. So if you want to stop your dog from practicing coprophagia, we’re here to help.
What Is Coprophagia In Dogs?
If you have a sensitive nature, skip past this bit...
Coprophagia is the medical name for dogs eating poop. They will eat their own, or sometimes they’ll eat poop from other dogs, cats, foxes, cows or horses (cattle poop seems to be particularly appetizing to dogs!).
(Side note: I have never typed “poop” so many times...)
Is it a cause for concern? Yes, it is: eating faeces means your dog can pick up worms, salmonella or E.coli. Some of these can be passed on to humans in the family, who can suffer quite serious symptoms. Dung from cattle or horses (herbivores) is less risky. But, whether your dog chows down on its own faeces or enjoys the occasional horse “poopsicle”, it is difficult for us humans to feel comfortable about this horrifying hobby!
So you’re not alone in asking:
Why, Oh Why, Do Dogs Eat Faeces?
Did you know that rabbits, rats, hippopotami and elephants are known to eat their own droppings? It’s actually normal in the animal world and delivers important nutrients, especially for young animals who are transitioning to solid foods.
What we’re trying to say is that coprophagia is, in fact, acceptable for many mammals. We know lots of dogs who do it when they can; one study found that around 16% of dogs frequently indulge in coprophagy – with greedy dogs being the worst offenders.
So... are dogs simply eating poop because they’re hungry?
One theory is that dogs eat faeces because it’s what their ancestors did, and we know that some canine habits have persisted despite centuries of evolution. Early dogs or wolves would clear away faeces from around the den because if they didn’t, the faeces would become rife with parasitic larvae after about 48 hours. Dogs would also eat the faeces from an ill dog to prevent predators from sniffing out their weakness, and coming to attack. Cut to the modern day: new dog-moms will often clear away their pups’ poop by eating it, simply to keep the den clean.
However, coprophagia is not always this simple. It can have a more sinister cause. It’s worth checking with your vet to rule out:
- Missing nutrients in their diet. If your dog’s food is unbalanced or they need digestive aid, they might chomp on grass or faeces because they sense a deficiency. They could have a gastrointestinal disorder or inflammation, a pancreatic insufficiency, or anaemia.
- Parasites, such as tapeworm.
- A medical condition which gives your dog an increased appetite, such as diabetes, intestinal cancer, bowel inflammation, or hyperthyroidism.
- A medication which is known to increase appetite. Steroids are common offenders.
- Stress or anxiety. Dogs who are left alone or punished for excreting might consume the faeces to “clear it away”, and this means you will need to tackle the underlying problem. You can help your dog to deal with stress in many ways, including plug-in diffusers and positive training.
How Can I Stop My Dog From Eating Poop?
It’s the big question.
First, if you’re a new dog-owner, please know that puppies are more likely to eat faeces. Like human children, they’re learning about the world – and that often involves tasting everything. They’ll explore with their noses and mouths and that can have some gross results. But most pups will outgrow this habit by the time they’re a year old. Remember that only around 16% of dogs frequently eat faeces. That means 84% of dogs will hardly ever do it!
If your dog’s in that 16%, you undoubtedly want to restrict this diabolical habit. But there’s good news here, too. There are several steps you can take to prevent your dog from eating faeces – or feeling the need to eat faeces.
- Give your dog a dietary supplement. It’s doubtful whether dogs are eating faeces to fill up on nutrients – partly because poop doesn’t contain many. The more we understand the science behind our canine comparison nutritional needs, the more it’s considered a common misconception that coprophagia occurs as a result of a lacking diet. But if you suspect your dog is lacking something, why not try a supplement? We have a brilliant all-rounder called The One. It’s formulated to tackle stress and anxiety as well as digestion. So if your dog’s coprophagia stems from an internal cause or a lack of theanine (which is found in faeces), The One might help.
- Make sure your dog is getting physical and mental stimulation. For some dogs, coprophagia is a way to get attention. This could be because you’re away during the day or they’re competing for attention with other members of the household. You can remedy this with positive action. Spend time playing with your dog and introduce new toys and games. You could play hide-and-seek with treats indoors, or set up an agility course in the yard. Exercise will also help to tire your dog so they’re happy and settled at home.
- Clean your yard. Since the roots of this problem lie in clearing-away a risky substance, you can help by doing the same job. Poop-scoop your yard more frequently to keep the area clear – then you can feel relatively relaxed about letting your dog out.
- Choose a diet high in protein. Excess carbohydrate can be harder for dogs to digest, since it’s not their natural diet. As a general rule of thumb, the lower the quality of the dog food, the more filler you’ll see and these are the main sources of carbohydrates. Ingredients like rice, maize and potato don't offer much nutritional value to your dog but because they’re cheap, budget dog foods will front load these ingredients which can result in your dog not getting all the protein they need.
- Change their feeding pattern. If you think your dog is greedy, could they actually be hungry? Sometimes dogs need more food than the pack specifies. If they’re working or exercising hard, there’s a chance they need extra calories. Weigh them and their food, and think about increasing their supper – or splitting their daily intake across more meals, introducing a mid-morning snack. Note: this is never recommended for overweight dogs. Check with your vet if you think you may not be feeding correctly. You can also buy “light” varieties of food which are more filling, and might help to make your dog feel satisfied.
- Train your dog using positive techniques. If your dog is interested in faeces, train them to come to you promptly (recall) for a treat. This will enable you to distract them from faeces and they’ll still be fed – with an even better treat! You can also teach “leave it”; try training them by placing your own sandwich in easy reach of their teeth, and they’ll start to learn what types of food they shouldn’t eat. (They probably already have an inkling – you’ll simply make the ‘correct’ behavior more appealing!)
- Try adding a coprophagia deterrent to their food. You can buy commercial additives which will make your dog’s own faeces taste strange – or try grated courgette sprinkled on their food. At FOTP, we’ve never tried any of these coprophagia deterrents. So we suggest asking your vet for their recommendations.
- Sprinkling a coprophagia deterrent onto their poop? Instead of adding it in the bowl, some owners recommend sprinkling a deterrent onto faeces; chilli powder or orange zest are two ideas. The study above found that owners had good results from using a bitter citronella spray. But if you’re that close, why not pick it up? Dog faeces is no good for grass, anyway. Try to spot the pattern and prevent your dog from accessing their own faeces: be prepared with a poop bag when you set off for a walk.
- Restrict access to faeces. Sorry to state the obvious, but removing the temptation of faeces can prevent coprophagia altogether. Keep your dog on a lead if you’re walking through a cattle field. If your dog races for the cat litter tray, buy a new one which has a hood over the top.
- Finally, ensure that your dog is regularly de-wormed. This is mega-important for dogs who indulge in coprophagia! Fortunately, worming tablets are simple to administer and can save your dog from a parasitic infection.
‘The One’ Has Legions Of Doggy Fans...
We’re so proud of our all-round wonder-supplement. Just read some of our reviews – The One has been known to reduce stress and improve digestion for many dogs around the country. If your dog is anxious or suffers from indigestion, you should definitely consult your vet as a first course of action. But The One is an all-natural treatment which could give your dog the extra chutzpah that they need!
Have you seen success from The One, or found anything to help treat coprophagia? We’d love to hear your story. Drop us a line here or tag us on social media!