It doesn’t make any sense to me, but there are dogs out there that find feces to be the most delectable of snacks. I once had a family member’s Chihuahua stay with me for a few weeks while they were moving. I swear that he thought Theo’s litterbox was a buffet. He would come out of my room all happy with cat litter stuck around his face. Eeew. The only cool thing about eating poop is the name: coprophagia.
I did a little research before writing this article, because I have never been able to determine a cause for coprophagia. Behaviorists suggest that the behavior stems from a mother dog eating her puppies’ feces. This is a normal, protective behavior when the pups are very young. Also, puppies sometimes eat feces when they are exploring the world. Sometimes, these behaviors just continue on. Apparently, there is also a theory that another dog exposed to a mother dog could “catch on” to the behavior. That sounds a little sketchy to me, but it is better than what I have come up with (nothing). Circumstances that can contribute to the opportunity or desire to eat feces are irregular feeding schedules, feeding inadequate amounts of food, increased access to feces and a lack of environmental enrichment. Ultimately, we usually have absolutely no idea what triggers an individual dog to eat feces.
The real question is, how do you get them to stop? The only sure-fire way to prevent coprophagia is to take away their access. Pick up feces in the yard immediately and scoop the cat box frequently. Some persons also use a catbox with a top on it. There are several home remedies that can be tried. Sprinkle meat tenderizer on the dog food or add fresh pineapple or canned spinach to the dog food. You can also purchase a variety of supplements from pet supply places. This only works if your dog eats his own feces or the feces of another dog in the house. The theory behind these additives is that they make the feces “unpalatable”. Every time I tell someone that, I want to laugh. What would make feces palatable in the first place?!?
There are a few die-hard coprophagics (is that even a word?) that seem to eat the feces no matter what you do. My response to these cases is “that really stinks”. Ooh, bad pun. Ultimately, your pet will not likely suffer any lasting harm from eating feces, especially his own. Parasites are transmitted through the feces, so be sure that your dog has a regular check for parasites and is on a monthly heartworm preventive that contains a dewormer. If your dog loves to snack on feces, give your vet a call, perhaps she knows some remedies that I’ve yet to test. And be sure to tell me what works!