Coprophagia is a condition meaning that your dog eats poop. At best this is an untasteful behavioral issue and at worst it could mean that there is a medical issue that needs to be addressed.
This rather undesirable behavior can be normal in puppies. Young dogs often go through a stage of exploration and as part of this put lots of different things in their mouths to chew. Puppies simply love to chew everything! And sometimes this can include things that are even less desirable than your shoes!
Why do dogs eat their own poo?
Coprophagia’s root cause is generally because it tastes good to your dog. This is sometimes just due to the acquired taste of the pup, or that there is a nutritional deficiency. The acquired taste falls more into the behavioral category and can be fixed by a few methods we will discuss further on, and the nutritional deficiency could be caused by a number of medical conditions or potentially nutritional deficiencies in their diet.
Should I be concerned?
Coprophagia is fairly common, and it is important to rule out whether it is a behavioral issue for the dog or if there is a medical condition causing this. It is far much less concerning and fairly common for a puppy to not know better and have coprophagia, and more concerning if it is an older dog that starts eating its own poo later in life when it had not had before.
What should I do if my dog has coprophagia?
The first step to treat coprophagia is to determine if it is behavioral or an underlying medical condition. This should be done by visiting a veterinarian.
In general, if it is a new puppy or a dog that has always just been obsessed with eating its own poo, it is very likely behavioral and this is something that can be conditioned out of the puppy.
However, there are some hereditary conditions and many puppies are born with parasites. Every puppy should have a fecal exam and a stool sample should be examined by your veterinarian to ensure there are no parasites present, even if the puppy was dewormed.
What are some of the medical reasons this could happen?
There are many things that can cause this, but in general, if it is a puppy, it is likely behavioral.
As mentioned, there are many medical conditions for a dog that could cause your dog’s coprophagia. This could include internal parasites, metabolic conditions, or even something more sinister such as a nutrient sucking tumor. This should be ruled out by a vet and it is recommended that you talk to a vet to help.
Metabolic diseases such as exocrine pancreatic Insufficiency, or diabetes which can give the dog the feeling that they are starving, which they are in a way since their body is not appropriately metabolizing nutrients.
Nutritional deficiencies are common with dog foods and should be considered when trying to pick the best dog food. The best dog food is ideally AAFCO tested and has undergone rigorous testing with dogs to ensure that it provides the necessary nutritional requirements for your dog. If the food is not AAFCO tested, it should at least be AAFCO certified.
What not to do: Don’t over react!
Many owners react by moving quickly toward the dog and yelling at it to stop. This is not good and is be confusing for the dog as they see ingesting feces as a reward and any form of punishment (yelling, yanking its leash, or anything else of this nature) can likely cause confusion and sometimes a fearful response.
How to treat the behavior:
As mentioned, there are a number of medical conditions that should first be ruled out, but once this has been done, there are a number of treatment options for the behavior. They fall into 2 categories:
- Pharmacologic and Taste Aversion
- Behavioral Strategies
Pharmacologic and Taste Aversion:
There are many products on the market to help with taste aversion and products that can be added to the diet or applied directly to the feces. However, these strategies are often ineffective as they are inconsistent and cause confusion for the dog. This can actually end up reinforcing the behavior since eating the dog poo is a reward, it ends up creating variable reinforcement which is very difficult to train out of.
Positive reinforcement of good behaviors always sticks with your dog better than the punishment of the bad. This has been proven in many dog behavioral studies. Punishment can also confuse dogs into thinking they actually need to ‘hide’ the feces – and you guessed it, the best way to do this is to eat it!
Behavioral strategies to stop your dog are broken into 3 groups:
Avoidance – This is trying to avoid the situation altogether. This could mean keeping the dog on a leash or indoors while all other dogs in the household are picked up. Using a muzzle during the initial stages of this can also be helpful as it prevents the act from occurring.
Its always best to clean up feces as soon as possible after the deed to not only avoid coprophagia, but also that smell on your shoe next time you walk inside!
Redirection – This method is done by using a distraction when you see signs that the dog is sniffing around the ground where another dog had likely eliminated previously. This could be a toy or treat.
Response Substitution – This method is the most effective method and involves teaching the dog a new behavior. For example, sitting or making eye contact. When you acknowledge the alternate behavior and give a high-value reward intermittently, it can solidify and replace the dog’s unwanted behavior. It is important to make sure the environment is enriched in case the dog is under stimulated. Here you want to pay close attention to oral enrichment devices are around such as food and toys.
While it is likely a behavioral issue, if your dog eating its own poop is a new condition, always consult your veterinarian to make sure there isn’t something else going on. Hopefully, the above advice can help you, but remember that it is not your dog’s fault as they oftentimes just do not know any better.