A common, while kind of gross question, that we get here all the time at My Vet Animal Hospital – Waterloo is…why does my dog eat their poo?!
Coprophagia, as it it also know, can cause: stomach upsets, parasitic infection, transmission of infectious diseases, medication toxicity and lets be honest, it’s so gross! However, in most cases this is a fairly harmless behaviour. There are lots of reasons your furbaby may be doing this.
Mmmm…this is tasty!
The most common cause is diet. And you’d be pleased because it’s the only one with a quick fix.
Have you noticed a difference in their poo when feeding them a crappy vs quality pet food? I had a first-hand experience when I got my kitten. He was initially fed on supermarket wet kitten food and when he did his number two, POOF I could SMELL as soon as I walked into the room. Imagine my dog’s excitement! Cat nuggets served warm and fresh. When I changed him to Hills kitten dry biscuits, his poo suddenly became more solid, didn’t smell as much and my dog stopped going for it! She was no longer interested in the cat poo.
A whole range of high-quality pet food at your service!
The reason for this seemingly mysterious cause and effect is in the composition of pet food. Quality pet food only contains the “must have” nutrients in an easily digestible form. Crappy pet food on the other hand, has lots of excess things that are not available to be digested and absorbed. As a result, it is passed straight through the digestive system – resulting in a poo that still contains lots of half digested nutrients. Mmm yum! No wonder they want seconds.
Transition their diet to high quality pet food (we recommend Hills or Royal Canin), made for appropriate age of the animal. Make sure to feed according to the feeding guideline so they are meeting their nutritional requirements and boom. You have a solution for gross poo eating habit.
Coprophagia is a normal behaviour in a nursing mother and very young puppies and kittens. Eating their poo helps to establish a healthy gut bacteria.
In other animals, coprophagia has been linked to behavioural problems – such as attention seeking behaviour, lack of stimulation in the environment (aka boredom), anxiety and learnt behaviour. Studies also show that if you get your dog from a pet store they are more likely to indulge in this behaviour!
Coprophagia can also result from medical conditions such as gastrointestinal disorder and micronutrient deficiencies.
Treatment Options for Behavioral coprophagia:
The best treatment for coprophagia depends on the cause.
Given that your furbaby is otherwise healthy – no vomiting, no diarrhoea, and no change in behaviour – the first recommendation I always give is to transition them to a high-quality pet food. And make sure to feed the correct amount. You can check how much they should be fed for their body weight on the back of the food bag. We recommend Hills and Royal Canin for this food trial because they clinically test their food and make sure that all the nutrients put in their food is absorbed by the animals.
If the food trial is unsuccessful or your furbaby has other health issues such as vomiting, diarrhoea or anything out of the ordinary, it is best to seek medical attention from a veterinarian to rule out medical causes of coprophagia.
So…can I have a whole cup of food?
Various products can be purchased and applied directly to the faeces to make the faeces taste bad. Such methods have been found to be fairly ineffective, particularly in a household with more than 1 dog. This is because these products don’t affect the smell of the poo and it can be very time-consuming practice! For this method to work, the affected dog cannot eat ANY untreated faeces until the behaviour has completely stopped!
Step 3: Behavioural Management
Once you rule out nutritional and medical causes of coprophagia, you can assume there is a behavioural component. Be it anxiety, attention seeking behaviour, learnt behaviour, similar principle applies to behavioral management. 1) never scold the puppy AFTER poo eating has happened. If you discover half eaten poo or evidence of poo around the mouth, there is no use in scolding them. It will leave your furbaby scared and confused. 2) if you catch them eating the poo, discourage the behaviour with a verbal repromand “uh-uh” and redirect the behaviour to a positive, rewardable one such as “sit”. And reward them as soon as they stop eating poo. 3) Keep them occupied with lots of toys and Kong throughout the day 4) Pick up poo regularly to remove any poo eating opportunities. 5) provide regular exercise to help with anxieties and boredom.
Remember, behavioural management is a long journey. There is no easy fix.
While this is a fairly harmless behaviour, it can be very frustrating for us as owner to deal with. Behaviour modification appears to be the most successful treatment, but if you are concerned there could be a medical condition underlying this behaviour make sure to speak to your vet!