Coprophagia is the relatively common dog behavior of eating feces. Most often, they consume their own excrement, but they can also eat the poop of other dogs or eat cat feces right out of the litter box.
Dogs may also eat cow excrement and the feces of other animals, and even of humans on rare occasions. So your dog only eats its own feces? We think you should be grateful!
In this article, you are going to learn about some possible causes of dogs eating feces and ways to stop coprophagia in dogs.
#1 Find the cause of your dog’s coprophagia
To stop the undesired behavior, you should first identify why dogs may eat feces:
- Cleanliness and evidence disposal. Consuming their own feces is a common behavior of many animal species. Cleanliness around the nest ensures that other animals won’t detect it and limits bacterial and fungal growth. Dogs who were scolded for in-house accidents may have learned to dispose of the “evidence.”
- Increased appetite. Hunger can prompt dogs to eat literally everything that remotely resembles food, including feces.
- Play behavior of puppies. Puppies consume poop as part of normal development. It helps them explore the world around them and learn valuable lessons (including that feces taste like shit).
- Taste preference. Go figure! A dog may simply find the taste of excrement appealing. Say no more.
- Health disorders. Illnesses often cause weird eating habits. Metabolic, nutritional, and gastrointestinal disorders can cause coprophagia in dogs. You should have your dog checked out by a vet.
- Normal maternal behavior. For several reasons, mothers will eat the feces of their newborn puppies. This is completely normal and will stop on its own as the puppies grow.
#2 Rule out medical problems
While most dogs who eat poop are healthy, medical problems should be ruled out first. Applying behavior modification when there is a medical explanation can be harmful.
To start, check for yourself if your dog’s feces are normal in consistency, size, and frequency. Increased urination can also point to medical problems associated with coprophagia.
Also, check that your dog’s body condition is normal. Undernourished dogs may have an increased appetite for anything, including poop. Additionally, their feces may contain partially digested nutrients, making their poo palatable for many animals.
Your dog should be visually assessed by a veterinarian, and stool, urine, and blood samples must be taken to rule out any medical origins of coprophagia. If your dog eats the feces of another dog, they should both be examined.
If your doctor finds any health problems that could be causing coprophagia, you should follow your veterinarian’s directions.
Only if no medical problems or undernourishment is found should you proceed with the other methods described here.
#3 Is your dog constantly hungry?
A dog can eat feces for the same reason he eats anything else.
If your dog is underweight, he is likely not getting enough food; no wonder he is trying to get some extra calories from what’s available. Check with your veterinarian.
If your dog is well fed and has no medical problems, the most probable cause is that there isn’t much else to do. Learn more about increased appetite in dogs here.
You can try giving your dog his meals through playing exercises or use so-called “slow feeders” and food puzzles. You can also split the dog’s daily amount of food into several smaller meals.
As with any behavior problems stemming from lack of stimulation, additional walks, playing, or other forms of activity and owner attention are tremendously helpful.
#4 Keep your dog away from feces
In many cases, the best solution to the problem is to physically restrict your dog from feces (especially if your dog happens to like the taste).
NOTE: There are all kinds of food additives on the market that claim to make the taste of your dog’s poop unappealing. They are a waste of your money. Scientific studies show no more than a few percentage points’ success rates, and many customer reviews on online stores claim they are not effective. Solid reasoning: can you really make dog poop less palatable? How?
If your dog eats poop in the yard, your best shot is to keep it clean. Scoop up any feces you can find and throw it out in the trash. In most cases, all it takes is a walk through the yard one or two times a day with a shovel.
If your dog eats his own poop right after defecation, you must pay close attention, at least initially. Normally, dogs defecate two to three times a day, usually after eating or exercise. Wait for your dog to finish and immediately call him to you. If he responds, praise him, drive his attention elsewhere, and scoop up whatever you can.
If you are away during the day, keep your dog indoors (no more than 10 hours at a time) and your dog will do his business before you leave and upon your return only. If your dog is healthy, he’ll have no problems holding it.
During a walk, if your dog loves to enjoy the feces of strangers, it absolutely must be prohibited. Keep your dog on a leash, and whenever he shows interest in feces, say “No!” and direct him away. Don’t be aggressive, just control the situation. Praise your dog if he or she responds.
Walks also initiate bowel movements, and most dogs defecate during them. You only have to keep a pack of plastic bags with you–demand your dog to sit and clean up.
If you let your dog off the leash, putting on a muzzle is an option. Each time you see your dog showing an interest in feces, call him to you and do the sit command.
If your dog eats out of a litter box, you can either direct his attention to somewhere else every time he wanders in its vicinity or keep the box out of reach. You can put the box behind a baby gate or cat door (if the dog is a large breed) or place a hood on top of the box.
Keep in mind, though, that any measure you implement to keep the dog out of the litter box will also create an obstacle in your cat’s way. Make it balanced so your cat does not start to avoid the box altogether.
#5 Involve a professional dog trainer
Coprophagia is a complicated matter in dogs. First, you must make sure there is nothing wrong with the dog; there can be multiple causes, just as the circumstances in which it all happens can vary greatly.
Involvement of a skilled professional can easily stop your dog from eating poop, a behavior problem with which many pet owners struggle.