Dogs Who Eat Feces

Photo Credit: Coprophagy and coprophagia are interchangeable technical terms used to describe the consumption of feces (eating poop). Yes, I know that this is a rather unsavory topic, but if ever you’ve cared for a dog with this habit, you know that understanding it and figuring out how to deal with it is imperative.

Understanding the behavior

Why would dogs do such a thing? The most innocuous version of “normal coprophagy” occurs after a dog has a litter of puppies. As a normal part of caring for and cleaning her offspring, the female ingests the feces that they produce.

It is known that dogs acquired from pet stores are more likely to exhibit coprophagy. The fact that the vast majority of these animals are raised in puppy mills likely provides the explanation for this.

Starvation caused by a lack of food and malnutrition resulting from an underlying disease process can also cause coprophagia.

Diseases such as diabetes mellitus and Cushing’s disease cause affected dogs to experience massive hunger, and coprophagy may be one of the earliest symptoms.

If you and your dog live with a cat, you likely know that eating “Kitty Roca” from the litter box is a favorite canine pastime. The high fat content in cat food, therefore cat feces, renders it highly palatable to most dogs.

In addition to the causes mentioned above, coprophagy in dogs can be associated with the following:

  • Attention-seeking behavior
  • Boredom/lack of stimulation or enrichment in the environment
  • Learned behavior from other dogs in the household
  • Stress/anxiety

Is it really necessary to prevent coprophagia?

Beyond the “disgust factor” (who would want kisses from a dog with this habit), coprophagia can result in medical issues. Ingestion of another animal’s feces can cause intestinal parasites, gastrointestinal upset, transmission of infectious diseases, and exposure to medications that are eliminated in the feces.

Treatment Measures

The first step in putting an end to coprophagy is a veterinary visit. In addition to a thorough physical exam, blood testing and a stool sample examination to screen for intestinal parasites will be part of the evaluation.

For the dog who receives a clean bill of health, the veterinarian will likely discuss the following prevention:

  1. Behavior modification

Response substitution involves teaching the dog an alternative behavior such as sitting down or making eye contact when he discovers feces. The alternative behavior results in a high-value reward such as a yummy treat or a game of “tug”.

A dog who is bored is more likely to exhibit coprophagia. Enrichment of the environment and involvement in more activities such as obedience training, play, and walks may provide benefit.

Truth be told, it is behavior modification of the human(s) involved in the dog’s life that usually reaps the greatest reward. Increasing interaction time with the dog and eliminating opportunities for coprophagia to occur (keeping your dog on leash when walking, avoiding the dog park, being vigilant about picking up feces in the yard) is often associated with a positive outcome.

Success with any of these options is likely to be enhanced by working with a veterinarian or trainer who specializes in canine behavior.

  1. Taste aversion options

Specific products mixed in with the dog’s food are used to render a terrible taste to the feces. In order to be effective the product must be added to the food that every dog in the household eats. Over many years, I’ve found limited success with this approach. There are a number of taste aversion products on the market. Ask your veterinarian for his or her recommendations.

Have you had to manage this problem in one of your own dogs? If so, what did you try and what worked the best?

Wishing you and your four-legged family members good health and happiness throughout the holiday season,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

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14 Comments on “Dogs Who Eat Feces

  1. I have had good luck in the past with putting some Pineapple Juice on their food. I guess it tastes icky on the output, but they like it on their food.

  2. As a trainer and behavior counselor, I agree that this is indeed a vexing problem!

    Remember that poop isn’t poop to dogs. It’s food, albeit recycled.

    From a training standpoint, there are too many good approaches to list here and each situation is slightly different.

    We have a predator and scavenger species living in our house. My personal experience is that coprophagia *may* be a symptom of inadequate “legal” outlets for aerobic exercise, play, and natural hunting and scavenging behavior (seeking, olfactory work, chewing and dissecting.)

    I know this behavior can point to nutritional deficits, intestinal parasites, malabsorption and increased appetite. Sometimes it’s a compulsion alone I imagine.

  3. I think you missed an important cause/explanation of why dogs eat feces. ‘Way back when dogs traveled in packs, they would encounter environments and food that may have upset their digestive system. By eating other feces, they may have been trying to acquire intestinal bacteria from dogs who had adjusted to the environment/food causing their upset. Just a thought.

  4. My BC/Aussie X [now gone ahead] stopped eating poop when I lost my BSD with whom he had a not so friendly relationship with.
    I have a friend who taught her BC pup to find poop, sit by it and get rewarded with hose water play. A handy skill for a dog owner with multiple dogs LOL.

  5. I had the same problem with our beautiful Basset. She only ate her own poop and on occasion, ate deer poop which here we have plenty with a half dozen residents.

    I have tried several things with some success. However, I have had the best results with Distaste. I have not been able to get any of my Bassets to give up the deer poop. I do not want to keep them penned up because I feel that this is cruel. Currently, I have about 3,5 acres fenced for them to run in which they share (as the deer roam).

  6. I have a 14 year old Tibetan Terrier. He began eating poop about 2 years ago. I tried the aversion medication recommended by our vet but it did not work. We are in CO so picking up quickly during the winter is very difficult. We do make great effort to pick up feces on a daily basis. I read on the internet that pumpkin works for some dogs so I began adding it to his food and have had good results. He sniffs at the poo but then walks off whereas before he would go looking for poo or immediately eat it after defecating. Ugh! The article I read said that the dogs like the pumpkin on their food but when it comes out the other end it is repulsive to them. Just a thinking…he previously looked for and ate rabbit poop. Since we finished rabbit proofing the yard he doesn’t get that delicacy anymore but I wonder if that started the poop eating?

  7. I should have added that as soon as her food was being digested again (thanks to replacement enzymes) she stopped eating her feces. Yay!

  8. My now 2 yo corgi female has had this issue since I brought her home. She is well bred from a very good breeder who I have visited numerous times. She keeps everything clean and picked up. I must say Kinsey has gotten better about this issue as she gets older in both leaving cold poop alone and not following around my dachshund like he’s a soft serve machine. Cat poop she finds on my walks is my only big concern. Question: is there any correlation between dogs who are copraphagic and sensitive stomach issues? Thanks!

  9. My GSD started eating her feces when she was about 3 1/2. A few months later she lost 15 pounds over 2 weeks. Turns out she had exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (fortunately very easy to diagnose with a simple blood test). Her body (pancreas) was no longer producing the enumes she needed to digest food. She was starving even though she was getting twice the among of food she had been getting. EPI is easily managed with a few changes in routine- I got help from the website Epi4Dogs. She’s now 9 years old and a happy, healthy dog and we’re looking forward to a long life.

  10. Our yorkie is awful about eating his poop or our other yorkies poop. If I catch the poop in time, I sprinkle Cayene pepper on it. We keep it cleaned up often but he is a fast out the door pooper. The Cayene does work. Not chili powder…I tried that!

  11. Been experiencing this with my 8 y.o. English Setter. He is a rescue who we’ve had for 4 years. At first I attributed it to having been an outdoor kenneled dog prior to us and boredom. However, after improving all of that for him, it still continues Interestingly he does not consume our other dog’s feces, just his own and what he can find on off lead woods walks. We are vigilant at home and oddly he seems more likely to eat it at home when he eliminates after dinner. I have worked on teaching the “off” cue with some success but taste deterrents in the food have not helped. So, we do the best we can and keep looking for a solution.

  12. I know of people who have had good results from putting 2-4 TBS of canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix!) on their dogs’ food.

    I’ve had three Cavalier bitches over the years, and they’ve all been poop eaters when the temperature turns VERY cold. They were all bred, so I assume that is where the taste was acquired, and the very old weather makes me think that this is a reversion to the days of wild dogs taking nutrition where they could find it in severe weather when hunting might be scarce.

    My girl, Shimmer, is terrible about this during severe cold spells in the winter. She literally stalks her older brother, just waiting for the poop to hit the ground, and then is on it instantly. As if this is not disgusting enough as it is, she invariably gets the fresh poop caught in her luxurious ears, so a trip to the sink to wash ears is immediately necessary. Then I stick her in her crate for them to dry and to let her know just how unhappy I am with her. She could care less…

    My back yard is down a full flight of concrete steps to a brick terrace, and then out to the garden. At my age, going down those steps and across that terrace with snow/ice just isn’t going to happen. So, I stand at the kitchen door, yelling at her like a fish wife, while she totally ignores me. A blast of the canned air horn sometimes gets her attention.

    I just do an ear check when she comes back inside, avoid her kisses, and pray for a thaw!

  13. I have the same issue with my almost 3 yr. old berner! He has been obsessed since I brought him home at 8 weeks. I have had puppies in the past that eat poop but have been fairly easy to break the habit since I am with them and just distract with treats while housebreaking. I thought we had succeeded then he returned to it with a vengeance, not just his but my other dog’s, and any other that he finds on our walks in the woods.We have taught him the “leave it” command which works for all other things but not poop unless you are right beside him and yell it!! I have to go out and follow them around the yard ready to scoop it or 9 tmes out of 10 he will grab it. Not fun in the winter! Have tried the products to add to the food,no help at all.

  14. This has been a most vexing issue with my 5 year old Berner – it’s been lifelong for her – and is almost what I would consider an OCD type behavior. She literally stalks my older dog the minute she gets up to go out. It is the likely cause of her liver enzyme elevation several years ago and has required ongoing behavior modification to keep her from eating her own and my older dog’s poop. I resorted to installing a camera focusing on the deck where the dogs go out through a dog door – at least they are fairly regular in their timing – but it has taken real persistence to monitor both of them and be “johnny on the spot” as soon as one goes out. I have also used treats as a reward and she has responded to them quite well for her own poop but still cannot be trusted not to eat Holly’s. It is even more of a concern this past year since Holly underwent chemotherapy for Lymphoma. My other dogs have dabbled in this for much shorter periods of time and seemed to outgrow it – for Charlotte it seems to be a life-time occupation.