There are few things that your dog can do that are more off putting than chowing down on either his own stool or that of another dog. It’s not only disgusting for most owners, but for some it might even cause a twinge of guilt as they ask themselves “Why in the world does he do that? I feed him this really expensive food!” This gross behaviour is known as Coprophagia.
There are a number of reasons why dogs do this, and it’s also important to realize that they don’t have the same hang-ups that we do when it comes to what goes in their mouth. For your dog, the smellier and grosser it is, is often better! One of the reasons dogs usually develop vomiting and diarrhea is from dietary indiscretion and the consumption of table scraps, garbage, or spoiled food. So, we know they have few inhibitions when it comes to eating anything and everything.
In most cases the consequences of a dog eating its own stool is very minor; in fact, often there are no consequences at all. The bacteria and any parasites were already present, so it’s life as usual. When it comes to eating another dog’s stool, or that of another animal, then the playing field changes. A common way for dogs to get internal parasites is through ingestion and obviously eating fecal matter is a pretty direct route. It is also a means the possibility to contract some nasty bacteria that could raise havoc with the resident flora and fauna of the intestinal track or viruses that could attack the entire body system.
When we consider that, for the first 3-4 weeks of infancy, it is normal behaviour for canine mothers to lick their puppies’ anal region to stimulate a bowel movement and then proceed to eat it to keep the “den” clean, it is not surprising that puppies will ‘doggie see, doggie do’. However, in most cases, this behaviour usually disappears.
As canine adults, eating another dog’s stool is usually for territorial behavioural reasons. Domestic dogs and their wild counterparts deposit stool strategically to mark their territory. If a competitor for the same turf comes along and eats it, then the result is “unmarked” turf for the taking. Even though as owners we strive to stoop and scoop, not all owners are as responsible and so these markers can readily be found and eaten. The vast majority of dogs that do indulge themselves, do so on other dogs’ stools vs. their own.
Coprophagia is most common in multi-dog households and female dogs are more inclined to adopt the behaviour. The fresher the stool the better in most cases, but winter ‘poopsicles’ are often on the menu, as well. If your dog has a medical condition that negatively affects his ability to properly absorb the nutrients in the food he is fed (i.e. intestinal parasites, or chronic diarrhea), or the food itself is of questionable quality or not easily absorbed, then there is an increased likelihood of coprophagia. If your dog is on certain drugs or has an increased appetite due to a medical condition, this too may cause this behaviour. As well as being stressed or anxious. Attention seeking can also be a factor - sometimes there are a few ways that get an owner’s attention than by tasting some other dog’s poop.
So, what does a pet owner do? In the case of your dog eating its own stool, make sure it’s being fed a good quality, highly digestible diet. Assess the overall environment to remove any stressors and have your veterinarian do a check over for any underlying medical conditions and eliminate the possibility of intestinal parasites. Clean up any bowel movements immediately upon delivery – out of sight, out of mind. Another option is to call your dog over for a treat every time he has a bowel movement and while he is eating that, clean up the stool. He will quickly learn to come for the treat and avoid the poop.
When the problem is primarily another dog’s stool, the use of a muzzle may be necessary initially. However, keeping your dog on a lead and ensuring that he readily responds to the basic commands of ‘leave it, come, and sit’, when off lead, will avoid him wandering off and discovering any potential poops for the taking.
Remember, every time a dog eats stool, it reinforces the behaviour. However, in most cases, being very diligent will allow the behaviour to disappear quite quickly. So, if your dog has this behavioural problem, be patient and consistent.