Dogs are known to eat all kinds of things, ranging from truly bizarre to downright disgusting. Coprophagia is one condition that tends toward the latter—this is the medical term used to describe the ingestion of feces, and of all the complaints owners have about their pets, this one usually takes the cake.

Why do dogs eat feces?

It’s very alarming for us to see our beloved four-legged children willingly (in fact, eagerly!) ingesting feces. I mean, for goodness sake, we let them kiss us on the mouth! Just thinking of your dog approaching you for a kiss after such a tasty snack is enough to send us running for our toothbrushes. But, as alarming as it may be, coprophagia is actually a normal behavior.

Coprophagia occurs mainly in dogs. Cats can be coprophagic, but it’s very rare—perhaps this is due to their more discriminating palates. Some dogs, on the other hand, just seem to relish feces. Whether it’s their own feces, another dog’s feces, a snack from the litter box or a stranger’s feces encountered on a walk, some dogs just love eating poop.

What causes coprophagia?

Despite popular belief, coprophagia is not due to nutritional deficiencies in most (if not all) cases. Neither is it due to intestinal parasites. In most cases, there seems to be no cause for coprophagia other than a particular dog enjoying the way feces tastes!

The condition is common in puppies, but most will outgrow this less-than-desirable behavior. Nursing moms stimulate newborns to defecate and urinate by licking their anal and genital openings, ingesting the feces and urine that are produced. Though it may seem like a strange habit to us, this completely natural instinct keeps their den clean and dry.

As pet owners, there are several “normal” behaviors that pets have which we find undesirable. Take cats, for instance. Spraying and scratching to mark their territory and condition their claws is completely natural for them. Yet, when they live in our house, this natural behavior is unacceptable. In the same way, owners repeatedly ask veterinarians what to do about this natural behavior in their feces-eating dog. And I get it—it grosses me out, too!

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How to stop a dog from eating feces

Unfortunately, curbing a dog’s desire for cat box crunchies and other delectable droppings is easier said than done:

  • If the litter box is your dog’s buffet, try switching to a covered box to deter your dog from snacking, and be sure to clean the litter box once a day or more.
  • If your dog is eating his own feces, you can try accompanying him on potty breaks to discourage coprophagia. Teaching the command “leave it” is an invaluable tool for this problem, as it allows you time to get to his steaming pile before it’s consumed.
  • Of course, you’ll want to keep the yard feces-free by picking up waste daily and not leaving your dog temptations for tomorrow.

For some dogs, the waiting is the hardest part. These pets will actually consume feces straight from the source by being at the ready when their sibling squats to do their business. Particularly driven dogs will even curl themselves into a pretzel to eat their own feces as it is produced.

These cases are particularly challenging to solve because there is little time to get between your pet and his prized snack. Making the feces taste bad is your best bet here. Several products are marketed for this problem—you sprinkle the product on the food, and while it doesn’t alter the palatability of the food, it apparently makes the feces taste terrible. You’ll need to add this to the food of any pet whose feces is particularly pleasing to your pet’s palate.

Though ingesting feces is a troubling behavior to be sure, you can at least rest easy that it’s not an abnormal behavior and generally doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with your dog. Until you can break him of his habit, though, you should probably keep his fragrant kisses far from your face!

May 24, 2016

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