Dogs are stinkin' cute, but sometimes they just plain stink... They often love rolling in dead things, lick themselves, and sniff each other's butts. Of all the disgusting things our little darling doggies do, eating feces tops the list for the gross-out factor. And now that adorable stool-snacking dog wants to give you a big sloppy kiss!? I don't think so!
It's a dirty secret that we don't relish talking about, but coprophagia (eating poop) is a thing, and sometimes dogs "do the doo" with delight, much to our dismay.
In fact, coprophagia can become so problematic that dogs will sometimes be surrendered or rehomed because of it (but this reason is seldom reported.) Occasionally, dogs have even been put down because of it.
As disgusting as this behavior seems to us humans, eating feces is a very common practice among animals, including dogs and particularly puppies.
There are several reasons why animals eat poop. Some animals, especially scavengers (which dogs are) find dung to be an acceptable meal, especially when food is scarce.
Some animals eat stool because their diets contain substances that are difficult to digest. A second round through the digestive tract allows the animal to extract more of the necessary nutrients.
Many baby animals are fed through regurgitation from their parents. Some baby animals are given regurgitated poop to eat by their mothers which helps seed their intestines with the bacteria required to digest nutrients.
Although that sounds disgusting, a similar practice is prescribed for humans that have had their intestinal flora killed off by antibiotics and have secondary infections such as Clostridium difficile colitis. When this happens, a person must have their digestive tract repaired (reseeded with healthy bacteria) by introducing the stool of a healthy individual via feeding tube, capsules, or other means.
The eating of stool is a natural probiotic and actually, some veterinary probiotic products contain "ingesta" which is a euphemistic term for "intestinal contents." But ingesta really just means poop.
Does this mean we should let our dogs eat poop as much as they want, and perhaps even try a tidbit for ourselves? That would be a big "NO thank you."
If your dog or puppy is eating poop, it could be a sign of a medical problem or a dietary deficiency. Your dog may have parasites that need to be dealt with, and eating feces may also give them parasites. Discuss the issue with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying conditions.
There are no baby wipes and diapers in the wild. Canine and feline mothers stimulate their young's defecation reflex by licking the genitals. In fact, neonatal puppies and kittens cannot relieve themselves on their own without the help of their mothers.
Even after puppies learn to defecate on their own, mothers will continue to eat the stools of their young to keep the nest clean and to keep the scent of their den hidden from predators. Puppies learn to associate the scent of stools with their mothers and will join in with the nest cleaning activity. Poop eating can become comfort food for puppies.
Most puppies outgrow this behavior, especially when given better alternatives. Sometimes the smallest in the litter rely on stools as an additional source of food, and they can be the hardest to break of the habit.
For a new puppy or rescue going through housetraining, they may realize that you are upset by their poop and urine when they defecate in inappropriate areas. If they don't learn where the acceptable potty spot is in a hurry, they may eat their stool or lick up their urine to hide what they perceive gets them in trouble. If they are caught doing this behavior, many owners freak out even more. Then you have a vicious cycle.
It's very important not to use harsh housebreaking methods. Never physically punish a dog for accidents. Try to muster enthusiasm for their bodily functions, especially when elimination is done in the correct place. Quickly clean up solid waste to keep your pet from eating it. You don't want your puppy's natural behavior to become a habit.
Eating poop is simply a behavior. If you can distance yourself from the "gross factor" and view it as a behavior that can be corrected like any other unwanted behavior, you are on the right track.
Teach your puppy or dog the "leave it" command, as well as the "come" command. These two directives will let your dog know what you want them to do (and not do.) Offer your dog a tasty treat as soon as they defecate so they learn to come to you rather than look around for other readily-available options.
Keeping your dog on a leash while on walks will help you keep your dog from eating messes that others neglected to pick up. Use your command words to reinforce the message you're giving with the confines of the leash.
As mentioned earlier, dogs that eat poop may be trying to fix a dietary deficiency or they may have a metabolic condition that is causing them to look for less-appetizing food options. Consult your veterinarian for advice and for possible deworming.
Your veterinarian may suggest a vitamin, enzyme or probiotic supplement to make up for any deficiencies or to enhance your dog's ability to digest and synthesize certain nutrients. Some of my more experienced friends who have dealt with this issue with their dogs have suggested adding crushed pineapple or cooked carrots to the food or switching to a different diet altogether.
There are also over-the-counter supplements that can be given to make poop taste terrible. These often contain yucca, MSG, or strong spices to give your dog an aversion to poop. Of course, these taste aversion products must be given to the dog whose stool is being eaten. This means that every dog in the family must be treated if your offender is indiscriminate. Some products are actually designed to be sprayed on the poop to teach your dog that it is disgusting. At that point, it seems simple just just to clean it up, though.
Good Guts for Mutts Dog Treat - Cheeseburger Deluxe (Now doesn't that sound better than doggie dung?)
Coprophagia is more common in puppies, in anxious dogs, in bored dogs, and in dogs that have been in confinement. Dogs from stressful shelter situations are more prone to eating stools. Dogs in multiple-dog homes are also more likely to eat poop.
Coprophagia can also become a habit if left untreated. It can sometimes take months to eliminate poop eating in your dog, puppy, or dog pack, but it's important to do so.
Though it's a natural behavior, coprophagia can be hazardous to your health and expose you and your family members to nasty diseases.
With patience, diligence, and a lot of love, you and your dog can get through this nasty habit together.
As we know, "poop happens," but unconditional love from a furry best friend is a rare and wonderful gift.
Sometimes we have to get through some rough patches to enjoy a deeper and more fulfilling relationship.
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