Unthinkable to humans, coprophagia (that’s eating poop if you don’t speak vet!) is actually more common in dogs than most people realise. For some dogs it’s their own poop that is too tempting to turn down, for others it’s the poop of another dog, cat or different animal altogether (horse, rabbit, possum… the list goes on) that floats their boat.
Why do they do it?
There are a variety of reasons dogs can choose to eat poop:
- Medical: such as a problem with their digestion, or an issue making them have an increased appetite.
- Poor diet: dogs fed a diet lacking in certain nutrients or fibre may look to get their nutrition elsewhere.
- Exploration: lacking prehensile fingers/thumbs, puppies have to explore their environment with their mouths! Popping poop in their mouth is likely part of this normal exploration.
- Cleanliness: bitches will eat their puppies poop to keep the den clean. There may be a subset of dogs who eat poop as a behaviour learned from mum.
- ‘To destroy the evidence’: if puppies have been punished for pooping before (e.g. indoors) they may learn to eat it so as to avoid the consequences, or the behaviour encouraged after their faces have been rubbed in it after an accident in the house.
- Unintended rewards: acting horrified, or chasing your puppy/dog may actually reward it and make the whole thing fun. Let’s do that again!
- Scavenging: Maybe that possum poo is more delicious than we realise?!
So what should you do?
As always, especially if the problem has just started in an adult dog, it is worth having your pet examined by your veterinarian to ensure there is nothing physically wrong. They will discuss your pet’s diet to identify any nutrient deficiencies and confirm there is enough fibre present. Blood, stool and urine sampling may also be performed.
Once medical and diet issues have been ruled out we can assume the issue is a behavioural one.
Step one is to prevent free access to poop! Make sure your garden is spotlessly a poo free zone and keep an eye on them in the park. For the first few weeks keeping them on a lead in the park is likely to set you up for success.
Next, begin asking your dog to come to you and sit after they have done their business for a special food treat. You could try keeping a diary or your pet’s poop habits – as many dogs are creatures of habit. This will prevent you having to go out with them to the garden every time they go!
You could also try putting something horrible tasting on the poo (such as hot sauce, or one of the commercially available products…) However these have notoriously poor success rates. After all the dog is already eating poo…. How much worse can it get?!!!
Finally make sure your pet’s behavioural needs are being met in other ways. What about trying a puzzle feeder or a Kong? Make sure they are getting enough play and walk time and you could try doing some positive reinforcement training or some nose work to add some more entertainment to their lives.
If you have any questions about a poop eating pooch, or any other behaviour questions, please feel free to contact Dr Julie at Life on Four Legs.