Yes they do, and no, it’s not as unusual as you might think. Poop, stool, feces – it’s like fast food for your dog. It even has a name – coprophagia. Possible reasons for this could be behavioral or medical. Is there something missing from your best friends diet that they are trying to get or just because they are bored or want your attention (even if it is bad attention)? It could be a combination of things. But Why? Here are some answers
First let’s try some medical reasons you might want to discuss with your vet.
– Enzymes. When wild dogs eat their prey they would have eaten the gut enzymes along with the rest of the meat. Kibble or processed food diets don’t have those so you dog may not be absorbing the same amount of nutrients they need and may try to seek them out through eating already digested food.
– Parasites. Worms or other parasites can use up some nutrients your dog needs as well, so of course they will try to find them the easiest place they can.
– Medical Conditions. Diabetes, steroids and thyroid issues can make dogs hungrier than normal and, again, they may seek out that additional nutrition out in the easiest place possible.
– Bad Digestion. Holistic veterinarian Roger DeHaan, DVM has also though that a hydrochloric acid deficiency might cause issues as well. Sometimes this can happen with age or a poor diet.
In all these examples your dog is seeking nutrients that they are not getting for some reason. Whether it’s because of Malabsorption or underfeeding, these can lead your dog to not only eating stool, but possibly other even less digestible things, like plastics or treated materials like shoe leather.
Then there are the behavioral reasons. If your vet can’t find a medical reason you may want to consider one of these:
– Cleanliness. Female dogs naturally try to keep their sleeping/birthing area clean by eating their puppies stool and in turn puppies also might try some as part of the normal exploration of the world. This ‘cleaning’ can become habitual and may lead to eating all kinds of feces.
– Boredom. Dogs are natural scavengers and feces is like a hidden treat to them – easy to chew and taste different then their normal fare. It’s like a hidden treat, engaging them in a hunting exercise with a prize at the end.
– Attention. Just like small children will sometimes do things their parents specifically tell them not to because it will get them their parents full attention, your dog isn’t much different. Eating stool will get you to touch them as you try to get the nastiness out of their mouth, it also lets them get a little treat in the bargain.
– Habit. Some dogs who were from puppy mills, or who were raised in less than ideal conditions where they were kept in unclean areas or crated for a long period of time may have tried to ‘clean up’ and don’t understand that it is no longer necessary when they are in a better situation. Also if they saw other dogs do this when they were young they may have picked it up as normal and won’t understand why you are so horrified.
– Punishment. There is some argument that if a dog is traumatized by being punished during potty training, they may get the idea that it’s not just pooping in the house that is bad, but that poop itself is bad, and the dog is trying to get rid of it before their human friend gets mad again.
Some things to keep in mind when trying to stop your dog from eating feces:
Try to keep your dog’s areas clean of any kind of stool. Not giving them opportunity can be a huge step toward kicking the habit if it’s a behavioral issue. If you don’t have an enclosed cat box, you may have to clean it more often.
Keep your dog active. Even the most mellow or well fed dog can get bored or hungry and see what they can do to get your attention. Fetch or a pull game or going for a jog around the block might be just what the doctor ordered for your dog as well as you. To your dog you are the leader of the pack and if they can’t get what they need from you – it may lead to all kinds of unwanted behaviors.
Apple cider vinegar (1 tsp/25lbs of food is suggested) for hydrochloric acid deficiency can help and check with your vet to see if they have any suggestions for probiotics and other enzymes that your dog may need. Also don’t forget to check your pets stool for worms or other possible parasites as well as keep track if there are very specific things your dog chews inappropriately. If your dog ONLY goes after one pair of leather shoes or only the cat’s poo – maybe the habit can be broken by adding certain kinds of food to their diet.
According to a University of California, Davis study:
• 16 percent of dogs eat stools frequently
• Intact males are less likely to indulge than ‘fixed’ dogs
• Greedy eaters are more likely to seek feces snacks and are usually sharing a home with other dogs
• 40 % of Border Collies and Shelties eat poo but no Poodles were reported to do this
• 90 % of feces eaten were within two days old
The study also concluded that punishment was not an effective deterrent; not shock collars or even reward based reinforcement like clicker training. Healthypets.com suggests feeding your dog high grade proteins; the unprocessed type found in human-grade food. Yes, that’s right, feeding your dog table scraps is not always a bad thing, as long as they contain the right kinds of foods and feeding is only done at the end of the human eating times.
To your dog, poo is not disgusting or dirty, it’s just another form of nutrition or snack. The human disgust for it will not be passed down to your dog no matter how much you yell at them or chase them around trying to take it away and your reaction may be actually be doing the opposite of what you want. If you feel your furry friend’s attraction goes above and beyond normal behavioral issues, don’t forget to look for parasites and talk to your vet about possible food additives or blood tests to check for medical problems. But, as difficult as this may sound, curtailing your dog’s access to their favorite treat is the only sure fire way to make sure your pet isn’t tempted. So grab your scooper and understand that it may take a little more effort but as we all know – it’s so worth it.
Here is another comprehensive article by Kim Mayes & Jenn, This talks about The Benefits of Platform Training.
Author- Kristine Remick