Coprophagia in Dogs: What Is Coprophagia and How Do You Treat it?
Many pet owners have looked on with disgust as their beloved dogs eat their own feces. While the behavior is gross, it is common.
The technical term for this behavior is “coprophagia”. It literally means to eat feces. When dogs engage in this activity, it is often the result of either a behavioral or medical issue.
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Besides eating their own poop, dogs may also eat the feces of rabbits, squirrels, birds, and other wild animals. These feces present the greatest health risk.
The background of Coprophagia in dogs.
eating feces from wild animals increases the threat of parasites and infectious diseases. Eating any feces may also cause your dog to vomit or experience gastrointestinal distress.
If you want your dog to stop eating feces, you should learn more about this behavior, including the reasons why your dog eats poop and how to resolve the issue.
What Is Coprophagia In Dogs
coprophagia refers to the consumption of feces. It is a term that can be used when an animal or human eats feces. While coprophagia in humans may be a sign of mental illness, coprophagia in dogs is often connected to a medical or behavioral issue.
When you see your dog eating poop, you first want to know how to stop it. However, you also need to explore the reason why your dog is eating poop and whether this behavior is harmful.
What Causes Coprophagia in Dogs?
Any time dogs eat their own poop, a behavioral problem is almost always to blame. However, dogs may also eat their feces when they do not get enough nutrition. There are also some situations where it is normal for a dog to eat poop.
For example, mommy dogs sometimes lick the rear ends of their puppies to get them to poop. The female dog also consumes the poop to keep the nesting area clean. However, this behavior typically stops when the puppies are about three weeks old.
Puppies may eat their own feces or the feces of other dogs in their kennel. This behavior is a normal part of the puppy exploring its environment and tasting different things. By four to six months, they should outgrow this behavior. If they continue to eat poop, you may need to explore remedies for getting your dogs to stop.
When dogs continue eating poop, it is often a behavioral issue. Some of the potential causes include:
- The dog feels stress and anxiety.
- The poop tastes good.
- The dog wants attention.
- The dog is hiding the poop.
- The dog wants to clean the yard.
Some dogs like the taste of their own poop or the poop of other animals. Poop that still contains undigested food is particularly appealing to dogs. They also tend to like cat feces, which has a distinct flavor. The high protein content of cat food gives cat feces a taste that dogs may enjoy.
Dogs may also start eating poop when they need attention or when they are bored. The easiest way to deal with this issue is to give your dog more stimulation. Going for more walks or spending more time playing your dog may get it to stop eating poop.
Is Coprophagia in dogs strange?
Your dog may eat the poop to attempt hiding it. For example, if your dog defecates in the wrong area, it may eat the poop to keep you from discovering the mistake. This behavior is more common indoors.
If your dog tends to eat poop in your backyard, you may need to clean up the poop. Dogs sometimes eat feces to clean up their outdoor environment. Besides their own poop, they may eat poop that they find in the yard that was left by other animals, such as squirrels or birds.
Dogs also sometimes pick up this behavior from other dogs. When a dog sees another dog eating any food, the dog will typically want to check it out. Dogs are curious and jealous. They do not want to miss out on any special treats that another dog may have found.
These are not the only reasons why a dog may eat poop. In fact, you may never discover the real reasons behind your dog’s behavior. In some cases, dogs simply eat poop and the only way to solve the problem is to prevent access to the poop.
Signs That Your Dog Is Eating Feces and has Coprophagia in Dogs
Seeing your dog eating poop is not a pleasant sight. However, it is also possible for your dog to eat poop when you are not looking, especially if you allow your dog to spend time out in the yard unsupervised.
Besides seeing your dog eat feces, there are signs of coprophagia in dogs, including:
- Bad breath
- Weight loss
- Excessive thirst
Several of these signs may be directly related to the eating of feces. For example, your dog may have bad breath from eating the poop or you may notice pieces of poop matted to the hair around the muzzle.
If a dog is suffering from a lack of nutrition due to a medical problem, it may experience some of these symptoms and start eating poop to gain more nutrients. It is also possible for these symptoms to occur due to a medical issue contracted through the feces.
Coprophagia in Dogs
When a dog eats feces from other animals, there is a risk of contracting a parasite or a disease. These issues may also cause vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, weight loss, and excessive thirst.
If you have not seen your dog eat poop but notice several of these symptoms, consider scheduling an appointment with your veterinarian. He or she can check for parasites and help diagnose the reason for your dog’s change in behavior.
You should also keep a closer eye on your dog when taking your dog for a walk or allowing your dog to roam around the backyard. If you spot some poop, pick it up immediately.
Can a Dog Get Sick from Eating Poop?
In most cases, your dog should not get sick from eating its own poop. While it may vomit some of the feces, it is unlikely to develop any medical issues or contract any diseases from eating its own feces.
The biggest risk comes from eating feces from other animals. The feces may contain substances from the animal’s diet that may not sit well in your dog’s stomach. There are many fruits that dogs have difficulty digesting. If these foods were present in the feces, eating the feces may cause diarrhea or vomiting.
The feces may also contain parasites or disease. It is possible for a dog to contract intestinal parasites such as worms and protozoa.
These parasites live in the gastrointestinal tract of the dog where they leach nutrients. Parasites can cause malnutrition, vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss, which are also symptoms that your dog is eating feces. The malnutrition may even cause your dog to eat more poop.
The parasites are difficult to detect. While they live inside your dog, they pass microscopic eggs that pass in your dog’s stool. Most of these eggs are too small to see with the naked eye. However, you may detect tapeworms or roundworms.
These worms resemble small grains of rice in your dog’s stool. If you are worried about your dog eating poop and contracting a parasite, you should clean up the poop after each defecation and inspect it for signs of worms. Just make sure that you wear gloves or use a plastic bag and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
How to Stop Your Dog from Eating Feces.
Troubleshooting the problem requires you to rule out potential causes of the bad habit and find ways to discourage feces-eating. Follow these steps to deal with coprophagia:
- Rule out medical issues.
- Feed your dog nutritious meals.
- Provide stimulation throughout the day.
- Teach your dog to drop feces on command.
- Remove the temptation to eat poop.
- Add natural ingredients or supplements to the dog’s food.
These steps provide a range of solutions to stopping the problem. You first need to determine if the problem is medical or behavioral.
If the cause is medical, you and your vet can treat the issue. If the problem is behavioral, you can use various techniques to correct the behavior.
Medical Issue vs. Behavioral Issue
To put a stop to this habit, you should first rule out medical issues as the cause of the problem. Schedule a visit to your veterinarian for a general checkup.
Veterinarians believe that a lack of nutrition is one potential cause of coprophagia in dogs. There are several medical issues that may keep your dog from getting the nutrition that it needs from its food.
For example, if your dog has worms or malabsorption, your dog may seek additional food sources, including its own poop. Here are the most common medical reasons that may cause your dog to eat poop:
- Intestinal parasites
- Enzyme deficiencies
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Diabetes and thyroid issues
- Poor diet
As mentioned, intestinal parasites can cause malnutrition, which may cause your dog to eat poop in search of nutrition. Your vet can typically detect the presence of parasites using various tests.
The most common treatments for parasites include various over-the-counter and prescription medications and antibiotics. These treatments typically kill the parasites or cause them to pass with your dog’s stool.
Digestive enzyme deficiencies may cause your dog to seek additional nutrients. Its feces may contain the nutrients that it requires.
Domesticated dogs do not always get the digestive enzymes that their bodies require. Without these enzymes, your dog may have difficulty absorbing nutrients. Their stools contain partially undigested food and lots of nutrients, as their body is not properly absorbing the food.
A lack of digestive enzymes is common as the hard dog food sold in stores does not contain the same digestive enzymes that are found in natural foods. Providing your dog with a balanced diet containing the right amounts of enzymes may help correct the issue.
Pancreatic insufficiency may also result in fewer digestive enzymes. This condition causes your dog to create fewer digestive enzymes, which are created in the pancreas. Dogs suffering from severe pancreatic insufficiency may slowly starve and search for nutrition from any available source, including feces.
Besides enzyme deficiencies, dogs may suffer from other deficiencies that limit the absorption of nutrients. For example, hydrochloric acid deficiencies limit the breakdown of protein during the digestive process. Dogs that suffer from this deficiency are also known to eat undigestable items such as plastic.
Malabsorption is a symptom that your dog may experience due to other medical conditions. Any medical issue that impacts the digestive process may make it more difficult for your dog to break down and absorb nutrients in its food.
There are several conditions that may cause your dog to have an increased appetite. The increased appetite may lead your dog to search for additional food, such as feces. The two most common issues include diabetes and thyroid issues.
Other Medical Issues
Besides various medical conditions, your dog may not get the nutrition that it needs due to a poor diet. While some dogs remain perfectly healthy eating the dry bagged food available at any grocery store, some dogs have trouble digesting this food. Some brands also contain fewer nutrients and enzymes.
Changing your dog’s diet may help treat the feces-eating habit of whether the diet was the original cause of the problem or not. For example, if your dog suffers from a digestive enzyme deficiency or malabsorption, changing the diet may help your dog get the nutrients that it needs.
To determine if any of these medical conditions are causing your dog to eat feces for nutrition, you should visit your veterinarian. In most cases, your vet will want a stool sample. Examining the stool helps detect parasites and allows the vet to determine whether your dog is suffering from nutrient absorption issues.
If your vet diagnoses your dog with one of these conditions, follow his or her recommendations. By treating the condition, you may put an end to the feces eating.
However, it is also possible for your dog to continue eating feces. While eating poop to obtain nutrition, your dog may develop a taste for the poop. Searching for and eating poop may also become a habit that is hard to break. Basically, feces eating can start as a medical issue and become a behavioral issue.
Feed Your Dog Nutritious Meals.
As mentioned, some veterinarians believe that a lack of nutrition may cause coprophagia in dogs. However, if your dog is not suffering from a medical condition, the lack of nutrition may come from a poor diet or underfeeding.
You can ensure that your dog is eating nutritious meals to rule out this possibility. Feed your dog at least three times per day, following the recommended serving size for the breed, size, and age.
Some dogs are light eaters and may nibble at the food throughout the day. For these light eaters, you may leave dog food in a bowl throughout the day, checking it occasionally to ensure that it is not empty.
You can also consider switching your dog’s food. Remember that providing a healthier option or more natural foods may help give your dog more nutrients and enzymes.
Provide Stimulation throughout the Day.
A lack of stimulation is a common cause of a variety of behavioral issues in dogs. When dogs get bored, they act out in various ways. Some dogs may become nervous or agitated while others may bark frequently or eat their own feces.
Providing stimulation throughout the day may help eliminate bad behavior, including eating poop. Try taking your dog for walks at various points during the day. The walks provide more stimulation and attention, which may address several of the behavioral reasons for eating poop.
Taking your dog for a walk also makes it easier to control its behavior. If it stops to sniff poop, you can easily pull it away before it gets a chance to eat it.
If you cannot take your dog for frequent walks, spend more time playing. Increasing the amount of one-on-one time that you have with your dog may keep it from getting bored, anxious, or stressed. These are all issues that may cause your dog to eat poop.
Most breeds of dogs should receive 15 to 20 minutes of exercise or stimulation several times per day. 15 to 20 minutes is the typical amount of time that it takes to tire a dog out. A tired dog is less likely to eat poop.
Teach Your Dog to Drop Feces on Command.
If you do catch your dog attempting to eat poop, you can command the dog to drop it. Teaching your dog to understand the “drop it” or “leave it” command is an essential part of basic dog training. Besides dropping feces, you may need your dog to drop a toy or let go of a person or animal.
There are several methods for practicing this command. One of the easiest techniques requires you to sit in a room without distractions while holding a treat in your hand.
Show the treat to your dog and then close your hand. Your dog will likely start licking or pawing at your hand to reach the treat. When your dog begins licking or pawing, say, “leave it”.
When your dog stops trying to reach the treat, wait for it to back up and look at you. Say “yes” or “good” and open your hand to give your dog the treat.
You may need to repeat this process several times per day for several weeks, depending on the breed. Some breeds can learn a new trick or command within days while others may take a month to pick up a new command.
When you repeat these steps, your dog should learn not to pick things up without your permission and to drop things when you say, “leave it”.
When your dog gets good at responding to your command, you can move the training outdoors. There are more distractions outdoors, which provides more challenges and allows you to reinforce your training.
The next time that you catch your dog eating poop, you can command it to leave it and it should obey.
Remove the Temptation Outdoors.
You should also ensure that there is no poop for your dog to eat. If you let your dog go to the bathroom in your yard, check for poop after each trip outside. Keep the poop picked up to eliminate the problem.
If your dog eats poop frequently, you may need to stand outside and wait for it to defecate. Use a scooper, shovel, or plastic bag to quickly dispose of the fresh poop before your dog has a chance to eat it. You should also ensure that you properly get rid of the waste to keep your dog from digging it out of the trash when you are not looking.
Besides your dog’s poop, your yard may contain poop from other animals. Scan the yard for poop from squirrels, rabbits, and cats. If you have bushes, gardens, or overgrown weeds, some of these animals may use the area for scavenging for food and defecating.
When taking your dog for a walk, keep an eye out for poop. After your dog defecates, pick up the feces immediately. If you spot poop from other animals, simply keep walking or command your dog to leave it alone.
Your home may also present a chance for your dog to eat poop. If you have cats, regularly clean the litter box. You should also ensure that you have enough litter boxes for your cats. The typical recommendation requires you to use one litter box per cat plus one extra litter box.
Some cats are extremely finicky about the litter box. If there is a single poop inside, they may defecate outside of the litter box.
You should place the litter boxes in areas where your dog cannot reach them. Remember that cats can reach areas that dogs cannot as they are much more agile and capable of jumping on counters and tall furniture. You can block the litter box from your dog while still allowing your cats to easily reach it.
Add Ingredients to the Dog Food.
When the other methods fail, you can add ingredients to the dog food to change the consistency, smell, or taste of the poop. Adding a small amount of pineapple or other natural ingredients to the dog food may make the poop less appealing to your dog.
Add several tablespoons of canned pumpkin or pineapple in your dog’s food with each meal. Your dog may enjoy the taste of the pumpkin or pineapple. However, after passing the digestive system, the resulting poop should taste disgusting to your dog.
You may also try adding a meat tenderizer in your dog’s food. Add a small amount to each meal. The meat tenderizer drastically changes the taste of the feces and should deter any dog or animal from wanting to eat it.
There are also supplements that you can add to your dog’s food to change its stool. However, these steps will not stop your dog from eating feces from other animals.
Add Ingredients Directly to the Feces.
Besides adding ingredients to your dog’s food to change the consistency or taste of their feces, you can apply ingredients directly to the feces. While this requires more work, you can coat outdoor feces in hot sauce, red pepper flakes, or a bitter spray deterrent.
The next time that your dog inspects the poop, the taste or scent should deter it from eating. Over time, it may stop searching for poop. This is often an effective method for dogs that have a compulsive desire to eat poop when combined with the other techniques.
Signs That Your Dog Is Stressed or Anxious.
Stress and anxiety are also potential reasons why a dog may decide to start eating poop. Some dogs eat their own poop when they are nervous or exhibit other unusual behavior. Some of the symptoms of stress can impact your dog’s digestive process, causing it to seek nutrition from poop.
The most common signs of stress in a dog include:
- Decreased appetite
Stress may lead to gastrointestinal problems including diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting. When these issues occur, feces eating is more common.
A decreased appetite is a common sign of stress and anxiety in dogs. However, this may not increase the risk of feces eating. Your dog may stop eating completely. It stops eating feces and its regular dog food.
Is your dog stressed?
Dogs that are stressed, depressed, or anxious may sleep more and become lethargic. They move more slowly and get less excited. Lethargy is one of the easiest signs of stress or depression to detect.
Many dogs are energetic animals. When your dog suddenly stops getting up to greet each visitor or bark at the mail carrier, you know that something may be wrong.
Stressed dogs may also seek isolation. Instead of spending their time in the center of the room or next to you on the couch, they may go sit in the corner or find an area to be alone.
Dogs may become more aggressive when stressed or anxious. When a dog gets stressed, it may become fearful of humans and other animals.
When your dog is stressed, eating poop is just one of the many strange behaviors that it may exhibit. You should also pay attention to these signs. However, you also need to keep in mind that some of these symptoms are common when dogs are suffering from any medical issue.
For example, many medical issues can lead to gastrointestinal distress. Parasites, deficiencies, and eating something that upsets the stomach may result in vomiting or diarrhea.
Lethargy is also commonly experienced when a dog suffers from any serious medical issue. When dogs get sick, they tend to get lethargic, sleep more, and spend more time on their own.
If you have already visited the vet and ruled out potential medical issues, stress is likely the cause. Luckily, there are several ways to deal with stress:
- play with your dog more frequently.
- Determine the biggest stress triggers.
- Create a safe area for your dog.
When humans experience stress or depression, exercise is a common recommendation. This recommendation also works for dogs. Ensure that your dog gets plenty of exercise throughout the day.
Other things to consider.
You should also consider spending more time with your dog outdoors. The same as humans, dogs need plenty of sunshine to help keep their spirits up.
Playing with your dog helps to reduce stress, boredom, and anxiety, which may stop the feces-eating habit.
Determining why your dog is stressed or anxious may also help you determine the best method for dealing with the issue. Your dog may become stressed or anxious when a new member joins the household, such as adding a new pet or the arrival of a new baby.
Dogs can be jealous creatures and bringing home a new animal or person may cause some anxiety. Your dog may fear that it is not getting enough attention.
You can relieve your dog’s worries by ensuring that you still spend plenty of time with your dog. For example, if you bring home a new pet or baby, you should try to spend the same amount of time with your dog. You should also encourage your dog to sniff the new family member to help it get used to the transition.
Your dog may also become stressed when there are major changes in his environment. If you are in the middle of remodeling your home, the addition of construction workers and loud noises may cause stress. Consider sending your dog to an animal boarding house or have a friend watch your dog until the renovations are complete.
Other stresses include thunderstorms and sudden noises. Unfortunately, you cannot always predict when a thunderstorm will occur. While you can check the weather each day, forecasts are not always accurate.
Creating a safe area for your dog may help provide comfort during a thunderstorm and provide a place for your dog to seek isolation.
Consider setting up a dog bed next to your favorite seating position in the living room. This works best if the dog bed is near a corner or against the wall. You can also place a blanket that has your scent in the bed.
Instead of a dog bed, you may also consider using a kennel or crate. Place a blanket over the kennel or crate to provide more privacy and security from the thunderstorm. If your dog gets scared, it can go inside the kennel.
These steps should help you address stress, depression, and anxiety, which are a few of the most common reasons for eating poop.
Signs That Your Dog Needs Better Nutrition.
As feces eating is often caused by a lack of nutrition, it may help to detect other signs that your dog needs a better diet. If the food does not offer the nutrients your dog requires, you may notice the following:
- Body odor
- Bad breath
- Hair loss
- Weight loss
- Increased allergies
The lack of nutrition may come from poor-quality food, underfeeding, overfeeding, and parasites or medical conditions.
Check with your veterinarian to determine how much your dog should eat each day. Ensure that you supply three meals throughout the day.
If your dog overeats, do not leave the bowl out. Dogs that eat throughout the day will eventually get used to eating meals at set times.
Purchasing a higher-quality dog food may also help solve the issue. The food should contain a good balance of proteins, essential nutrients, and digestive enzymes. Your veterinarian may even recommend a supplement.
When Should You See Your Vet?
If you detect any signs of changes to your dog’s health, visit your vet. The most common signs that your dog is eating poop or suffering from a condition that increases the likelihood of eating poop include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and weight loss.
Remember that a trip to the vet is one of the first steps that you should take for dealing with coprophagia. During this initial checkup, your veterinarian may also provide recommendations for dealing with the problem.
Your vet can rule out medical issues as the cause of the feces eating, allowing you to focus on the techniques discussed for correcting behavioral issues.
Try the techniques discussed and follow your veterinarian’s recommendations. If the problem continues after several months, bring your dog back to the vet.
When all recommendations fail to solve the issue, your dog may have a compulsive desire to eat poop. In extreme cases, your veterinarian may refer you to a behavioral specialist for dogs.
Do Not Punish Your Dog for Eating Poop.
Punishment is rarely effective at helping to train dogs or corrective bad behavior. Typically, the best method of solving behavioral issues is to replace their bad behavior with good behavior that is rewarded.
For example, when you see your dog eating poop, command the dog to leave it or drop it. Call it over and command it to sit. Following your commands is good behavior that deserves a treat.
Dogs learn from repetition. While it may be frustrating to see your dog eating poop after trying to teach it to stop, you need to be patient. It may take some dogs weeks or longer to change bad behavior or learn a new command.
Do Not Let Your Dog Continue to Eat Poop.
As mentioned, there is little risk of health problems when dogs eat their own poop. However, it is behavior that you should attempt to address.
While it is possible that your dog is simply curious about the taste of poop, feces eating is most commonly the result of an underlying issue.
If your dog is eating poop, it is likely suffering from a medical issue or has a behavior problem that you need to solve.
Allowing your dog to eat poop also encourages it to try poop from other animals. Besides eating its own poop, it may start eating any poop that it finds. This can increase the risk of your dog developing a health problem.
Last Thoughts on Coprophagia in Dogs.
While you may find coprophagia in dogs disgusting, it is not an unusual behavior. Many dogs eat their own feces or the feces of other animals.
There is rarely a risk of any health issues from eating the poop. However, most owners do not want to get licked by a dog that just ate poop.
The first step in dealing with this issue is to determine if the cause is medical or behavioral. The top medical reasons for eating poop include enzyme and nutrient deficiencies, parasites, and a poor diet. Behavioral issues include boredom, stress, and shame.
Dogs may start eating poop when they are bored or stressed. Providing more stimulation throughout the day may help solve the problem. Dogs may also eat poop when they are ashamed after getting scolded for pooping in the wrong place.
It is also possible that your dog is eating poop simply because the dog likes it. By adding special products or natural ingredients in your dog’s food, you may change the consistency and taste of the feces, making it less appealing.
The bottom line is that eating poop is a gross yet common behavior for dogs. If you see your dog eating poop, start cleaning up the waste immediately after each defecation and keep an eye on the behavior.
If your dog continues to eat the poop, visit your veterinarian to rule out medical issues and then get to work on the techniques discussed for addressing behavior issues.