Why Is My Dog Eating Poop? Otherwise known as Coprophagia.
This is a somewhat disturbing, stressful and disgusting habit that your dog may have suddenly started up.
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Most of our pets have some sort of a habit we are not particularly fond of. Sometimes, our furry friends like to drink water from the toilet, break our flower pots or climb our drapes. However, coprophagia is far more than a bad habit because it can seriously impair our pet’s health.
There is also the issue of coprophagia vomiting in dogs, which is a nasty situation in which the dog starts vomiting feces. However, we should be extra careful to differentiate between coprophagia vomiting in dogs and internal blockage.
What is coprophagia?
Coprophagia is a term that describes a situation in which an animal eats feces. For this reason, a lot of dog owners decide to abandon their pets, seeking solutions ranging from placing them in asylums to euthanizing them. However, in spite of popular opinion, coprophagia is easily treated, which means that there is no reason for us to harm our pets.
Coprophagia affects not only dogs but rabbits, mice, rats, and even baby monkeys and baby elephants too.
What causes coprophagia?
Both physiological and behavioral factors can cause coprophagia. In order to conclude that a case of coprophagia has a behavioral root, we need to make sure that there are no medical problems affecting our dog.
Studies have shown that 1 out of 6 dogs have consumed feces. A dog is considered to have a serious case of coprophagia if it has been seen doing that five times.
My dog is eating feces, now what?
Coprophagia can affect our dogs if they are not able to absorb a sufficient amount of nutrients. In order to check for that possibility, we need to schedule a full physical exam at our vet’s. Once we get there, the vet will inquire about the dog’s feeding habits as well as how physically active it is and what it’s sleeping patterns are.
After that, the vet will order a complete blood count (CBC). This will help us realize whether our dog is anemic or has a bacterial infection. Following the CBC, we should have the following tests done:
- Serum chemical panel – this test will show us which organ is damaged or underperforming.
- Urine test – a quick and easy test that complements the CBC.
- Stool test – the vet will use this test to check for parasites and to test the fecal fats.
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
A digestive enzyme deficiency can be the cause of coprophagia. While checking the bloodwork, our vet will be able to see if there is such a deficiency. If so, our dog is probably suffering from exocrine pancreatic insufficiency or EPI.
The underlying cause of this deficiency is not always clear, but the vet can prescribe supplementary digestive enzymes and/or antibiotics in order to combat this illness. However, our dog may need a dietary adjustment as well since studies have shown 4 out of 10 dogs suffering from EPI have a B12 and vitamin E deficiency.
Signs that our dog is suffering from EPI may include:
- Losing weight but not appetite.
- Chronic diarrhea.
- Its stool is larger than usual. This happens due to an increase of fecal fat.
- Bloated stomach.
- Decreasing muscle mass.
Malnourishment as the cause of coprophagia
An inadequate diet can cause coprophagia as well. Food that is hard to digest makes the dog’s vitamin count drop. In addition, this will increase our dog’s appetite. When this happens, our dogs can start eating feces.
However, just because most of us feed our dogs with high-quality dog food, it does not mean they will be safe from coprophagia, since lower than needed intakes can make them eat feces as well.
In general, we should follow the nutritional guidelines for dogs made by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. It is important to realize that our dog’s diet needs to include:
- Proteins: 18-22% of total intake
- Fats: 5-8%
- Linoleic acid: 1%
- Calcium: 1%
- Phosphorus, calcium, copper, zinc, thiamine, vitamins A, D, E: up to 1%.
Digestive System Parasites
There are three types of worms living in dogs’ intestines: hookworms, roundworms, and tapeworms. These parasites attach themselves to the intestines’ inner walls in order to absorb most of the nutrients our dogs consume.
Consequently, this will make them eat their own feces while losing weight and retaining appetite.
Hookworm can damage the blood system and cause anemia. While pups contract this disease through their mothers, grown dogs become infected by eating other dogs’ excrement.
Hookworm infection symptoms include weight loss without the appetite loss and diarrhea.
On the other hand, roundworms and tapeworms are far more common dog parasites. Their presence can easily be detected by a stool sample test. If our dog starts coughing, vomiting and urinating often, then it probably has one or both of these parasites in its system.
Still, just because we’ve rid our dog of all the parasites, it doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. We should continue testing our dogs for parasites on a regular basis in order to prevent the bowel infections from happening again.
However, there is also a small chance that another type of worm can cause coprophagia.
Heartworms and coprophagia
Sometimes, heartworm-infested dogs will start eating their own poo. This infestation is usually manifested by:
- Decreased energy, tiredness and lethargy
- Stronger heartbeat
- Heavy breathing
- High blood pressure
- Instability and vertigo.
In order to make a correct diagnosis, the vet will conduct a complete heartworm antigen analysis. It only takes a small drop of blood to complete it, and the results are usually ready the next day. Still, it takes about six months from the start of the infection for the antigens to be visible in the blood test. This is why we should treat pups under six months of age, no matter if the blood tests are positive or not.
These parasites can cause coprophagia vomiting in dogs, making them vomit their own feces.
Coprophagia and behavioral causes
Contrary to popular belief, dogs can suffer not only from medical but behavioral and psychological problems as well. There are several notable factors that can cause our dogs to start eating excrement, including:
- Evolution: since the beginning of their domestication, we used dogs primarily as guardians. This is why dogs are used to eating anything that is available to them, making the human environment clean.
- Isolation: dogs with no human company are seldom unable to take care of themselves. In turn, this makes them eat whatever they can find.
- Closed spaces: multiple studies have shown that dogs living in closed environments with very little sunlight exposure have a higher chance of contracting coprophagia.
- Anxiety: dogs whose owners enact strict punishment on them may start eating their own feces in order to remove all evidence of their ill-doings.
- Attention seeking: since we all act vigorously when we see our dog eating feces, the dog may start doing that just to get some attention from us.
- Boredom: some of us leave our dogs tied and with no room for movement. In turn, our dogs will start to feel bored, eating their own excrement as the only source of fun.
- Inadequate feeding space: make sure not to put food near the place where the dog likes to excrete. Doing so will make the dog associate the smell of food with the smell of excrement, leading to a predictable outcome.
- Living with an older dog: a younger dog will almost always eat the older dog’s feces.
- Tidiness: some dogs do this in order to keep their surroundings clean.
However, we should keep in mind that behavioral factors cannot cause coprophagia vomiting in dogs.
Is it possible for coprophagia to be a normal activity?
For some animal species like rabbits, coprophagia is perfectly normal. After all, this process gives rabbits the nutrients they need to survive. Moreover, although this is not necessary for dogs, it is considered to be perfectly normal for puppies.
Since grown dogs spend a lot of time cleaning their puppies, they, in turn, tend to copy the grown-ups. Consuming one’s own feces is known as autocoprophagy while consuming feces belonging to another animal is allocoprophagia.
Also, puppies imitate their mothers. What happens, in turn, is that when the mother cleans the space where the puppies are by removing the excrement, they try to copy her behavior. Consequently, our puppies start to eat feces on their own. However, this behavior shouldn’t worry us too much, since coprophagia stops once they turn 9 months.
Dogs eat other animals’ stool as well
We all know that dogs like to sniff and lick other dogs’ excrement as well as the excrement belonging to other species.
Sometimes our dogs are attracted to the smell and the texture of these feces, which is enough for them to consume it. But, interestingly enough, dogs are not attracted to diarrhea.
Is coprophagia dangerous?
Eating their own stool is not dangerous for our dogs. However, the bacteria and parasites from the dog’s stool can harm humans and other animals. These harmful elements can be transferred by the dog’s saliva.
On the other hand, consuming the feces from another animal can make our dog sick. This can happen if the other animal’s feces contain bacteria or parasites. We should remember that the medicines found in the feces can also cause harm to our dog.
Thus, we need to be extra careful if our dog is eating feces and make sure to wash our hands after every contact. This goes especially if we notice coprophagia vomiting in dogs.
How to treat coprophagia?
We should take our dog to the vet as soon as we notice it eating feces. A detailed test will discover whether the cause is medicinal or behavioral.
The second thing we need to do is to deny the dog access to its own excrement. It is necessary to clean the dog’s space.
Whenever we are taking our dog out for a walk and notice it is sniffing feces, we need to pull the leash as soon as possible. Consequently, we will prevent our dog from developing a nasty habit.
On the other hand, if our dog has a medical problem, we first need to find the cause. Moreover, every dog that has been diagnosed with EPI needs to receive additional digestive enzymes. Our dog will need to receive this medication for the rest of its life.
This way, the dog’s body will be able to utilize all the nutrients, which will make the dog healthy again.
Until our dog stops eating feces, we need to make sure to remove all excrement from its area. Moreover, we need to disinfect all the toys as well as its sheets. We should also clean all the floors in the house.
All the food our dog can eat needs to be rich in protein. However, if our dog is on a low-calorie diet, we need to add more fiber.
In case we also have a cat sharing our living space, we need to make sure to remove all its feces as well.
In the end, the sooner we notice that our dog is eating feces, the sooner we can cure it of coprophagia.
Confusion about coprophagia vomiting in dogs
For most of us, it’s easy to get confused into thinking our dog eats poop whenever we see vomit that looks or smells like excrement. More often than not, the cause of smell and appearance lies in a medical issue known as internal obstruction, or simply, blockage.
On the other hand, if the vomit doesn’t smell like feces, but looks like it, our dog may have upper digestive tract bleeding.
If our dog’s vomit is actually made of feces, then it is probably suffering from coprophagia. The most common symptom of this condition is known as coprophagia vomiting in dogs.
A dog suffering from coprophagia demands our time and patience. We need to take our ill dog for walks as much as we can. Moreover, it is important to keep our pet happy and distracted while it is undergoing treatment.
We shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that our dog is eating poo just because its vomit resembles it at first glance. We can mistake internal obstruction for coprophagia vomiting in dogs.
The first thing we need to do as soon as we notice that the dog is eating feces is to make it unavailable for the dog to reach them. After that, it is time for a trip to the vet. As far as the other steps are concerned, we will know what to do once the test results come in. However, we should remember that not all coprophagia causes are strictly medical. Our dog’s behavioral development may have caused a coprophagia onset. Thus, we need to address our furry friend’s psychological needs as well.
To summarize, we need to be able to differentiate between internal obstruction vomiting and coprophagia vomiting in dogs. In any case, the vet can help our pets far more than we can.
Coprophagia vomiting in dogs is especially dangerous for us because we can contract the parasites while cleaning the vomit. This is why we must get our dog to the vet as soon as we see the first symptoms.