By: Dr. Donna Spector
Copraphagia (poop eating) is usually a nasty learned habit and not a medical problem. Here are the top reasons why dogs eat poop and what you can do to curb their appetite!
1. Oral fixation habit—puppies (like human children) go through a phase where they put anything and everything in their mouths in order to investigate. Unfortunately, this often includes feces. As dogs mature, usually this habit goes away…but not always.
Vet Tip: encourage oral investigation of toys and other objects. Do not punish or give excessive attention if your puppy does eat feces—this will just reinforce the behavior.
2. Allelomimetic behavior—this is the fancy name for learned behavior. If your dog watches you pick up poop, he can learn to do the same. If his beloved master is doing it, why shouldn’t he…?
Vet Tip: Clean the poop out of the yard when your dog is not around!
3. Attention getting behavior—many dog owners get very upset when their dog eats poop…which means he is getting the attention he desires. Although it is negative attention, it is attention nonetheless.
Vet Tip: Try not to react so negatively when you know your dog has been snacking on his poo. Pretty soon it will lose its novelty and without your attention, many times they drop the behavior.
4. Housekeeping—dogs that are crated, kenneled, or even kept in one room within the house will learn to function as their own housekeeper. In other words, if they poop in their space, they will “clean up” the only way they know how!
Vet Tip: Clean any feces up immediately. If your dog is crated throughout the day, consider hiring a dog walker or someone to come in during the day to clean up.
5. Hiding the evidence—if your dog is reprimanded for pooping (for example, in his crate or other space), he may eat the poop to stop you from finding it and getting angry.
Vet Tip: Tone it down if your dog poops in the cage. Don’t punish the dog or you may have a nasty habit to deal with.
6. Genetics/Instinct—there are some breeds that are “carriers”…they carry poop around and may or may not eat it. Also, if your dog has puppies, she is likely to eat their poop. This is an instinct to hide the poop from predators.
Vet Tip: This instinct usually goes away in a mother dog. Otherwise, the best you can do is to teach the “leave it” command and be a meticulous cleaner!
7. Food problems—If a dog is not getting a nutritionally balanced diet (rare, these days), or eating a poor quality food, they may be eating their poop because of a deficiency. If your dog is eating too little or eating too much, they can also engage in poop-eating.
Vet Tip: always feed a high quality, nutritionally balanced diet in the correct quantities (work with your vet) to maintain your dog’s ideal weight.
8. Medical problems—this is the least likely reason for your dog to eat poop. If a dog is plagued with parasites or problems that cause maldigestion or malabsorption, they may eat poop.
Vet Tip: Have your vet check your dog for parasites and perform a general health check. Remember, if your dog eats poop routinely, they are more likely to acquire parasites and you should have them checked 2-3 times a year.
If all else fails, some dogs respond positively to the addition of fresh pineapple to their food. The natural enzyme in pineapple causes their poop to taste distasteful to them…as if it wasn’t distasteful enough!