My Dog Eats His Own Poop (Coprophagia): Why They Do It and How to Stop It.

Learn Causes, remedies and avoidance of Feces eating in dogs.
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Dog Tip: Stopping Dogs From Eating Poop (Coprophagia)

Background and principles:

Coprophagia is a condition that compels dogs to consume feces. Why does the dog engage in this habit? A dog may ingest fecal matter for various reasons:

  • He may be hungry and has no access to real food.

  • You may be feeding a food lacking in sufficient nutrients and/or not appropriate for your particular dog.
  • When a dog is fed low-quality and/or inappropriate dog food, he feels compelled to eat more of it in an attempt to satisfy his body's craving for nutrients. As a result, the dog is ingesting excess food, and a large proportion of the food goes through his digestive system undigested. The resulting stools smell and look fairly close to the food that the dog previously consumed, so the dog tries to consume the 'food' again. This is not just a vulgar habit; it is a cry for health. The dog needs a better diet that will enable him to absorb the nutrients his body needs.
  • When dogs consume feces from other animals, they may be seeking minerals lacking in their regular dog food.
  • The dog may be consuming feces out of boredom, loneliness, anxiety or stress.
  • A dog who is confined to a kennel, chained, or restricted to a small yard or other space may eat his feces to occupy himself or clean his personal space. This dog needs to be exercised and played with several times a day.
  • Some breeds instinctively like to carry things in their mouths. Picking up feces and carrying it around may signal that the dog needs more daily exercise, mental stimulation and interaction with his people.
  • A yard or kennel where stools are allowed to pile up may prompt a dog to 'clean up' his stools. Be sure to clean the dog's area every day, and preferably right after the dog eliminates.
  • The emotional stress of being left alone or restricted to a small area for long periods of time without the companionship of the caregiver can result, for some dogs, in the eating of his own feces.
  • Internal parasites may lead a dog to consume feces, because the parasites can leach nutrients from the host animal's system. Thus, the dog will feel unusually hungry.
  • If a dog is punished for defecating in the house, she may eat her feces in order to hide the evidence and avoid punishment. Typically, when a dog defecates indoors, it is because she feels unable to hold it. It is a myth that dogs poop indoors for spite; spite is a human, not a canine, emotion. More responsive management and training by the owner is the solution, not punishment. Also realize that elimination in the house can be a sign of a health or medical problem, from parasites to a serious condition.
  • Sometimes a mother dog will eat the feces of her pups out of a natural instinct to hide evidence of her offspring from predators.
  • It is common for many puppies to taste and try to eat feces. Some researchers even suggest that some components of feces actually can stimulate the brain and immune function in young animals. However, that possible benefit is far outweighed by the health risks of ingesting excrement. Prevention is the wisest practice. Don't let the pups indulge, and they won't develop a taste for excrement ... and won't develop this habit.
  • Prevention is better than treatment in mature dogs as well, since coprophagia is usually self-rewarding, meaning that the act of ingesting the feces is satisfying to the dog so he is likely to repeat the undesired behavior.

Solutions:

  • * Change the dog's diet. Buy or prepare only nutritious, quality food that is formulated for the dog's age, breed and any medical issues.
  • * For the dog who may be hungry, try feeding him a little more, and make sure you feed a quality, nutritious food that is appropriate for the age and type of canine.
  • * Take the dog to your veterinarian for an examination for underlying medical and health problems, parasites and other problems that may be compelling him to eat feces.
  • * Clean up after your pet, right after he goes - before he has a chance to eat his poop. Stopping access is one key to stopping this habit.
  • * Walk the dog on leash so that you are in a better position to tell the dog 'leave it' and to physically keep the dog from trying to sniff and eat stools. Always praise your dog for listening. You can also reinforce the verbal praise with tidbits carried in a pouch.
  • * As soon as the dog starts approaching excrement, tell her 'nah-ah-ahhh' or 'leave it!', and distract her with praise supported with a treat, playtime or other action or activity that is appealing to the dog. This will convey the idea that it is more rewarding to attend to you than to attend to poop. As soon as she turns her attention to you, praise her ('Good dog!') and reward her. A wise practice is to always carry appealing tidbit treats, a favorite toy - something you can always use to effectively gain your dog's attention and reinforce desired behaviors. Once you get her attention, give her something positive to do. For example, tell her to 'Sit', reward her for listening, then proceed to an enjoyable activity such as playing or walking together. Distract her from undesired things like feces, and substitute a good, desired behavior such as sitting and attending to you. A dog who is interacting with her owner can't be investigating poop at the same time.
  • * If the dog is defecating in the house, the dog needs to be fed and walked on a schedule that allows her to eliminate before the owner leaves her alone for the day and before bedtime. The dog also may need housetraining help. Teach the dog instead of punishing her; this is the sensible and effective approach. Also, visit the vet to see if a medical condition is the underlying cause of the dog eliminating indoors.
  • * If a pup or dog is pooping in his crate, make sure he gets more exercise and has the chance to eliminate before placing him in his crate. Also, read about crate training. Dogs naturally do not like to poop or urinate in their living quarters, so a dog who potties in the crate needs you to help crate-train him properly ... and perhaps a trip to the vet to rule out medical problems that may underlie an inability to 'hold it' for a few hours. However, also realize that pups can't physically hold their elimination for more than one to three hours, and that it is not healthy or kind to crate adult dogs for more than 5 to 6 hours a day. Take the time to properly train your dog so that he can be left alone in the house, in a pet-safe area instead of confined in a crate.
  • * There are products that you can apply to the stools that will discourage your dog from consuming them, Bitter Apple etc... Some products they eat and those are available from pet supply stores and others from veterinarians. These include Forbid, and Deter.

Some alternatives to drugs that work for some:

  • Add two to four tablespoons of canned pumpkin (Not pie filling) to the food bowl each day. Pumpkin apparently tastes good in food, but repugnant when expelled in excrement.
  • Add a spoon (teaspoon or tablespoon depending on the dog's size) of canned pineapple, pineapple juice or spinach to the dog's food.
  • Add some meat tenderizer or MSG to the dog's food.
  • Coat stools, following elimination, with hot sauce or lemon juice. Or booby trap sample stools by penetrating some left in the yard with hot sauce.
  • * Block the dog's access to any kitty litter boxes to keep him from developing a taste for kitty tootsie rolls ... or to help break a habit that has already formed. Keep the litter box in a room that the cat, but not the dog, can access. Or place a lid over the box that only the cat can access. Or place a baby gate around the box that has openings too small for the dog.
  • * Coprophagia can be a hard habit to break since it is self-reinforcing, but do not be discouraged. Follow these tips and give them a chance to work.

* In summary, the steps to stopping poop-eating are: feed a complete, nutrient-packed and balanced diet; provide lots of exercise, playtime and interaction; keep living spaces, crates, kennels and yard clean; avoid confining the dog for long periods of time; and take him to your veterinarian for a health checkup.

http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIP...PoopEating.php

Another view:

Natural Behavior: Coprophagy (eating Feces)

  • Mother dogs clean their nursing puppies and eat the feces. With pups in the nest, you can imagine the unhealthy situation that would result from the waste being allowed to accumulate. Cats perform this task for their kittens, too. Other adult dogs in the family sometimes take over motherly duties in times of need, such as a litter too large for the mother or a mother who is ill or dies.
  • False pregnancies are normal in intact female dogs, and female dogs tend to cycle on the same schedule with other females in the same household. Other females who are in false pregnancy are often well equipped to mother some or all of the pups in another female's litter.
  • You can see that eating dog feces is not at all an unusual behavior for dogs. When the pups start eating solid food and walking well enough to get out of the nest to poop, mom can stop the cleaning duty. But the habit can certainly persist in her, and the hard-wired instinct probably exists in most dogs, ready to be triggered by various life situations.

Triggers

Sometimes we don't know why a particular dog starts eating poop, but certain conditions can trigger the behavior. Since some of these indicate a dog who needs help, you'll want to consider them as possibilities for what is going on with your dog.

  1. A dog with a physical problem that causes excessive hunger, pain, or other sensations may resort to eating feces. If your adult dog who has not previously had this habit suddenly develops it, take the dog to your veterinarian for a check-up.
  2. A dog who is not getting enough to eat or is going too long between meals may eat feces. Your veterinarian can help you evaluate the dog's weight and can suggest a feeding schedule and amount. Sometimes it takes experimentation to see what works best for a particular dog.
  3. A dog with intestinal parasites or other condition that creates blood or other fecal changes may eat feces. One dog may eat the feces of another dog who is shedding something like this in the stools. A fresh fecal specimen to your veterinarian for evaluation can detect some of these problems.
  4. Sometimes a change of diet helps. There doesn't seem to be any one food that is right for all dogs, and your dog may need something different than you're currently feeding. Be sure to make any changes of diet gradual, mixing the new food in with the old over a period of several days or weeks, to give the dog's intestines time to adjust and avoid diarrhea from the change.
  5. Some dogs develop a mental connection that they will be punished if their humans find them in the same room with feces. Dogs react to this fearful situation in various ways, and one way is to eat the feces so it will not be there to make the human angry. This is one of many reasons not to use punishment when housetraining a dog.
  6. Boredom can cause dogs to do all sorts of things, including eat feces. Interesting toys that have treats inside them for the dog to get out can help with lots of boredom-based problems.
  7. Dogs may do just about any wild thing when suffering from separation anxiety. If that is the problem, this won't be the only symptom, and you'll want to help your dog work through the separation anxiety.

Sanitation

  • The number-one thing you can do to help overcome feces eating is to keep your dog's area clean of feces. This means housetraining, and supervising the dog whenever the dog is in the designated relief area. It's obviously not healthy for dogs to eat feces, and preventing the dog from carrying out the habit is also basic to getting the habit to fade.
  • It's not healthy for humans or dogs to have the feces lying around, either. Until a dog is fully housetrained and the feces-eating habit has died out, picking up after each bowel movement is an important tactic. After the dog's habits are steady, you may be able to pick up just once a day if you have a private place for the dog to use.

Food Additives

  • Some people swear by food additives to stop a dog from eating feces. Sometimes the theory is that the additive provides a nutrient the dog is seeking when eating feces and thus the dog will no longer crave feces. Other times the theory is that the additive makes the feces taste bad and the dog will not want it.

  • Before you try adding any of these things to your dog's food, consult your veterinarian about whether the particular additive is safe for your particular dog. Don't expect any additive to be a miracle cure. These things tend to work for the occasional dog, but chances are pretty good that your dog won't be the one.

Bait and Switch

  • While you're hanging out with your dog to supervise, you can hurry the process of fading out the feces-eating habit with a simple and pleasant training technique. The tools you'll need are a collar or head halter for the dog, a leash, and small treats your dog values highly.
  • If your dog is easily handled, the collar will do. If the dog is extremely determined to eat the poop, extremely fast or strong, have a behavior specialist fit your dog with the correct size head halter, introduce your dog to it gently, and give you one or more lessons on how to use the head halter safely and effectively. It gives you more control over the dog's mouth than a collar, and if your particular dog needs it for this training you'll be glad to have the skill for other training situations, too.
  • Take your dog out to potty on leash. As soon as the poop hits the ground and the dog shows interest in it, call the dog to you. Use the leash not to jerk the dog, but simply to keep the dog from being able to reach the feces. Keep the treats out of sight.
  • The instant the dog reaches you, praise the dog, whip out a treat and give it. Then back away from the dog, praise and give another treat for coming to you, and repeat that for a total of three to five times. At this point you have really taken the dog's mind off the feces.
  • Go on indoors with the dog and come back out without the dog to clean up. Once you have good control and a good rapport with the dog, you can go ahead and clean up while the dog is still outside. As you set this habit more strongly through repetition, you will be able to do the bait-and-switch with the dog on a long line, coming to you at the back door for a treat. Eventually you'll be able to do bait-and-switch without a leash or line on the dog. Keep up the same energy and level of reward, if you want the dog to keep responding!

Talk about It

  • After the dog has been prevented from eating feces for a considerable length of time, the habit tends to fade. That makes supervising the dog and working on this in the positive, bait-and-switch way very worth your while. Start the intervention as soon as you notice the dog eating feces, because the less time a habit has been going on, the more easily it will fade.
  • Help your friends and family by talking about this problem. You'll help their dogs in the process, too, because some people try punishment to break the habit. As you know now, that doesn't work, and it's destructive to the dog's trust in people and to the family's relationship with their dog. Let's bring this "dirty little secret" out into the open.

Date Published: 1/25/2004 11:41:00 AM Author/Trainer: Kathy Diamond Davis

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