Advice about Coprophagia: Dogs eating Feces

We love our dogs as they give us so much fun, enjoyment, love and loyalty. But there are moments when they can make us cringe. Eating either their own or other animal’s stools is definitely one of them.

Why do they do it?

The scientific term for this behaviour is coprophagia and it is a surprisingly common and natural behaviour that has many of its origins with your dog’s ancestors. There are two main reasons they did this. The first was for reasons of hygiene in the communal den. The adults would ingest the stools of their puppies in order to keep the cramped den area clean and remove odours that could attract predators. The second reason, although controversial, was for the nutritional value of stools which can contain vitamins B and K.

Are certain dogs more prone to this?

For cleanliness reasons, female dogs with puppies will often engage in coprophagia, which is entirely natural. There have also been reports that submissive dogs may consume the faeces of more dominant dogs, although the reason for this is not well understood.

Coprophagia is more common in puppies or adolescent dogs and is often associated with dogs which are under stimulated or left alone for too long a period. It is also known to be more common in puppies that are left in crates for too long.

Although unproven, dogs who are disciplined for house training mistakes may be more likely to eat stools. They build an association between stools and punishment and attempt to ‘remove the evidence’. Having said that, a dog’s logic is unlikely to be quite so calculating and there may be other explanations we don’t yet understand.

Are there any health risks of coprophagia?

Most of the time, coprophagia is just a habit which has no real health issues for your dog. The main exception to this is the possibility of ingesting internal parasites. This would usually be caused by eating the faeces of wild animals; therefore you should ensure your dog is properly de-wormed at all times to help prevent against this. Obviously, faeces left to long will attract fly larvae, foreign bacteria and fungus which may have health implications. Some dog diseases can also be transmitted through faeces, although vaccination prevents against most of these.

How can you stop coprophagia?

There are commercial remedies which involve adding a substance (usually a form of meat tenderiser) to your dogs’ food that makes the stools taste strange. Results from this tend to be mixed and this action may not deter them from eating the stools of other animals. Also, some people recommend sprinkling pepper, hot sauce, lemon or powdered mints on your dogs stools as a deterrent. Again, this only tackles the problem of you dog eating its own stools and even in that capacity, it is not a particularly practical solution as all your dog’s faeces must be treated.

The best means of stopping this behaviour is prevention. With close supervision and plenty of other stimulation, most dogs grow out of this habit. Keep your dog on the lead if need be, particularly in areas where you know there are lots of animal faeces around. Take special care to regularly clean up stools from the garden. Some say that this should be done out of site of your dog, so that it does not itself pick up a learned behaviour from watching you picking them up.

Ensure your dog is getting a balanced diet with all the correct vitamins and minerals. If you feed your dog once a day, consider spreading your dog’s food across two or three meals if that is convenient. This may help reduce coprophagia if it is related to hunger problems.

If you catch your dog about to eat a stool, startle them with a loud “No” and call them over to you. Only do this if you catch them in the act, not a few seconds later. Praise your dog if they respond to your command. Although unlikely in well treated and confident dogs, care must be taken with disciplining this behaviour as some dogs may use coprophagia as a means of getting your attention, even if it is negative attention.

To prevent against ingestion of internal parasites from faeces, always ensure your dog is regularly de-wormed.

What if that does not work?

Preventing your dog from eating stools for about a month or so usually breaks the habit. If not, you should seek veterinary advice. They will check if there are any health or diet problems causing this behaviour. If there are no medical problems, they will point you in the direction of an animal behaviourist for a more comprehensive behaviour modification plan.