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Dogs that Eat Poo - Coprophagia

coprophagia dog eating pooIf your dog eats their own poo or even the poo of other dogs, you are likely to see it as quite a disgusting habit and wish to do something about it. If your dog is in the habit of eating poo you may worry about their health and be less eager to cuddle close to your dog and certainly less likely to want doggie ‘kisses’. Also their habit of eating poo may restrict their freedom as you are more likely to keep your dog on lead at walkies time. From a health point of view you may worry what germs and diseases your dog could be picking up.

But before we tackle how to nip this behaviour in the bud, we should first stop and consider why a dog might eat poo.

Firstly it is important to realise that coprophagia (eating poo) is actually quite common. Horse or rabbit dropping would usually be preferred but other dog poo or even the dog's own poo will suffice if no other faeces are available.

Nutritional deficiency is commonly believed to be a reason for poo eating, so it is important to rule this out first. However, a dog fed on a good quality complete dog food should already be getting all the nutrients they require. If you are feeding a low quality food then try selecting a better quality brand.

If you feed a home-cooked diet then make sure that the correct proportions of food groups and that the correct nutrients are being provided.

Another possible clinical cause of coprophagia could be a digestion problem. In other words, you are feeding the correct nutrients but your dog is not able to digest what they need. Your vet may need to examine your dog to rule out this possibility.
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Poor digestion due to fast eating may in turn result in poor nutrient absorption. Instinctively the dog may then try to reprocess it by eating up his nutrient rich poo. The wishbone design in the centre of the specially designed Eat Better Dog Bowl has 3 apexes and connecting ridges, which serve as an obstruction to deter the dog from making a clean sweep of the food. It slows down the dog's eating pace.

One particular nutrient often thought to lead to poo eating is a lack of vitamin B. Supplementing your dog’s diet with Vitamin B could therefore help, but please note that this should not be required if your dog is already fed a good quality complete food. However, if supplementation is required, try conditioning tablets from the pet shop or brewers’ yeast from the health food shop.

Other reasons for eating faeces are behavioural based. Your dog may simply eat poo because it is an instinct or is even a pleasurable activity. In this case, your disapproval will have little effect since the pleasure gained from eating the poo probably outweighs any displeasure from an unhappy owner.
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It is worth mentioning that variety is the spice of life. Don’t discount the fact that a scavenging dog may simply be bored with his usual diet, making them more likely to seek out more novel food sources. Therefore, introducing some new food sources to their diet could help. Try adding small amounts of raw meat, raw offal, fish, egg yolk, green leafy vegetables, or brown rice.

Eating poo seems revolting to us but many wild animals eat faeces, especially at times when food sources are scarce. The dog’s instinct is that of a scavenger. Faecal matter can contain many nutrients and be a surprisingly good source of protein. A dog that eats faeces may therefore just be seeing poop as another food source – waste not want not. Clinical reasons aside, it is often thought that this is the most common reason why a dog eats faeces. The dog will start by recycling their own poo and generalise to eating any poo they come across.

Assuming that clinical reasons for the coprophagia have been ruled out and assuming the issue is therefore a behavioural one, how can we stop our dog from eating poo?

Many people simply muzzle their dog during walkies. This will only work if you muzzle your dog each and every time it is likely to encounter poo, unless you are lucky and the use of the muzzle breaks the habit. That aside, the use of a muzzle doesn’t actually teach your dog not to eat poo, nor does it address any underlying medical problems or behavioural issues. Having said this, it can be a relatively simple solution to a difficult problem. If you do decide to use a muzzle then pick a light weight basket design that allows your dog to pant and breathe normally.

If your dog gobbles up his own poo or the poo of other dogs in the household, some suggest feeding small amounts of pineapple in with their usual meal. This can apparently put them off eating the end product. Courgette is also said to make stools taste unpleasant.

Another solution for a dog who eats their own poo is simply to clean it up as soon as they have toileted. You can hope to break the habit but it may take some time. Also, if you clean up poop quickly you risk the poop becoming an item of perceived value to your dog, which is the opposite of what you wish to achieve. Instead, call your dog in for a treat after they have toileted, close the door and with your dog inside go out afterwards to pick up the poo.

A more long term solution is to train your dog not to eat faeces. If you make a big fuss when your dog eats poop and try to stop your dog mid-scoff, your dog is likely to simply attempt to be quicker next time. Your dog may even think you are in competition and trying to reach the poop first because you desire to have it. The eating of poo has then become a significant event and could easily escalate into a habit. Distraction and reward is therefore preferable. Teaching the leave command can help. Start with something of low value before you graduate to using the leave command on something as rewarding as poo eating.

As already mentioned, the eating of poo can be very rewarding to your dog. Therefore any alternative you offer must be more rewarding than the poo. The aim is to make it more rewarding for your dog not to eat poo than to eat it. Provide something your dog will prefer such as slices of hot dog sausage or something else that they really enjoy.

In stubborn cases some suggest introducing consequences to the unwanted behaviour such as a water spray or noise aversion. Use these techniques with caution, if at all, especially citronella sprays or collars. Citronella is an unpleasant smelling and tasting substance. This can be very frightening and unpleasant for your dog (their noses are much more sensitive than ours) and also the smell and taste will last quite a long time, even though they have since backed away from the poo. The accuracy of what you are actually trying to teach your dog is therefore compromised. If you choose to use aversion therapy then pick a technique that is instant and pin points the bad behaviour you wish to eliminate. You only want to startle and interrupt. However, before using any aversion techniques you must make sure that your dog is generally happy and confident and can take the consequences. An anxious dog is not going to respond well to ‘punishment’. If in doubt, it is best to just reward the good behaviour rather than punish the bad.

Owners are right to be concerned about the health issues connected with their dog eating poo, but surprisingly not as much as you would think. Probably the biggest concern is if your dog eats the faeces of other dogs and especially if they have a penchant for poo that is not fresh. In such cases, roundworm is a particular health concern. It is therefore important to worm your dog regularly. This will lessen the risk of infection with parasitic eggs.

A dog’s guts have a powerful immune response to bacteria. The modern dog’s diet can be so sterile that they may even seek out bacteria in order to address the balance and keep their immune system working effectively. So, having mentioned health concerns, it is important to point out that your dog will not suffer many ill effects as a result of eating poop, at least not in the way that humans would.

By Jenny Prevel

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