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all articles by Lisa Lafferty unless otherwise noted.  Some previously published on K9Station (defunct) under author's previous name Lisa Giroux

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Help!  My Dog Eats Poop!

Coprohaegia.  It's a thing.

by Lisa Lafferty

If you're reading this article it's probably because you're horrified at what your dog is doing.  I don't blame you.  It's disgusting.  Nobody wants to cuddle with a dog that has just ingested excrement.  Some people that call me are so horrified when their dog does this that they can't even imagine having a good relationship anymore...their world has been so rocked by this nastiness, they can't even look at their dog the same way.  I can totally relate, as I own a dog who will occasionally eat poop.  She also also happens to be a dog that loves to give kisses.

Before you continue to think that your dog is mentally ill for eating poop, let me assure you...MANY dogs eat their own or the feces of other dogs. MOST dogs will eat cat poop.  MOST dogs will eat horse, cow, sheep, goat, duck, chicken or pig poop.  Poop-eating is a pretty normal occurrence.  You haven't heard about it before because it's not a topic most folks will discuss...it's been my experience that people WHISPER their problem to me on the phone.  They call me aside at obedience class, cup their hand around my mouth and hesitantly blurt out the HORROR of what they witnessed their dog doing.

Let's go through some facts about this total gross-out of a subject, and then let's talk about how to prevent it and/or fix it.

Poop eating has a scientific name--coprophaegia; the eating of feces.  Believe it or not, poop eating is an extremely common occurrence in the animal world.  Rabbits and other rodents routinely eat their own feces and MUST do so in order to properly digest and absorb nutrients from their food.  Mother animals often eat the feces of their young until after the young are weaned.  Predators quite routinely eat and roll in the dung of prey animals (horses, cows, zebras, buffalo, etc).  Humans are, in fact, one of the few species that don't sample a little poop appetizer now and then. 

So let's look it factually and deal with it.

Dogs who eat the feces of dogs, other animals, and humans (yes, human feces) is a concern in regards to disease and the transmission of parasites.  A dog that eats the feces of another animal (or even his own) can contract an illness or pick up worms and other bacterial stuff.  He can even re-infect himself with worms, if he has been recently de-wormed and is shedding worms and eggs into his own feces.  A dog that has eaten feces, and then has contact with humans, can transmit parasites and other stuff.  PREVENT.

When it comes to dogs, there are many ways a dog can eat feces.  I told you this was a gross-out of a subject.  But it's my job, I gotta do it, here's a list of the possibilities.

Dog eats his own feces or the feces of other dogs:  Approximately 50% of the dogs I encounter have this habit, so don't feel like you're the only one!  Very common in Labradors and other retriever breeds but can and does occur in every breed.  Usually starts in wintertime when feces is "crunchy," and often continues after that.  Some dogs will only ever eat frozen poop.  Some dogs only eat their own poop.  Some dogs only eat other dog's poop.  Some dogs eat any poop they can find.  As you can see, a dog has an eclectic taste for poop eating.

There are many theories about why dogs eat poop, but in the end (pun intended) none of them have really been proven.  The first thing people tend to think is that the dog is somehow missing something in its diet.  Who knows?  Studies have been done, and they have been inconclusive. 

My two theories, and they are just theories, are:

  1. Today's commercial dog food is preserved and prepared in such a way that it is difficult for a dog to digest.  It is also laden with flavor enhancers to entice even the most picky dog to want to eat it.  Although dogs are omnivores, and not strictly predators, they have a relatively short digestive tract and food passes through pretty quickly.  I think it's quite possible that the feces that comes out of the dog's poop chute could be pretty attractive and still contain quite a bit of nutritious material.  Don't know.  I can't exactly ask a dog about it, now can I?

  2. It is known that dogs have a lot of the same instincts as wolves, but that many of the instincts are just a little mixed-up.  Hunting instincts, defensive instincts, flight instincts, infant care, mating behavior, pack behavior--they are all still there, but just a little different.  Coprophaegia is practiced by wild canine mothers and babysitters when they have litters, to keep the den/nest clean, but the instinct naturally turns off after the litter reaches a certain age.  I think it's possible, just as with other instinctual behaviors, that coprophaegia has gotten "mixed up" in domestic dogs.  Great.  "We're not wild anymore, let's all eat poop all our lives for no reason at all other than it's there!  Our own, stranger dogs, everybody's poop!  Yes sir!  We're domesticated now!!" 

But you probably don't care why...you probably just want it to stop, right?  Here are some methods.

  • Switch your dog to a home-made raw diet, or buy a ready-made raw diet available at most pet stores.  This might stop the poop-eating, and animal will enjoy health benefits and you will pick up a lot less poop in the backyard.  Please do your research.  There are many great books available on the subject and it is worth your while to get a couple and try this out.  Please do try it for at least 6 weeks before deciding whether or not it works out for you.  Some raw-fed dogs still eat poop.  Your mileage may vary.

  • Sprinkle meat tenderizer on the food of the dog whose feces is being eaten.  This method is not all that successful, but some dogs do respond to it.  The MSG in meat tenderizer apparently makes the feces smell like not-food.  Of course, if your dog is eating feces in dog parks, not a useful method, as you can't feed meat tenderizer to every dog who comes to the dog park.  If you have a multiple-dog household the tenderizer needs to be added to the food of each dog of course.  Please research this prior to trying it.  I have had quite a few horrified emails telling me that meat tenderizer is very bad for dogs.  I do not know what to make of it, as it has been used for years for this purpose.  Do your own investigation please.  I would hate to delete this known working method unless I know for sure it harms dogs.  It has been my experience that it does not.

  • There are two commercially prepared food additives that I know of that are made specifically for poop-eating dogs.  One is called FORBID and the other DETER.  They are products that can be bought at the pet store or vet, and applied in the same way as the meat tenderizer.  It has been my experience that, like the meat tenderizer, success is about 50/50.  This might be because these products are essentially MSG tricked out in a bottle designed to attract pet owners, and with a substantially larger price tag than the 99 cent bottle of MSG at the grocery store.  Please research.

  • The only really reliable fix for this problem is prevention through active supervision and keeping the backyard clean.  If you have a dog that will immediately turn and eat the feces as he is in the poop position, you will have to toilet him on-lead.  Please read Training to Potty On Cue.  It is a very effective and easy way to get rid of your problem forever.

Dog eats cat feces:  If your dog is hungry and cat poop is available, he will eat it.  Cats excrete poop filled with protein and all the other stuff in modern-day cat food that has nutritious value to dogs.  Cat poop is basically a slightly distilled version of the stuff that is in the cat food bag and very attractive to dogs.  If your dog is eating cat poop, there is no point to trying to train him not to do it.  You will not be successful.  My suggestions?

  • Move the litterbox to the top of your washer/dryer.

  • Buy a large Rubbermaid bin with a lid.  Place your litterbox inside it.  Cut a hole in either the lid or the side that is large enough for your cat to enter, but small enough so the dog can't get his head into the crunchies.

  • Move the litterbox to the basement or to a room that has a door that can be kept shut.  Install a cat door in the closed door, so that your cat can get through but your dog can't.

  • Total prevention is the only way to go with cat poop.  A dog that likes to eat cat poop will not usually respond to training attempts.  The cat poop is just as nice to him as any treat you might offer, and if you try to punish him, he'll just wait until you aren't around to eat it.

  • I like to call this problem the Kitty Tootsie Roll issue.

Dog eats feces of horses/cows:  The feces of farm animals like horses, cows and pigs is naturally attractive to dogs. Some really love it, some aren't attracted to it.  Most dogs enjoy eating and/or rolling in the feces of large animals.  It is the least dangerous health-wise of all the coprophaegic habits a dog can have in regards to disease transmission and parasites.

If your dog does this, you have a few of options. 

  • You can put up with it once in a while.  Horse and cow poop actually contains many natural pro-biotics that are extremely beneficial to a dog's digestive system.  The occasional ingestion of feces from a horse or a cow is actually GOOD for your dog.  (I would avoid deep kissing him for a few hours afterwards).

  • You can teach your dog the "off" command, and supervise him when he's around the feces.  Then tell him "off" when you see him going for it.

  • You can keep your dog on-leash to totally prevent him getting into it.

IMPORTANT HEALTH NOTICE:  Some breeds of dogs have a sensitivity to certain drugs that are routinely used to de-worm and medicate horses and cows.  This is called MDR1 drug sensitivity and it is a genetically inherited issue.  Your dog could die if he ingests the feces of an animal recently dosed.  Please look at this link http://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/depts-vcpl/ for more information on this issue.  If you own a breed or mix of the breeds listed please do not ever allow your pet to ingest large animal feces of any kind.

Dog eats human feces:  I told you this was a gross-out of a topic, and it truly is!  Dogs find human feces irresistible.  They will dig diapers out of the trash, raid the bottoms of outhouses, and find your "private toilet" in the woods on a hiking trip.  Please totally and completely prevent all of this from happening.  Predict these occurrences and prevent them. 

***If a dog eats the contents of a modern paper diaper, plus ingests the paper/stuffing part, there is major potential that your dog is in real danger of a life-threatening intestinal blockage.  The bead-like stuffing inside the new high-tech diapers swells when it becomes wet inside their digestive tract just like it does when your baby pees, effectively blocking their entire system and quickly putting them in great danger.  If your dog has done this, please preserve the rest of the diaper so that you can know how much diaper is possibly inside them, and take your dog to the vet.

The bottom line is (pun intended!) that dogs eat a lot of stuff that we don't want them to eat...bugs, dead animals, remote controls, used tampons, rocks, and yes, even poop of all sorts.  You can't stop them from wanting to eat it...but you CAN stop them from doing it.

An anecdote...do not read if you have a weak stomach...

Since all the boundaries of good taste have already been crossed with this article, let me tell you the worst case of coprophaegia that I ever saw.  It was a yellow Labrador bitch and I won't name names!  She was on the Puppywalking program when I worked for Guide Dogs.  She would "turn and surf" while pooping...actually let one turd drop, then immediately turn and eat it while letting another one drop.  If she saw another dog "in the position" she would run over and eat it as it was coming out.  Her caretakers were completely preventing the poop-eating by toileting her and their pet dog on leash and immediately scooping the results into a large plastic bin with a lockable cover.

I had to board her overnight at one point.  When I arrived to pick her up, the puppywalker informed me that she had unlocked the bin lid somehow and had eaten approximately 1/4 of the contents of the bin.  We are talking about a bin the size of a laundry basket.  A LOT of poop.

Later that evening while inside her crate, she projectile-vomited the contents of her stomach all over the crate, herself, and my living room.

I have a strong stomach, but the clean-up process for that particular mess caused me to have to run outside several times and vomit in the backyard.  To this day I can hardly even think about it without becoming nauseous...I had to take several breaks from even writing this down to take some deep breaths.  I could never look at that dog in quite the same way again.  

Comet, wherever you are, you happy little girl, I hope nobody is letting you kiss them on the mouth.

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