The first time I saw it I was absolutely disgusted. I had never before experienced this dog behavior, although I had heard of other dogs doing it. It’s called coprophagia, otherwise known as eating poop.
I was baby-sitting my neighbor’s pug Smudge. He was a puppy at the time and full of energy. He would run around, chase the cats, play with Gabby, dance at my feet and then begin all over again.
I knew something was wrong when I heard the silence. Smudge had to be up to no good. I went searching for him. And I found him, in the litter box, mouth full of cat turds.
He looked up at me as if to say, “Hey, thanks for these awesome snacks. You want one?”
When I brought Sunny home, I didn’t know that she also was doo-doo dining dog. She can sniff it out anywhere. And when she finds it on our walks she uses all her strength to stay there and finish it.
What causes this disgusting habit? Since I was now forced to deal with it on a regular basis, I decided I better make sure there was not some underlying problem that causes coprophagia.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, it’s not known exactly why it occurs, but it is a normal behavior.
Ingesting feces is particularly prevalent in puppies. Fortunately, many grow out of this behavior as they mature. Since Sunny is now 16, I don’t think she will.
Coprophagia is also normal in nursing mothers. Because pups are not able to eliminate on their own until about three weeks old, a mother dog will lick her very young puppies to activate the defecation reflex.
Ingestion of the puppies’ feces also keeps the nest clean. Feces left in the nest would cause poor hygiene and attract predators to an outside nest.
Many species ingest their own or others animals’ feces if the feces are rich in nutrients. Herbivores, who eat only plants, are most likely to produce feces with nutritive value for dogs.
Malnutrition is another reason dogs will eat poop. Not knowing where Sunny came from made me think that maybe she wasn’t fed properly and this was her way of getting more nutrition, disgusting and sad.
The ASPCA says, “If your dog isn’t getting sufficient food or isn’t able to digest the nutrition in his food, he may resort to coprophagia as a way to supplement his diet. Before doing anything else, it’s important to have your dog thoroughly examined by a veterinarian to rule out medical problems that could cause coprophagia.”
Resolving coprophagia can be challenging. Attempts to discourage any type of contact with feces are bound to fail because sniffing feces is such a fundamental investigative behavior in dogs. Drawing the line between sniffing and eating is not easy.
Tips For Curbing Coprophagia:
- Keep your dog on a leash when you’re in places where he might encounter other dogs’ feces. Pay attention to your dog and lead him away from any feces he discovers.
- Teach your dog a reliable recall cue (e.g., come) so that you can always call him away when you see him investigating a pile of feces.
- Teach your dog the “Leave it” cue. This cue can be used to discourage contact with any item, including feces.
- Each time you plan to take your dog to the park, go along the route first and plant a series of feces piles laced with a taste deterrent, such as finely ground black pepper, crushed hot pepper, Tabasco®sauce, or Grannick’s Bitter Apple® spray or gel.
- You must apply the deterrent consistently to all feces that your dog can access for a significant period of time so that he comes to expect that all feces taste horrible. You may need to use the deterrent weeks or even months, depending on the length of time the coprophagia has been going on
For Sunny, at 16 (and being deaf) I think it’s too late to train her. But I will keep up my vigilance on our walks, after all, I do allow doggie kisses. Maybe I should rethink that.