Sometimes our dogs can develop some really disgusting habits.  Probably the most repulsive is stool eating.  Coprophagia is the technical term for consumption of feces.  A 2012 veterinary study found that about 24% of dogs have eaten feces at least one and 16% have been caught in the practice at least five time.  Yes, it is gross but why does your dog do this?

This is actually normal behavior for mother dogs.  They will lick their puppies in order to get them to eliminate and consume the feces to keep the pup clean.  This is an instinctual behavior that hides the scent from predators and the den while the pups are vulnerable. This behavior should last only about three weeks.  Puppies will sometime consume feces because they are exploring their environment.  Other than this, Coprophagia typically has three main medical causes: Enzyme Deficiencies, Poor Diet and Parasites. 

Enzyme Deficiencies

In a healthy dog the pancreas will produce enzymes that help to digest the nutrients from their food.  If your pet lacks these enzymes the nutrients will not be properly absorbed and be eliminated in their stool.  Dogs only produce part of the necessary digestive enzymes on their own and need to get the remainder from their food.  Without these enzymes your dog will lose weight, begin to starve and will eventually resort to stool eating.  They are trying to get those nutrients. 

Poor Diet

A diet of poor quality, processed food can also cause a dog to begin eating stools.  These diets contain ingredients that are not easily digested so the nutrients are passed out in the stool undigested providing an opportunity for scavenging. 

Parasites

It is also believed that parasites can be a reason for Coprophagia.  Dr. Benjamin Hart from the University of California, Davis, explains it may be an ancestral trait.   Since intestinal parasites are found in stools, older members of the pack would consume feces in order to prevent younger pack members from becoming infected.   

Behavioral Issues

Many times, this behavior can be caused by environmental stresses.

Studies show that isolation can trigger this behavior.  Being left in a kennel or basement alone are more likely to eat stools than those who live closer to people, their pack.  

Restrictive confinement where the dog spends too much time in a small space can trigger the behavior.  Shelter dogs can often exhibit this behavior.

Other dogs may engage in the behavior as an attention seeking measure.  If you catch your dog eating poop try not to overreact.

Dogs may also eat their own poop to avoid punishment.  If they have been harshly reprimanded during housetraining they may be anxious about having an accident and try to conceal the “crime”.

If there is an elderly or sick dog in the household other dogs may eat their feces in order to hide the scent from predators.  Again, this is an instinctual behavior. 

This can also be a learned behavior.  Younger dogs can learn it from older dogs in the household with the habit.

Tips to prevent Coprophagia

Start with feeding your dog a healthy diet of quality food.  Make sure it has a human-grade protein and then you can add supplemental probiotics and digestive enzymes to help correct the enzymatic deficiencies.

It is recommended to have your pet’s stool checked at least every six months.  A healthy dog can get intestinal parasites from stool eating.

Make sure you clean up after your pets quickly.  Keep the litter box clean or out of reach of the dogs.  Eliminating the source of temptation is the quickest way to curb the behavior.

Give your dog plenty of exercise and toys that stimulate their mind.  If a dog is bored they can develop some very strange and disgusting habits.  Keeping the mind and body stimulated is always healthy for your pet.

Finally, you can try a commercially available Coprophagia deterrent.  Some types can be sprinkled on the stool to make is unpalatable. Others can be added to your dog’s food.  Bear in mind that this product will need to be given to all pets in the household.

As always, talk to your vet about any behavioral or health issues that cause you concern.