Coprophagia is the scientific term for eating poo (faeces). It is a common habit in dogs which humans find repulsive.
If treated with early intervention you should be able to stop the behaviour becoming a long-term habit. In order to know how to stop your dog eating poo we need to understand the reasons behind the habit.
In some cases eating poo can be totally normal, for example when a puppy is born, the mother will lick it to stimulate going to the toilet occasionally consuming the waste. Young puppies will also occasionally eat their litter mates’ faeces, but we expect most dogs to have outgrown this habit by 9months of age.
Dogs may also eat other animal’s poo (e.g., cat or horse poo), this behaviour is often explained in terms of dogs being natural scavengers and have very different tastes to people (some dog’s just think it tastes good).
Coprophagia is more common in multiple dog households and dogs most commonly eat the other dog’s poo, but sometimes their own.
In general, a dog eating his own poo won’t cause too much of a problem. It may be more concerning if your dog eats the faeces of another animal. This is because viral, bacterial and parasitic infections may be transmitted via the faeces.
To work out how to stop your dog from eating faeces you need to find out why your dog is eating poo. Is it a behavioural problem or is there a medical reason? To diagnose a behavioural problem it is recommended to first rule out any medical problems. It is recommended to seek advice from your veterinary surgeon. A full history will be taken in the first instance. Then it may be recommended for your pet to have faecal samples tested at the laboratory. a physical examination and further tests may also be recommended.
Underlying medical reasons for a dog eating poo could include:
poor nutrition, under feeding, inability for the dog to digest food properly, stomach upsets, lack of digestive enzymes from the pancreas, vitamin deficiencies (especially B vitamins), parasitic infections (for example Giardia) or gut bacterial imbalances.
Other medical reasons for coprophagia include conditions which make the dog hungrier e.g., Diabetes/ Cushing’s/Thyroid problems. Some drugs will make the dog want to eat more e.g., Steroids. Parasite infestations (e.g., Intestinal worms) will increase a dog’s need for nutrients.
An imbalance in the dog’s natural gut microbes (the “microbiome “) which can occur with some illnesses or after antibiotic treatment may also lead to coprophagia in a self-medicating way – much research is currently being done into this area.
Behavioural reasons for coprophagia:
Coprophagia is commonly seen in puppies in part, due to their inquisitive playful natures. They also may be copying their mother’s behaviour of cleaning their sibling’s bottoms.
In some situations, human reaction to the behaviour may inadvertently reinforce it. For example, by rushing over and paying a lot of attention to try and stop the dog we may actually encourage the behaviour to happen again. Even if we think we are telling them not to d something, for some dogs any attention is good attention.
If dog’s are left confined for long periods it is only natural they might need to toilet, some individuals are so particular about keeping their bed areas clean they would rather eat their poo than make a mess.
Some people believe that the way in which a dog has been toilet trained could also increase the risk of a dog eating it’s faeces. If for example a dog has been punished when they have defecated in the wrong place they may have heightened anxiety about making mess and be inclined to eat the faeces instead.
It is more likely that an older dog who suddenly starts eating poo has an underlying medical condition, so it is advisable to get him checked by your vet. In some cases, if a dog is only eating the poo of one specific dog the other dog should also be checked by a vet as he may have a medical problem where undigested nutrients are passing through into the faeces, thus making it ‘tastier’.
There are some dog’s however who simply like eating poo because they think it is yummy.
The best thing you can do to prevent your dog from eating poo is to now allow dogs access to it in the first place. Good hygiene practices – clean up immediately after your pet. Supervise your dog on walks and in the garden.
Try not to make a big deal of cleaning the poo up and try not to let the dog see you doing it – otherwise it can become a game of who can clean it up first!
Teaching an alternative behaviour is the best way to discourage coprophagia. For example teaching your dog that once they have had a poo if they come straight back in to the house they will get a treat. To do this pick a behaviour your dog can already due on cue, for example ‘come’. Practice regularly calling your dog in from the garden or to you on a walk and giving a reward. Once you know they understand you can start to use it as soon as they have finished having a poo. Call them enthusiastically and give a special high value reward. Consistency is key, so make sure you are watching out the window and ready to go every time they are outside.
Other ways of preventing poo eating include:
Making sure your dog is on a good quality complete food and having the right amount for their size and activity level.
Some supplements may help to stop poo eating behaviour e.g., B vitamin or a dog multivitamin supplement, fresh pineapple can be added to the diet can help with breaking down proteins and make faeces less palatable, enzyme replacement supplements to reduce the amount of undigested food in the faeces and make the poo less palatable.
Probiotics may help reduce coprophagia, especially if there has been a recent infection or course of antibiotics. Probiotics are used to try to help rebalance the gut’s “good bacteria”.
It is always recommended to discuss with your vet before adding anything new to your dog’s diet.
Cleaning your dog’s mouth after eating poo:
Allow free access to fresh water so the dog can take a drink which will help to rinse the mouth. There are also specific mouth washes or water additives which you can use to aid oral health.
You can brush your dog’s teeth with a dog specific toothpaste. This is recommended anyway to be done twice a day for good oral hygiene. It is probably best to wear gloves when doing this, especially if your dog has recently eaten poo as some infections caught from poo can be transferred to people (zoonotic)
Always wash your hands thoroughly after touching your pet.