March 18th, 2018, by Ryan O’Quinn
If you’ve ever stepped into your backyard only to discover your dog enjoying a fecalicious (sounds like it’d be a real word) midday snack, I’m sure the last thought running through your mind would be; some salt and pepper might make that taste better. Nope, probably not. Initial thoughts would be more along the lines of disgust. Immediately followed by, “you’re sure as hell not kissing me with that mouth!”
Of all the awkwardly gross habits we see our dogs engage in like drinking from the toilet, scooting their butt across the carpet, or just licking their butts—eating poop is the icing on the cake. Nothing tops it as far as the gross factor goes. They may not intend to gross us out, but it sure does the trick. Believe it or not, the gross-factor can be enough for some folks, that poop eating—scientifically called coprophagia—is, unfortunately, often a reason people will try to rehome a dog or even opt for euthanasia in some cases.
Reasons dogs engage in coprophagia
Since it’s pretty safe to say dogs aren’t eating their poop because of its sweet, savory taste, what would be a legitimate reason they’d engage in such a disgusting behavior? According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), in many cases, dogs start to eat their own poop because of some kind of environmental stress or behavioral triggers, which include:
1. Isolation: Studies have shown that dogs who are kept alone in kennels or basements are more likely to eat poop than those dogs who live close to their people.
2. Restrictive confinement: Spending too much time confined in a small space can cause the problem. It’s not uncommon to see coprophagia in dogs rescued from crowded shelters.
3. Anxiety: often a result of a person using punishment or harsh methods during house-training. According to this theory, dogs may eliminate and then eat their own poop to get rid of the evidence, but then they are punished more. It becomes a vicious cycle.
4. Attention-seeking: Dogs eat their own poop to get a reaction from their humans, which they inevitably will. So if you see your dog doing this, don’t overreact.
5. Inappropriate association with real food: Dogs who are fed in close proximity to their feces may make a connection between the odors of food and those of poop and will be unable to tell the difference.
6. Scenting it on their mothers: In some cases, puppies will get confused by sniffing fecal odors on their mother’s breath after she has cleaned them. Sometimes mothers may regurgitate food that is mixed with puppy fecal matter, which may set a puppy up to develop this bad habit.
7. Living with a sick or elderly dog: Sometimes a healthy dog will consume stools from a weaker canine member of the household, especially in cases of fecal incontinence. Scientists hypothesize that this may be related to the instinct to protect the pack from predators.
8. Just Because: Finally, some puppies and adult dogs will eat their own stool just because they like to do it. There is not always a satisfying explanation for the behavior, and the best you can do is to try to prevent your dog from doing it by distracting him and getting the stool picked up as quickly as possible.
Ok, so there are plenty of reasons your dog may be an avid connoisseur of coprophagia. But now the million dollar question: how exactly do you nip the problem in the bud?
Try these methods to end the poop-eating
1. Always keep things clean. Pick up after your dog immediately. Don’t give him the opportunity to even consider how that fresh, steamy stool tastes. If you have other pets, clean up after them right away, too–especially litter boxes. In other words, keep temptation at bay by keeping all stools away.
2. Keep your dog mentally and physically engaged. Make sure you set up a regular playtime and give him/her plenty of daily activity. This is especially important for more energetic breeds of dogs.
3. Make sure he/she is eating a whole, varied diet of quality proteins. Raw food has those digestive enzymes your dog needs to help him/her process meals. If you’re feeding cooked food only, you’ll definitely want to add digestive enzymes. Raw, green tripe is particularly high in digestive enzymes, as well as probiotics.
4. Try adding some kelp for trace mineral deficiency. And, for a hydrochloric acid deficiency, try some apple cider vinegar. This may help mimic the missing acid and help the body compensate for the deficiency.
5. Check your dog’s stool regularly for parasites. This can often become an undesirable and time-consuming task. By signing up for dog poop pickup service, part of the service is immediately notifying our clients if we find anything unusual in your dog’s stool upon each pickup.
6. Avoid punishment: according to a study at the University of California, Davis involving 1,500 online surveys of pet owners, it is ineffective. The study also found food additives used to stop poop eating are only effective up to 2 percent of the time. Positive reinforcement training was not very effective either.
7. Keep on top of the digestion situation of all the pets in your household. Remember, your dog may be attracted to another dog’s or cat’s stool, not only because he is deficient in something, but because they are not absorbing their food and their stools may be extra enticing.
The gross, but seemingly simple act of coprophagia may be somewhat complicated. If you’re noticing your dog’s starting to take a liking to poop, look for medical causes and if he/she is clear of any problems or issues, then make sure to keep things clean, your dog engaged and well fed. Be patient and most importantly always be consistent. Consulting your vet is always the best and should be the first move when dealing with a furry, four-legged poop-eating family member.