Dr. Al Townshend
Coprophagia (kow-pruh-fay-zhuh) is the medical term for eating feces. Many Guardians view this as a disgusting habit that can significantly affect the family’s relationship with the pet. For some, it can destroy the human/animal bond and result in placing the pet in a shelter.
It is essential to understand that while eating the pet’s feces is unpleasant for the Guardian, it is harmless for the pet. Eating the feces of other animals can increase the risk of parasite infestation and encourage the spread of disease.
What Causes a Pet to Eat Poop?
The domestic dog evolved from the wild wolf who is a predator and a scavenger. The canine is a curious species and smelling and tasting new and different items can be an important mechanism for survival during hard times.
Many are unaware that eating feces is considered normal at some stages in a dog’s life. Nursing mothers usually lick and groom their puppies to stimulate a bowel movement. They clean and eat the pup’s feces for about the first three to four weeks of their lives. Females in the wild often eat feces close to the den to keep the area clean, remove odors that might attract predators, and prevent parasite infestations.
There are many diseases and conditions that create hunger and stimulate the appetite. When food is unavailable, feces can become a viable option for a canine that evolved as a scavenger and predator.
- Poor diet with ingredients that are incompletely digested and likely to cause imbalances can stimulate an increase in appetite.
- Not enough food will never satisfy appetite.
- Malabsorption diseases prevent proper digestion and absorption of food.
- Drugs such as steroids can increase hunger and appetite.
- Diabetes, Thyroid Disease, Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, and Adrenal Disease can cause an increase in appetite.
- Boredom can stimulate unusual behavior such as coprophagia. In homes with more than one dog, eating feces can become a game that is difficult to correct. Poop-eaters prefer a firm stool. Winter, when feces are frozen, is a common temptation that is hard to resist for a hunter and scavenger.
- Isolation and confinement for long periods can encourage poop-eating.
- Anxiety and stress from inappropriate punishment can lead to eating poop, which can lead to more punishment leading to a vicious cycle.
- Attention-seeking from the Guardian by eating feces can be challenging to correct if the Guardian over-reacts.
- Inappropriate association with real food can occasionally occur if dogs poop near their feeding area. They can make a connection between food and feces odors and become unable to distinguish the difference.
- Living with a sick or elderly dog has been known to cause a healthy pet to consume the weaker pet’s feces, especially if the more fragile pet is incontinent.
How to Stop a Pet from Eating Feces?
Stopping a pet that has begun eating its stool or the feces from other animals can be difficult and frustrating. There is no one cure for every pet. Trial and error are essential to finding the combination of techniques that works for each individual pet.
- The first step is to have the pet checked by a veterinarian to eliminate any medical conditions as a cause.
- Reduce any boredom or isolation issues by spending more quality time with the pet.
- Consider a diet change to a better quality, biologically appropriate recipe that is complete and balanced.
- Some have suggested adding fiber to increase the stool volume and soften the stool.
- Go out with the pet and be prepared to pick up the feces quickly to discourage temptation. Keep the pet on the leash for better control.
- Use commands like “no,” “leave it,” or “come” to let the pet know what you want.
- Always provide a treat right after the pet finishes having the bowel movement.
- Altering the taste of the feces by adding items to the food has worked for some. Meat tenderizers, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and added fiber have all been tried with varying success.
- Baiting the pet with fresh feces that has been covered with noxious items like pepper or tabasco has also helped.
- Over-the-counter remedies are available and worth a try with difficult cases.
- Animal trainers and veterinary behaviorists can also provide support.
Preventing problems is all about proper hygiene of the environment and the pet.
- Keep the home and pet areas, bedding, food, and water bowls clean.
- If there is a cat in the home, keep the litter box clean at all times.
- Ensure the yard is clean and the neighbor’s dog has not pooped in the pet’s yard.
- Feed an animal protein-focused and biologically appropriate diet in the right amount to maintain a slightly lean body conformation, and allow for growth in puppies and kittens.
- Watch the pet closely after the bowel movement to catch any indication of a problem early.
- Add probiotics and digestive enzymes to the daily diet to encourage optimum digestion.
- Create a distraction after the pet finishes. Offer a treat and begin to move away, throw a ball, etc.
Eliminating distasteful and unnecessary bad behavior is essential in creating the strong human/animal bond we all hope to have with our beloved pets.