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You let your dog outside to do its business and before you know it, it’s cleaning up after itself, but not in a way you’d prefer. Yep, your dog just ate its feces 🤢. Find out why your dog is doing this and how you can stop it.
Coprophagia is the scientific term for consuming feces. Many animals have been noted for coprophagia, including dogs and mice. Regardless of how commonly we may encounter it with our domesticated dogs, there is no conditioning human beings to the horror we experience at that very moment that our beloved pet consumes poop.
The first thing you’ll want to do is schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to make sure your dog is in good health. Ruling out any health conditions is the most important thing you’ll need to check off.
If your veterinarian discovers an underlying condition, then they may suggest a path of treatment (e.g. particular diet, multivitamin or medication to relieve anxiety). If there are no health conditions detected by your vet, you’ll need to focus on deterring or distracting your dog from eating its poop.
There are some products on the market that are made to deter your dog from consuming their poop, but these products can be ineffective and costly. The best thing you can do is take away the temptation. That means going out with your dog when they go potty and scooping up their poop immediately after.
You may find that keeping your dog on a leash while they go potty helps keep them away from their poop too. Correct your dog if they attempt to eat their poop by saying “no” or “leave it” and directing your dog away from the feces.
There are many theories as to why dogs consume their feces or the feces of other animals, and there are several factors to consider. Researchers claim that some of the elements that affect whether a dog eats feces include:
Dogs may also lick poop to smell and taste it, gathering information about themselves or another dog. Some believe that eating the poop after the assessment may be a way to remove the evidence that the dog himself or the other one were ever in the area.
One of the most commonly cited explanations for coprophagia is the overall health of the dog engaging in this habit. There are some who believe that dogs that resort to eating poop are seeking to replenish digestive enzymes in their gut. The reason for this is that most of the commercial dog foods that are available today are significantly different from what dogs were naturally meant to eat. This can sometimes create an enzyme imbalance in the dog’s gut.
Another common explanation for this behavior is a deficiency in certain vitamins, most commonly vitamin B. While dog owners most commonly want to pin their dog’s unusual behavior on a health condition, the fact is that this is rarely the reason for coprophagial activity.
Many argue that dogs are unable to comprehend or express human emotions; however, there is a considerable amount of evidence to the contrary.
It used to be that humans believed that the most efficient way to deter their dogs from pooping in the house would be to rub it’s nose in the defecation while sternly saying “no.” More recent evidence not only tells us that this is a poor housebreaking technique but additionally, it could be one reason why some dogs take part in coprophagia. Most dogs want to please their family pack, and just like human children, if they feel that they are going to be “in trouble” they may try to hide the evidence.
Younger puppies that have been threatened with the “nose rubbing” technique after pooping in the house have often been observed eating their waste to avoid being shamed by their pack members or to avoid having their nose rubbed in it again. It is also possible that young dogs take the nose rubbing technique as a signal that they should consume their waste since their face is being rubbed in it.
As a side note, nose rubbing is NEVER a correct solution; it creates poor bonding between you and your dog and can severely cripple your dog’s development and understanding of what you expect from them.
There are some canine instincts that have survived the domestication of dogs, and, for some dogs, these instincts are more noticeable. Examples of these instincts include: dogs that roll in feces to cover their scent and moving in circles before laying down (also known as denning.) As dogs are bred they can lose these instincts but in some cases, they seem as strong as ever. This may be another reason why some dogs eat poop.
Wild dogs rely on many actions to preserve their families and remain hidden from predators. When wild dogs have young pups in the den that are still too young to leave, these pups will defecate in the den. The smell of this waste can attract predators, and so the mother frequently will consume the waste of her pups to keep them safe. For some pups, observing their mother doing this can prompt them to imitate her actions.
Dogs live in a hierarchical society; there is always one dog that sits at the top of the hierarchy with other dogs in the pack being submissive to this pack leader. In some cases, researchers have observed coprophagia by submissive pack members, but uniquely the feces being eaten are only those of the dominant pack members.
While most domesticated dogs do not live in packs, they may live in households with multiple dogs in which case the more submissive pack members may be noted as those that commit coprophagia.
One of the most unfortunate reasons for coprophagia in dogs is neglect. Like most animals, when left with no choice a starving dog will resort to eating anything to keep itself alive.
Coprophagia is commonly seen with dogs that have been abandoned by their owners — either tied up outside or left in the home after the owners have moved away. Often when dogs are rescued from these types of situations, they may continue coprophagiac behavior even when placed in a safe home and fed a healthy diet.
Here’s a graphic summarizing why dogs eat poop and how to get them to stop.
Many devastating diseases and parasites can be transmitted through the act of coprophagia, these include:
When a dog eats the feces of a dog with these types of parasites they can consume living worms or eggs of worms that are still residing in their host. Once these feces are consumed the dog with coprophagia will begin to show signs of contamination. Some of the most commonly found worms in dogs with coprophagia include:
Hookworms are parasites that live in the small intestine of the infected animal and not only affect dogs, but they can also infect people. Hookworms are incredibly small and yet extremely difficult to eradicate once they have infected a host animal.
Hookworms can cause difficulties for the infected animal including anemia since these worms feed off the animal’s blood by damaging the intestinal mucosa. While canine hookworms rarely cause illness in humans, they can on occasion, so it is essential to treat a dog with hookworms immediately with a dewormer. Learn more about hookworms.
Tapeworms are found in different animals and can grow to extreme proportions resulting in malnutrition to the host animal. There are more than a thousand species of tapeworms that lay eggs that are shed in the feces.
When a dog consumes the feces of an infected dog, it will begin to show symptoms once the tapeworm establishes itself in the intestines of the newly infected dog. A veterinarian should treat tapeworm infestation. Learn more about tapeworms.
Roundworms are another particularly tricky parasite to eliminate in that they lay extreme numbers of eggs that can survive outside the body of a host in soil for as long as 10 years. This means that a dog can contract roundworms from consuming infected feces as well as from the soil contaminated by those feces. Roundworms should be treated with a dewormer prescribed by a veterinarian. Learn more about roundworms.
Parvovirus is a particularly devastating disease that can be transmitted through the feces of a dog with active parvovirus OR through a dog that has successfully been treated for parvovirus. Many puppies that are diagnosed with this disease never survive the initial stages of infection.
Parvovirus is extremely contagious and can affect the circulatory or intestinal system of the infected dog depending upon the subtype of the disease. Parvovirus attacks cells that divide rapidly in the body can quickly destroy vital cells such as bone marrow and white blood cells.
Treatment for parvovirus infection includes the administration of fluids and antibiotics to kill the infection. While most dogs rarely survive parvovirus, those that do often have lasting damage in the way of scar tissue in the organs affected by the virus.
Heartworms are worms that infect the heart of the affected animal and damage the heart tissue eventually leading to death. Heartworms are particularly prominent in dogs and are extremely difficult to eradicate once they have infected the heart tissue.
Heartworms are easily prevented through the administration of regular heartworm prophylactics. Once heartworms establish themselves in a dog, treatment is centered on poisoning the existing worms through the use of arsenic-based compounds. Unfortunately, many dogs already weakened by the infection, are unable to survive heartworm treatment.
Infectious canine hepatitis can be spread through feces, saliva, urine, blood and nasal discharge and it results in both infection of the liver and the establishment of a bleeding disorder. Dogs infected with this disease can exhibit a variety of symptoms including spontaneous hemorrhaging and a fever.
Treatment of infectious canine hepatitis is based upon treating the symptoms displayed by the individual dog.
The campylobacteria found in the gut causes campylobacteriosis. Small puppies are those that are infected most, and they often present with severe diarrhea which can rapidly cause dehydration and eventually death if left untreated. Campylobacteriosis generally runs its course in a week; however, when young puppies are affected, this is long enough to cause death.
Any young dog suspected of having campylobacteriosis or showing significant diarrhea should be treated immediately by a vet to prevent dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes. Treatment for campylobacteriosis includes a course of antibiotics and administration of fluids.
Some people give their dogs pineapple in hopes that their dog won’t like the taste of it in their poop. Unfortunately, this can be a hit or miss to stop coprophagia.
Pineapple naturally contains a lot of sugar. If your dog consumes too much sugar, it can lead to an upset tummy. If given in safe quantities, pineapple is generally okay for a dog to ingest but we suggest checking with your vet before feeding your dog pineapple.
If you have tried all of the above and nothing seems to help, talk to your vet, or seek the help of a professional dog trainer. In addition to eating it, dogs might also like to roll in poop, but you can find out why and how to stop it.Tagged With: Food Safety, Heartworms, Poop, Worms