Scientifically known as coprophagia, the poop eating habit of dogs is just not disgusting for humans, but also has numerous side effects to dog health. If your dog has a similar habit, it’s nothing to be shocked about. According to a research held by University of California, it was found that 16% dogs, that means 1 in 6 dogs have been caught eating stool more than five times, classifying as serious stool eaters, and 24% of dogs, that means 1 in 4 dogs have been caught in the act once. This concluded that the habit is derived from their ancestors who lived in natural habitat, that states it’s in a dog’s DNA!
On the other hand, another study shows that since dogs have evolved as scavengers, they naturally eat anything they find on the ground, so eating poop was one of a behavioral change over time to survive through starvation. Though, unlike many other species, eating fecal is not an important source of nutrition for dogs, and thus even if it’s in their DNA, they can be restricted from doing so.
What are the exact reasons?
Most common reasons for such changes or gaining such habits are environmental and behavioral stress, sudden change in environment, loneliness, improper recognition of food and so many more. Here are some of them;
- Smells Familiar – In certain cases, puppies confuse the poop with a similar smell of their mother which they may have recognized from her breath after she cleaned the pup. Or the bad habit could be acquired when the mother ate food mixed with puppy fecal, this may have been adopted as appetitive inoculation. Also it can happen when the dog has lived with an elderly or sick dog that fed on weaker dog’s fecal, either because of fecal incontinence or because of the trait when dog does to protect the pack from predators.
- Feeling of confinement – This habit is majorly seen in dogs who were captivated in small places, or in dogs who were rescued from crowded shelters. It is because of being kept in restrictive spaces and feeling of confinement.
- Behavioral Change – Coprophagia can be a result of anxiety caused due to strict home training. Sometimes owners adopt strict and harsh punishments for training that results in elimination of poop and to get saved from it the dog eats poop to clear evidence, but ends up in even more harsh punishment. This is nothing but a dirty loop. Another behavioral reason can be attention seeking, dogs do such things to attract the attention of their masters, try not to overreact or you will be motivating them to do so again!
- Sense of loneliness – Dogs who are less close to their owners or kept aloof are seen to be more habitual of it, than those who live in proximity to their masters. Don’t leave them alone hoomans!
- Improper feeding patterns – Poop eating can be a result of feeding your dog close to their poop which confuses them between the smell of food and fecal, which results in their disability to recognize between the two.
- Maybe there’s something seriously wrong! – If your dog has adopted the habit recently, it can be an indication of some serious health issues with it. It can be a symptom of intestinal tract, brain or liver diseases. Notice any other changes such as vomiting, sudden weight loss or behavioral changes. Consult your vet immediately!
According to professional dog poop scooper service provider, “If you catch your dog doing so, consult your vet to avoid possible health issues that may include: Malabsorption syndrome, diets deficient in nutrients and calories, parasites, thyroid, diabetes, cushing’s and similar disorders that might cause an increase in appetite and growing weight.”
The condition is more common in households with multi-digs households, it decreases in single dog households from 20% from 33%. Gender specifically, female dogs are more commonly poop eaters than male ones. Supporting the behavioral theory discussed in the beginning, 92% of dogs eat fresh stuff, not older than 2 days. Another fact that supports the theory of defense from predators, is that 85% of dogs do not eat their own stool, instead they eat other dogs’ feces. The issue can be ruled out through house training as well, these dogs are no tougher than other dogs to train.
How to stop this?
Doctors treat the habit as a normal trait thus there’s no special medications or treatment for it. If it is not a medical issue or some serious disease, it is not tough to rule out the condition. There are simple training tips and some dietary supplements and tricks to handle the situation that might not need you to consult a vet or take serious medications. Here are some of them you can try.
Some owners and veterinarians advice these strategies for changes in behaviour:
- Make it more disgusting- Dogs tend to eat things that taste good to them, poop could be appealing to their taste buds. To stop them from eating it, make it taste disgusting. Dogs have different taste buds than humans and have certain things that repel them. There are poop-eating deterrents that could be added to make poop less appealing. Keep in mind if there are multiple dogs in the house, feed all of them the same. Some of these may contain certain ingredients that could be allergic to your dog, consult your veterinarian before making these changes in diet. These may contain garlic, pepper-plant derivatives, parsley, chamomile, yucca, and monosodium glutamate.
- Try adding more enzymes- In some cases veterinarians have suggested adding meat-tenderizers that contain papain, an enzyme, since eating poop can be a result of enzyme deficiencies. The studies have recorded certain changes in diet of dogs over years, modern pets and dogs consume less meat-based proteins and fats, and high carbohydrates, than what their ancestors used to consume. Adding meat-tenderizers can help them get over the deficiency, and they don’t require to eat poop for that.
- Did you check on vitamins? – Similar to enzyme deficiencies, there are doubts that dogs may eat poop to fulfill their vitamin deficiency. Try adding a dog multivitamins, specially, vitamin-B, as it has been the prime suspect so far. A study in 1981 reported fecal microbial activity synthesized thiamine that was a B-Vitamin, some other studies reported some more vitamins. An add on of vitamin supplements can terminate the need of eating poop from a dog’s natural diet, but do consult your veterinarian before feeding your dog any new supplement.
If dietary changes don’t work, you can try to train your dog better, or change their environment of living to avoid any such situation.
- Mind the Surroundings – Easiest way is to keep stool away from the access of your dog. Keep their surroundings clean, if you have a cat in the same house, keep it’s litter box clean and out of the reach of a dog. Place it on a table with support, or at a place where it shouldn’t attract the dog, you can also try feeding your cat with supplements that repels the dog’s attention. If the house has multiple dogs, clean their surroundings strictly. Mind their routines, take them for walks on proper schedules, and keep in check they don’t get access to the stool while they walk too.
- Train them to keep the poop away – Take them out on proper routines, keep a watch while they defecate and divert their attention as soon as they are done. You can try offering them a treat, training strongly for commands like “look” and “leave”. You can try using training tools such as head collars to divert their attention immediately, or try basket mesh, it’s hard to push the stool through it. Mind that you need to clean up the stool while they eat their treat or engage themselves into something else to avoid them getting the access. The treats offered must be good and exclusive enough to make them feel rewarded for not eating the poop. Try training them at an early age and train them positively instead of harsh punishments.
- What if it’s the anxiety? – Notice their behavior, sometimes your dog may need a quiter or bigger space, or just a puzzle toy to keep itself busy. Know that dogs with anxiety could not be left alone. Be around them as much as you can, take them to work if you can, or contact a daycare. You may also try to change your training methods, maybe you were acting way too harsh with punishments, to rule this out you can consult a animal or dog behaviorist, he may help you with more and better options.
If nothing works or you suspect your pet is suffering from something, consult a vet and get it treated. Training grown up dogs could be a bit more difficult than puppies, as they have already inherited the training their previous owner gave them. In such cases, try to be more sensible and sensitive with your behavior towards them. Have patience while treating them and be very strict to restrict their access to the poop. As discussed before, it is a natural trait, or has many other reasons related to eating, it may take time to diagnose it and rule it out, your pet will need patience, love and positive behavior during the process.