Doody calls: Ask a vet what to do about a coprophagia canine aka dog eats poop

Pet Peeve: Why is my dog eating poop? How to stop my dog from eating poop
Pet Peeve: Why is my dog eating poop? How to stop my dog from eating poop

My beautiful and lovable dog Hazel has a dark secret. She's a poop eater. That's right, she eats her poop! To be fair, she doesn't discriminate. She'll eat any poop she finds. It's something I've struggled with, and I've only been able to find temporary solutions- mostly due to my own inconsistencies as a pet owner and not sticking to the treatment plan. I've talked to a lot of dog owners and discovered that Hazel is not the only poop-mouth out there. In fact, feces eating is a very common behaviour in dogs. Believe it or not, there's a name for it: coprophagia. Even the name sounds gross! I want to know, why do dogs eat their poop? What can I do to stop it? I decided to ask my veterinarian, Dr. Carlie Paquette, who works at Pembroke Animal Hospital

Why does my dog eat poop?

If you've ever watched your dog gobble up something gross, like animal poop, you've probably wondered why your dog would want to eat something so disgusting. In some cases, eating feces is normal. Like when a mother licks her baby's feces to clean them. But trust me, I get it. Dr. Paquette says that behavioural reasons are usually the cause of your dog's dirty deeds.

"Coprophagia most often has behavioural causes in dogs and cats," said Dr. Paquette. "It can be a compulsive or learned behaviour, it can be an imitation behaviour (owners cleaning up feces) and it can also have an attention seeking component."

While medical reasons are less common, it is possible. Crap...

"Majority of cases of coprophagia are not caused by disease, however, there are some medical causes that should be considered if there are other clinical signs present such as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, inflammatory bowel disease, Intestinal parasites, anemia, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, hyperthyroidism or diabetes mellitus," said Dr. Paquette.

Eating poop is gross. and while doctors can't always tell you why, these are a few possible reasons- both medical and behavioural.

Medical reasons your dog may eat poop

  • Diet could be linked to poop eating. Dogs who suffer from malnutrition or not enough calories, or even a lower quality food that is lacking in nutrition may eat feces. Hazel is on a therapeutic diet, so I'm sceptical that her poop-mouth is diet-related
  • Pet owners feeding a homemade diet may find their pooch is into the poop to try and supplement the nutrition that is lacking in their diet. All homemade diets should be under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian
  • Worms! Some dogs eat poop when they have intestinal parasites
  • Eating feces has presented in dogs with poor nutrient absorption and digestion within the GI tract
  • There are other less common medical reasons you can read about on Veterinary Partner

"If your dog has other symptoms that accompany coprophagia such as weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, or generalized polyphagia, then medical causes should be investigated and ruled out," Dr. Paquette said. "We can also see coprophagia with pica, so if your pet has pica and coprophagia, medical causes should be investigated."

Doody calls: Ask a vet what to do with a coprophagia canine

Behaviour reasons your dog may eat poop

Behaviour reasons are likely the source of your dog's poopy appetite. Some dogs develop a taste for it and really enjoy it. Like my adorable Hazel! These are some other reasons your dog may eat poop. 

  • This behaviour is common in puppies, but they typically outgrow it- fingers crossed 
  • Sometimes it's purely boredom and a lack of mental stimulation and playtime
  • Separation anxiety and stress can cause a dog to eat feces, especially dogs that soil inside the home. They may eat the feces to avoid getting in trouble
  • Again, it tastes good. They're just doing their doody. 

So how do you know why your dog is eating poop? It's not always an easy question to answer.

"The decision as to whether the condition is medical or behavioural is often based on a thorough history as well as an evaluation of the animal's diet, environment, and a complete physical exam," Dr. Paquette explained. 

Is my dog's poop-eating a major medical concern?

Eating feces is not a huge medical concern, but there are things to be aware of and precautions to take if you have a poop eater. If your dog ingests the feces of an animal on medication, there's a chance your dog could ingest the medication. It's rare, but it can happen. Dogs who eat feces can be at higher risk of getting infected by things like salmonella. They can also get worms from eating the feces of an infected animal. If you have a poop-mouth in your family, make sure you don't allow your dog to lick you!

What can I do at home to prevent my dog from eating poop?

"If a behavioural cause is determined then to prevent this, the owner may have to ensure there is no access to feces in the yard by cleaning up poop promptly and working with the dog to change their motivation to ingest feces," said Dr. Paquette. 
I've compiled a lot of different options and things you can try. They might not all be the perfect solution for every pet.

  • Pick up feces in the backyard or your dog may think a trip to the yard means snack time
  • Keep your dog leashed during bathroom breaks
  • Reduce soiling in the house by providing frequent bathroom breaks- you can hire a pet sitter to help. Never scold or punish your dog if you find the pet has soiled in the home
  • Physical activity and mental stimulation can really help. Provide lots of playtime and exercise
  • Use a slow feeder to slow down dog's eating and make your dog feel fuller
  • Switch to a higher-quality diet, like a veterinary diet formulated to have balanced nutrition. Discuss it with your dog's vet so you pick the best diet and switch gradually to the new food. A diet that's high in fiber diet may be recommended
  • Compulsive behaviour and extreme anxiety may be something that is manageable with medication- under the supervision of your vet of course
  • Some extreme poop eaters may have to wear a basket muzzle when outside doing their business

"Ensure there are stimulating toys in the yard. Leash walking may be necessary or even muzzles to prevent ingestion," Dr. Paquette recommended. 

Are there any products I can use to stop my dog from eating poop?

Preventatives can change the feces flavour to deter your dog by making poop a less enjoyable snack. Some pet owners have reported that canned spinach, bananas or fresh pineapple can help occasionally. Supporting your dog's gastrointestinal health can help as well. Probiotics like Forti Flora can help with that. For-bid is a product I've used in the past with Hazel, and it worked well. That's because my vet recommended it!

"There are some products available through your veterinarian that can also aid in the treatment of coprophagia, like For-bid," said Dr. Paquette. Important to note that if you have two pets, they both need to be on For-bid. Because once you see your dog eating your other dog's poop as it comes out of her butt... you can never unsee that. Trust me.

If you want to learn more about coprophagia the best source is your veterinarian. You can also check out Veterinary Partner, a fantastic online database created by vets and used by vets. It is my #1 spot online to find accurate information about pet medical conditions, medications and so much more! 

Doody calls: What to do with a coprophagia canine

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