Picture this; little Fluffy is playing in the yard. Isn’t she just the cutest girl? Oh look, she’s eating something. Poor thing must be hungry! Wait, is that poop? Is she eating poop? Fluffy! Drop that and come here! She swallows quickly and bounds her way over to you and before you know it she has proudly given you a kiss, on your face. Sounds like Fluffy has a nasty little habit called coprophagia. As disgusting and not fun as this is to you, it is actually an unfortunate, but common dog behaviour.
When mother dogs have litters, they clean their babies and eat the feces. It is a natural behaviour. Same goes for mother cats and their kittens. When the babies start moving around well enough to leave their nesty-nest, the mother can stop cleaning them up because they can now defecate wherever their little heart’s desire. On the rugs, on your shoes, wherever! So, as you can imagine, they are actually hard-wired to have this eating habit.
There are however, some things that can trigger this behaviour. If your adult dog suddenly develops this behaviour, bring him to your veterinarian for a check-up. There could be something else going on. Some triggers that can cause the eating of poop candy are: excessive hunger, pain. Maybe Fluffy isn’t getting enough to eat or is going too long between meals so feces starts to look really tasty. I mean, it was good going down in the first place wasn’t it?? Maybe Fluffy has internal parasites so she is actually hosting a dinner party and no one has left any food for her!
There are also non-health related triggers to consider. Sometimes dogs make a connection between defecating (eg. House soiling) and punishment so they may quickly eat the stool so that they can avoid being punished. It is one of many reasons to not punish your pet for house soiling. Boredom can also be a trigger. Not only can they destroy the house when bored but sometimes boredom makes feces eating fun. Get out that interesting treat toy! They can help keep Fluffy occupied.
Some tips for overcoming feces eating:
The number one thing you can do is keep Fluffy’s area clean of feces. Monitor her in the yard or on walks. You want to fix the issue before it becomes a full blown habit if possible.
There are some food additives that can help. Here at Mill Creek Animal Hospital we use a product called For-Bid. You add it to the food and it doesn’t change the taste of the food but it does change the taste of the feces. It makes feces taste really bad. You would think it would taste bad already but apparently not. However, before adding anything to your dog’s diet you should always consult with your veterinarian. And remember, additives aren’t miracle cures. They don’t work with one dose and they don’t always work for every dog but they are worth trying because it could be that it works on your dog! And if Fluffy stops eating feces that’s totally worth it!
Training techniques are always a great tool to train the behaviour out. Go out with Fluffy on a leash and bring some super yummy treats. As soon as the stool touches the ground, call Fluffy to you. As soon as she reaches you, praise her and give her a treat! Then back away from her and give another treat for coming to you. Repeat a few more times to really get her mind off of that tempting poop candy lying over there on the grass. Bring her indoors and go back out and clean up the feces without her.