When it comes to dog behavior, there are some things that we humans might never come to accept. Barking, chewing, whining- we understand and accept these behaviors as normal, even if we don’t necessarily enjoy them in our pets. But eating feces? Now that’s a behavior issue that we find disgusting, and most people who catch their dog in the act want to eliminate the problem immediately. But why do dogs do it in the first place?
Although we cannot be completely certain, there are dozens of possible explanations for this behavior, which is known as coprophagia, and these explanations range from easily treatable behavior or training issues to medical problems that require a vet’s attention. Consider the following reasons behind coprophagia, and use your judgment (or your vet’s input) to determine which could be contributing to your dog’s gross habit:
1. It could be the result of overfeeding or underfeeding. If you are overfeeding your dog, then he is probably not able to completely digest his food. Thus, his feces still smells like food, leading him to eat it for a second time. Contrarily, if you are underfeeding your dog (or only feeding him once a day), he could become extremely hungry, leading him to search for food in any place he can find it, appetizing or not.
2. Your dog could be deficient in a vitamin or mineral. If this is the case, his instincts have led him to eat feces in an attempt to restore balance.
3. Coprophagia could be indicative of stress, anxiety, or boredom. In this case, increasing exercise, play time, and attention should work wonders.
4. Poo-eating can be caused by changes in diet or medication. Certain antibiotics can cause it, for example, as can switching your dog to a diet that’s high in fat.
5. Puppies have been known to develop the behavior after being punished for pooping in the house. In these instances, they misunderstand the punishment and believe they are being punished for pooping, not for pooping indoors. As a result, they may start to eat their feces in an attempt to “hide the evidence.” If this is the case, new training tactics should be developed.
6. Sometimes dogs eat the feces of the sick or the young. This is purely instinctual and is an attempt to shield these weaker pack members from potential predators (imaginary though they are).
7. Finally, some dogs develop the habit as a result of an unclean litter area. Even dogs have a limit of how much filth they can take, so if you allow your backyard to fill up with your pet’s waste, eventually, he could start to clean it up himself the only way he knows how. If this is the case, then you have no one to blame for this gross habit but yourself, and you need to start keeping your pet’s space cleaner.
If none of the above explanations seem to apply to your dog and if your vet assures you that the habit is not the result of an underlying medical issue, then as disgusting as it is to us, it could be the case that your dog simply enjoys the taste. This isn’t necessarily abnormal, but if you’re like most pet owners, you probably find the behavior very undesirable. If this is the case, then there are some other creative ways you can help to break your dog of his coprophagia. Owners have had success with these examples, some of which are easier than others:
- Lacing your dog’s food with pineapple, garlic, or pickles (substances that apparently deter the dog from wanting to eat the feces containing them)
- Covering the droppings with cayenne pepper or hot sauce
- Spraying droppings with a specially designed formula (available at most pet stores)
- Regularly exercising and stimulating your dog
There are many possible explanations for why dogs sometimes eat their own feces. Although the habit is disgusting and unpleasant to think about, the good news is, there are ways to stop it. For more information about why dogs act the way they do and for dog training tips, consult the experts at K9 Kingdom, Pittsburgh, PA’s premier dog boarding, training, and grooming facility. You can find out more about their services at their website (k9kingdom.com).