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Dog Tip: Stopping Dogs From Eating Poop


Dog Tip: Stopping Dogs From Eating Poop (Coprophagia)

Does your dog have a dirty little secret?

A number of readers have contacted us about dogs who munch their own or other animals' feces. Here is background on the condition known as coprophagia, and what you can do to discourage doggie-do-eaters from this somewhat common, natural behavior that strikes humans as a disgusting gustatory pastime.

Background and principles:

* Coprophagia is a condition that compels dogs to consume feces.

* Why does the dog engage in this habit? A dog may ingest fecal matter for various reasons:

He may be hungry and has no access to real food.

You may be feeding a food lacking in sufficient nutrients and/or not appropriate for your particular dog.

When a dog is fed low-quality and/or inappropriate dog food, he feels compelled to eat more of it in an attempt to satisfy his body's craving for nutrients. As a result, the dog is ingesting excess food, and a large proportion of the food goes through his digestive system undigested. The resulting stools smell and look fairly close to the food that the dog previously consumed, so the dog tries to consume the 'food' again. This is not just a vulgar habit; it is a cry for health. The dog needs a better diet that will enable him to absorb the nutrients his body needs.

When dogs consume feces from other animals, they may be seeking minerals lacking in their regular dog food.

The dog may be consuming feces out of boredom, loneliness, anxiety or stress.

A dog who is confined to a kennel, chained, or restricted to a small yard or other space may eat his feces to occupy himself or clean his personal space. This dog needs to be exercised and played with several times a day.

Some breeds instinctively like to carry things in their mouths. Picking up feces and carrying it around may signal that the dog needs more daily exercise, mental stimulation and interaction with his people.

A yard or kennel where stools are allowed to pile up may prompt a dog to 'clean up' his stools. Be sure to clean the dog's area every day, and preferably right after the dog eliminates.

The emotional stress of being left alone or restricted to a small area for long periods of time without the companionship of the caregiver can result, for some dogs, in the eating of his own feces.

Internal parasites may lead a dog to consume feces, because the parasites can leach nutrients from the host animal's system. Thus, the dog will feel unusually hungry.

If a dog is punished for defecating in the house, she may eat her feces in order to hide the evidence and avoid punishment. Typically, when a dog defecates indoors, it is because she feels unable to hold it. It is a myth that dogs poop indoors for spite; spite is a human, not a canine, emotion. More responsive management and training by the owner is the solution, not punishment. Also realize that elimination in the house can be a sign of a health or medical problem, from parasites to a serious condition.

* Sometimes a mother dog will eat the feces of her pups out of a natural instinct to hide evidence of her offspring from predators.

* It is common for many puppies to taste and try to eat feces. Some researchers even suggest that some components of feces actually can stimulate the brain and immune function in young animals. However, that possible benefit is far outweighed by the health risks of ingesting excrement. Prevention is the wisest practice. Don't let the pups indulge, and they won't develop a taste for excrement ... and won't develop this habit.

* Prevention is better than treatment in mature dogs as well, since coprophagia is usually self-rewarding, meaning that the act of ingesting the feces is satisfying to the dog so he is likely to repeat the undesired behavior.

Solutions:

* Change the dog's diet. Buy or prepare only nutritious, quality food that is formulated for the dog's age, breed and any medical issues.

* For the dog who may be hungry, try feeding him a little more, and make sure you feed a quality, nutritious food that is appropriate for the age and type of canine.

* Take the dog to your veterinarian for an examination for underlying medical and health problems, parasites and other problems that may be compelling him to eat feces.

* Clean up after your pet, right after he goes - before he has a chance to eat his poop. Stopping access is one key to stopping this habit.

* Walk the dog on leash so that you are in a better position to tell the dog 'leave it' and to physically keep the dog from trying to sniff and eat stools. Always praise your dog for listening. You can also reinforce the verbal praise with tidbits carried in a pouch.

* As soon as the dog starts approaching excrement, tell her 'nah-ah-ahhh' or 'leave it!', and distract her with praise supported with a treat, clicker click, playtime or other action or activity that is appealing to the dog. This will convey the idea that it is more rewarding to attend to you than to attend to poop. As soon as she turns her attention to her, praise her ('Good dog!') and reward her. A wise practice is to always carry appealing tidbit treats, a favorite toy, clicker - something you can always use to effectively gain your dog's attention and reinforce desired behaviors. Once you get her attention, give her something positive to do. For example, tell her to 'Sit', reward her for listening, then proceed to an enjoyable activity such as playing or walking together. Distract her from undesired things like feces, and substitute a good, desired behavior such as sitting and attending to you. A dog who is interacting with her owner can't be investigating poop at the same time.

* If the dog is defecating in the house, the dog needs to be fed and walked on a schedule that allows her to eliminate before the owner leaves her alone for the day and before bedtime. The dog also may need housetraining help. Teach the dog instead of punishing her; this is the sensible and effective approach. Also, visit the vet to see if a medical condition is the underlying cause of the dog eliminating indoors.

* If a pup or dog is pooping in his crate, make sure he gets more exercise and has the chance to eliminate before placing him in his crate. Also, read about crate training. Dogs naturally do not like to poop or urinate in their living quarters, so a dog who potties in the crate needs you to help crate-train him properly ... and perhaps a trip to the vet to rule out medical problems that may underlie an inability to 'hold it' for a few hours. However, also realize that pups can't physically hold their elimination for more than one to three hours, and that it is not healthy or kind to crate adult dogs for more than 5 to 6 hours a day. Take the time to properly train your dog so that he can be left alone in the house, in a pet-safe area instead of confined in a crate.

* There are products that you can apply to the stools that will discourage your dog from consuming them. Some are available from pet supply stores and others from veterinarians. These include Forbid.

* Some alternatives to drugs that work for some:

Add two to four tablespoons of canned pumpkin to the food bowl each day. Pumpkin apparently tastes good in food, but repugnant when expelled in excrement.

Add a spoon (teaspoon or tablespoon depending on the dog's size) of canned pineapple, pineapple juice or spinach to the dog's food.

Add some meat tenderizer or MSG to the dog's food.

Coat stools, following elimination, with hot sauce or lemon juice. Or booby trap sample stools by penetrating some left in the yard with hot sauce.

* Block the dog's access to any kitty litter boxes to keep him from developing a taste for kitty tootsie rolls ... or to help break a habit that has already formed. Keep the litter box in a room that the cat, but not the dog, can access. Or place a lid over the box that only the cat can access. Or place a baby gate around the box that has openings too small for the dog.

* Coprophagia can be a hard habit to break since it is self-reinforcing, but do not be discouraged. Follow these tips and give them a chance to work.

* In summary, the steps to stopping poop-eating are: feed a complete, nutrient-packed and balanced diet; provide lots of exercise, playtime and interaction; keep living spaces, crates, kennels and yard clean; avoid confining the dog for long periods of time; and take him to your veterinarian for a health checkup.

Related article:

The Scoop on Poop
http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_Poop.html

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For more free tipsheets on canine behavior, health, management and other issues, see the Dog Tips index at
website at:  www.paw-rescue.org

Partnership for Animal Welfare
P.O. Box 1074, Greenbelt, MD 20768

Last Updated: June 23, 2013 (LET) PawSupport