Eating Poo (or coprophagia to give it its medical term) causes an awful lot of revulsion for the owners of dogs who, for whatever reason, like to eat poo. Because faeces are an easily digestible source of protein or vegetation (mine do love a sneaky mouthfull of horse-poo!!) many predatory species will do this. Here we find a Ridgeback enjoying a “Bite of Pooh” !!!
Be mindful that along with the fact this habit is more than a little “icky” if the dog eats from a source where the host animal has recently been wormed, not only will your dog be consuming the worms that are ejected but also the drug that was given to the host animal to treat it. For dogs in the herding varieties, if they have a condition known as MDR1, this can be incredibly dangerous as the drugs used to worm animals can, in some cases, prove fatal to dogs with this condition. (check out our blog on MDR1 if you have a dog who may fall into this category such as Border Collies, Shelties, Old English Sheep Dogs etc: MDR1 blog)
It is perfectly natural for bitches to eat the faeces of their pups, and equally normal for a pup to do it out of curiosity (though this problem is often resolved once the puppy is toilet-trained) – and quicker still if you take away the deposit as soon as it arrives!
If an adult dog is eating his own poo however, this is not normal behaviour and so we need to look at what the possible cause for such unpleasant munching could be.
Check the list and see if any of these suit your situation:
- Curiosity – as in puppies, he may just wonder what it tastes like.
- We all learn from our mothers and some puppies copy the cleaning behaviour too. Occasionally this behaviour is carried on as the puppy grows up. Similarly, some bitches continue the cleaning behaviour even after their puppies have gone to their new homes.
- When he was being toilet trained, did you tell him off at any time for going in the wrong place? If you did, he may have decided that he needs to hide the evidence from you to avoid a further scolding.
- Is your dog finding his food a little boring? Perhaps it is just a complete dry diet that you are feeding. If so, you could gradually change it to something more interesting (not too quickly as he may get an upset stomach), or add other things for variety.
- Perhaps he needs a little more fibre to bulk out his diet. Adding in raw vegetables such as carrots can help with the formation of better stools.
- Is your dog hungry? Perhaps he needs a little more to feel satisfied? If his weight is ideal yet he still appears hungry, you could try splitting his meals into smaller portions but feeding him more frequently so he has something in his tummy more often. If you try feeding him an hour before his walk, he will likely still feel relatively full and hopefully not fill up on a poo-snack!
- Could your dog be bored? Often behaviours like coprophagia can denote boredome and a suggestion that a bit more mental stimulation is needed. You could try various games and learning sessions such as clicker training tricks such as taking a bow – check out You Tube to see lots of ways you can stimulate your dog’s mind.
- Does he like the taste? This is somewhat easier if he is eating his own poo as you can certainly make sure it is removed as soon as it appears or you could try putting something on the poo that he will find unpleasant-tasting. Sprays such as the bitter apple flavour are available. Another alternative is to add a dietary supplement that may render the faeces unpalatable to him. Try adding two to four tablespoons of canned pumpkin to his meals – although it tastes great the first time around, it apparently is much less enticing when mixed with the poo! Another thing to try is adding some canned pineapple, pineapple juice or spinach to his food as this too has been shown to put a lot of dogs off. Once the dog associates the process with an unpleasant taste, the habit usually stops and the supplement can then be discontinued. Your vet can guide you as to what to use. (Sadly this technique is of no use to you if he is eating poo he finds out on his walks)
- Sometimes it can be due to a vitamin B or K deficiency or it could be a sign of a more serious problem – speak with your vet for more information.
So how do we get him to stop doing it?
- Using some really high value treats (there’s no point in simply using his daily kibble if you want him to learn something with enthusiasm – so something like roast chicken or smelly cheese is great) start with some really good recall training so that he knows if you call him, the treat he will get will be way more tasty and special than the poo is.
- Once you feel his recall is consistently good, keep a really close eye on him during your walks, watching out for him finding any poo and as soon as he does, use your recall command and reward him with plenty of your high value treats.
- Always be positive and make the training a happy, fun experience. Use your treats and fun voice to entice him away. If you do not feel he has quite got the idea yet, you can leave a long line attached to him so he doesn’t get the chance to make it to the poo in the first place. He will soon get the idea that coming to you for some yummy treats and a happy, rewarding experience is a way better alternative than a mouth full of YUK!
- You’ll need to continue to distract him as you get past the poo, so that he’ll hopefully forget it was there.
If after trying everything you can, it transpires that your dog just cannot be persuaded to drop the habit and he occasionally manages to get to an unguarded poo before you do, please don’t panic. Eating the poo won’t hurt them (unless as stated above he is MDR1 positive), but you should make sure he is wormed regularly or taking Diatomacious Earth (see blog if you are unsure about what D.E. is: Blog on D.E.) to combat the parasites he will surely pick up along the way – and certainly you might want to start avoiding most of the kisses from your furry friend