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Nutrition Nuggets
 
 
Your dog's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your dog, how much food to feed, and the differences in dog foods, so your dog gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

What to Do When a Dog Eats Poop

October 26, 2012 / (7) comments

Most owners love their dogs, but that doesn’t mean we’re not disgusted by them from time to time. Chief among the complaints that I most frequently hear from owners is coprophagia. Okay, nobody uses that word. Instead they’ll say something along the lines of, "Doc, why does my dog insist on eating poop? It’s just so gross!"

 

Gross it is, but coprophagia is often a normal canine behavior. In some cases, it’s even beneficial. For example, a new mom will lick her puppies’ bottoms to stimulate defecation and then eat what comes out to keep the den clean and free from odors that might attract predators. And dogs aren’t the only species that regularly eat poop. Newborn foals will ingest other horses’ droppings to help colonize their intestinal tracts with the bacteria needed for healthy digestion.

 

I think we can all respect the new mom who keeps her puppies healthy and protected and her den clean, but why do dogs eat poop — their own as well as that of other dogs and even other species — under so many different circumstances?

 

Health problems can be to blame in a limited number of cases. Some conditions (e.g., Cushing’s disease, intestinal malabsorption/maldigestion disorders, or diabetes mellitus) can make dogs ravenously hungry, and they will basically try to eat anything within their reach that has even the slightest resemblance to food. Another reason that is frequently tossed about is that the dog is missing a nutrient in its diet. In fact, there’s not a lot of evidence to support this, particularly if a dog is eating adequate amounts of a nutritionally balanced food made from high-quality ingredients.

 

A good first step when faced with canine coprophagia is to make an appointment with your veterinarian. The doctor can diagnose or rule out any health concerns that may be playing a role and also check for gastrointestinal parasites and infections that can result from this behavior.

 

If your dog gets a clean bill of health, then the problem can be handled behaviorally. Dogs eat poop because it is rewarding to them. It tastes good, relieves their hunger, or it brings them attention (negative attention can be better than no attention in their eyes). The rewards vary from case to case, but the treatment paradigm is the same — remove the reward and the behavior should stop:

 

  • Be fastidious about cleaning up feces in the yard and from litter boxes, and try to avoid walking the dog in areas where he is likely to run across “snacks.”
  • If you catch a dog in the act, don’t make a huge event out of it but try to distract him. Toss a can filled with coins to the ground (neither near you nor the dog, the noise should seem like it came out of nowhere) and then call him to you and reward him when he comes.
  • Try changing the diets of the pets in the house. Different foods will alter the smell and composition of feces, which may make them less attractive. Diets made from highly digestible, natural ingredients are ideal. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a product that is appropriate for your animals.
  • Try one of the many available products that make feces less palatable to dogs. Some work by imparting a foul taste to the feces, others contain enzymes that break down components of the stool that dogs find appealing, and some products combine the two approaches. When you find a brand that works for your dog, continue with it for at least a few weeks.

 

Unfortunately, even with appropriate behavioral modification and changes to their environments, some dogs will revert to their old ways and sample feces from time to time. If you notice this occurring, immediately reinstitute your "hard line" protocol to nip the relapse in the bud.

 

Dr. Jennifer Coates

 

Image: No Shame by Gregory Hill / via Flickr

 

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Comments  7

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  • Litter Boxes
    10/26/2012 06:56am

    I've always heard that dogs have a hard time refusing cat food. Additionally, I've heard that cat feces smell like cat food to a dog and that's why dogs scout litter boxes for "treats".

    Is this fact or fiction?

  • 10/26/2012 09:33pm

    Hard to say exactly why, but it certainly seems fairly universal in the dog world to seek out those tootsie rolls.

  • 04/08/2014 06:51pm

    Dear doctor Jennifer,

    Someone told me that giving dogs pineapple is another way to help with dogs not eating their poop, other than giving something with MSG in it. I only feed my dogs dry food. Have you ever herd about this method. If so, what would be a safe amount of pineapple to give, and how often can you give it to them ( daily, once a week ect...). If you could email me back with your thought's about this. We have Shih Tzu's.
    Thank you and I hope to hear from you.

    Brian

  • 04/09/2014 11:26am

    I've heard of people trying pineapple but for the most part the results seem poor. Pineapple is not toxic to dogs, so you could try a small amount daily, but I'd worry that anything more than a bite or two a day could cause a small dog to develop diarrhea.

  • Darn!
    10/26/2012 08:09pm

    I was hoping for the "magic bullet" that would put a stop to my two Shepherds' poop eating!

    I guess not!

    Going out with them to immediately pick up is still the best bet, I guess.

  • why do dogs eat poop
    02/02/2013 08:04am

    I have a 12.5 y/o female boxer who eats my bichons only if the bichon has an accident in the house.

    Since my boxer is female and the bichon is male I contribute it to the boxer knowing that it doesn't belong in the house and she cleans it up. Motherly instinct perhaps or just plain smart enough to know the bichon will be in trouble for this. Dogs are smart and will 'stick' up for each other if raised together and this is my conclusion. She ignores it outside so it has to do with house breaking and knowing it is bad and wrong.

    Hope this helps. Make mental notes as to when and where they are eating this.

  • Deer poop eater
    10/25/2013 09:19pm

    How do you keep deer out of your yard? We have underground fence but they eat & lay in the yard when our dog is inside. He eats whatever snacks they leave, then comes in & emits gas that almost burns your nose! We foiled his litter box snacking by putting the box behind our laundry/pet room door with a bungee cord attached to door lever & old dresser's drawer pull that is up against the dryer leaving only enough room for cats to get through. I hope that tip helps someone else.

 



ABOUT NUTRITION NUGGETS

JENNIFER COATES, DVM

Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.

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