Understanding coprophagia in dogs

One of the most discouraging and disgusting habits a dog can have is eating poop, a behavior known as coprophagia. This condition can develop for numerous reasons, including unclean living conditions during puppyhood or as a response to a medical condition. Rest assured that if the behavior is properly dealt with, most dogs can quickly overcome it.

Why is my dog eating poop?

It’s not entirely clear why dogs eat poop, but there are several theories on the matter. Coprophagia generally doesn’t develop until after a puppy is weaned. Before and during the weaning process the mother cleans her pups regularly and ensures that waste is removed from the den. This is where the pups learn to keep themselves and their sleeping area clean, a habit that can be taken advantage of when housebreaking a puppy. Most dogs continue to be sensitive to cleanliness after the weaning process, but certain conditions may break this habit and lead to a dog eating poop. Some of these may include:

Living in a dirty kennel or puppy mill

Puppies and dogs that are kept in unsanitary kennels or puppy mills could likely develop coprophagia. A puppy will lick or eat stools if he’s kept in a cramped space and they’re not removed. Also, a dog forced to lie in his own poop may lick himself to get clean. Both of these conditions may desensitize a dog to his stools.

A dietary deficiency or digestive problem

If a dog is fed an unbalanced diet or has a medical condition, his stools may contain undigested proteins. He may smell the stools, think they’re food, and eat them. Never feed your dog cat food, which is particularly high in protein.

Boredom

A dog that’s left alone outside may play with an old stool for entertainment, which can lead to coprophagia. This is especially true during the winter months when the stools are frozen.

How to stop coprophagia

Prevention is the only way to guarantee that coprophagia doesn’t turn into a serious behavioral problem. The following are some simple and effective ways to stop your dog from eating poop.

Pick up your dog’s poop

Using meat tenderizers, Tabasco sauce, or Listerine in your dog’s food may deter him from eating what comes out the other end, but it’s much easier and safer for your dog to take away the source of the problem altogether. Always clean up your dog’s poop, especially if you keep him in the backyard.

Feed your dog high quality foods made for dogs

Only feed your dog high quality food that is designed specifically for dogs and their dietary needs. It should be both nutritious and something he likes. Watch for signs of poor digestion such as loose stools. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, consult your veterinarian.

Don’t let your dog smell poop from other animals

Keep your dog on a leash when you take him for a walk, and don’t allow him to go near the poop of other animals. If he tries to smell a stool that’s nearby, lead him away.

Coprophagia can be an unsettling habit for your dog to have, but, with patience and a few preventative measures, he’ll be back to his hygienic self in no time. You can visit the Douglas Island Veterinary Service to learn more about coprophagia in the canine.

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