and Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
Dogs seem to enjoy many smells and tastes that people find offensive, and they are generally attracted to the odor of feces while investigating their environment. Some dogs, including puppies, will even eat the poop of cats and other animals, which is a condition called coprophagia.
This behavior is akin to scavenging, which is a common pack characteristic.
Eating feces is usually a behavioral problem, especially in curious puppies that explore different things by picking them up in their mouth. In addition, coprophagia usually attracts a great deal of attention from the owner, which serves to reinforce the behavior. Coprophagia in puppies usually clears up by the time the pup becomes an adult. However, taking measures early can help reduce the possibility of the behavior becoming a long-term habit.
Behavioral coprophagia is best corrected by preventing access to feces, keeping your yard thoroughly clean, and keeping your dog under constant supervision when outdoors.
As soon as your dog begins to sniff or investigate fecal material, interrupt it with a firm command or a quick pull on the leash. There is no basis for outmoded punishments such as “sticking the dog’s nose in it,” which can actually increase the problem.
Coprophagia can also be caused or worsened by certain medical problems, which are a more likely explanation when coprophagia develops in adult dogs.
Your veterinarian may recommend some diagnostic tests to check for any underlying medical conditions, such as hormonal disorders, digestive problems, intestinal parasites, or nutritional deficiencies. In addition, conditions that cause increased appetite (eg, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, thyroid disease, or treatment with corticosteroids) can lead to an interest in consuming feces. In these cases, correcting the underlying medical problem generally also corrects the coprophagia.
Coprophagia can sometimes be corrected by changing the physical characteristics of the feces. Your vet may suggest adding a substance to your dog’s food that can change the odor of the feces, and curb coprophagia. Adding unpleasant tastes, such as hot pepper, directly on the feces is not often successful.
Visit WebVet for a wealth of information about the health and well-being of pets. All medical-related content on WebVet has been veterinarian approved to ensure its timeliness and accuracy.