Coprophagia is the ingestion of a dog’s own or other pets’ faeces. While offensive to us it is normal for bitches with young pups and pups exploring their environment. It is only dangerous to dogs if they ingest parasites with the faeces. However, coprophagia in an older dog maybe an indication of a physical or behavioural problem and should be investigated by your veterinarian before trying the remedies listed below.
Common causes of coprophagia:
- Normal maternal behaviour. A bitch licks her pups to stimulate urination and defecation and then consumes their excrement to keep the nest clean.
- Normal exploratory behaviour in young pups.
- An inadequate diet. A poorly balanced, low calorie or indigestible diet may drive a dog to consume faeces.
- An excessive appetite because of a disease such as diabetes or Cushings disease, or because of poor digestion and absorption of nutrients, or because of drugs that stimulate the appetite like prednisolone, cortisone or thyroxine.
- Dietary preference. Many dogs think cat faeces are a gourmet delicacy.
- The poorly digested faeces of a companion dog with digestion or malabsorption problems are attractive to some dogs.
- Attention seeking behaviour if the dog discovers he gains the immediate attention of his owners when he eats faeces.
- A coping mechanism in anxious dogs.
- The rare manifestation of a compulsive disorder
- Pick up faeces in the dog’s yard promptly.
- Restrict outdoor access unless the dog has defecated and the area is free of faeces.
- Walk dogs on a leash to avoid ingestion outside the yard.
- Move cat litter trays to an area inaccessible to the dog or provide a covered tray (as long as this is acceptable to the cat).
- Feed an age appropriate, complete, good quality diet.
- Provide a more stimulating environment including regular human attention, excursions outside the house yard, walks, doggy play dates, food finding games and activity feeder toys, such as stuffed Kongs, treat balls, bob-a -lots.
- Add vegetable oil or fibre to meals to soften faeces and make them less attractive.
- Add the meat tenderiser, papain, to the diet to make faeces less palatable or
- Add pancreatic enzymes to meals to make faeces less palatable or
- Add pineapple or grated zucchini to meals to make faeces less palatable or
- Slip some white pepper or hot chillis into faeces to discourage sniffing and consumption
- Deworm with Drontal, Milbemax or similar every 3 months.
- If your dog defecates on a walk give it a food reward to counter condition it to expect food rather than to search for faeces.
- Teach your dog to come away from faeces with the command “leave it”. Teach the “leave it” command using a head collar and leash. Walk the dog toward an item he likes to pick up, such as a ball or chew toy. As he reaches for the item say “leave it” and turn the dog’s head using the head collar. As his head comes toward you reward him with a food treat and praise. Repeat until he turns his head before you pull on the leash. Immediately reward him for turning. Progress to rewarding him for turning away from more valued items such as a juicy bone. Gradually phase out food rewards while retaining the verbal praise. Then use the “leave it” command to discourage investigation of faeces. You could use fake faeces from a joke shop as practice. You could reward obeying a leave command and ignoring faeces with an activity ball.
While coprophagia is distasteful to us it is usually not harmful to the dog as long as he is dewormed every 3 months. It is difficult to wean some dogs of the habit.