According to Wikipedia, Coprophagia is the consumption of feces. Coprophagy refers to many kinds of feces eating, including eating feces of other species (heterospecifics), of other individuals (allocoprophagy), or its own (autocoprophagy) Some animal species eat feces as a normal behavior; other species may not normally consume feces but do so under very unusual conditions.
Ok. That’s disgusting. Why do dogs do this?
The reality is that from a dog’s point of view, dining on a Crotte Madame or a more traditional Crotte Monsieur just isn’t as revolting as it is to us. Not all dogs do it and I count myself quite lucky to have never owned a poop eating, face licking pooch. I have, however, worked with many dogs that do find it terribly appealing. One in particular would run up to any defecating dog and indulge in snurding (snacking on turds… yeah, I just made that word up) before the gooey goodness even hit the ground. This dog’s great pleasure was to go to the dog park and wait for snack time, to the horror of his doggy parent, as you can imagine
The theories abound as to why some canine companions, who are well fed at home, are dedicated to the poop diet. Some say that dogs think it’s a valuable resource because humans rush to pick it up. Humans want to put a turd in a bag quickly and efficiently, therefore, said turd must be valuable. Apparently this would explain why a dog may want to eat it before we have time to claim it. I, on the other hand, am not so sure about this
whole resource guarding theory mainly because it assumes quite a high level of analysis from the dog’s perspective.
Others have theorized that dogs are drawn to it because something is missing in their diet (specifically Vitamin B). Some dogs would, according to this theory, eat poop to compensate for a lack of certain minerals and vitamins? Seems like a crappy way to get your daily dose… but if it’s true, the fix would be pleasantly easy: just give the dog extra vitamins and minerals. It is also worth investigating if your dog is absorbing nutrients properly. If that is the case, simply adding them to his diet may not be the solution. Some folks have had luck adding enzymes that contain papain (think meat tenderizer) to their dog’s diet, to help with malabsorption issues.
Some dogs enjoy it as a frozen treat, otherwise known as Le Poopsicle. Others are cool with it at any temperature, as long as it’s not their own. It stinks, I know, but is it dangerous? The answer, I’m afraid, is that it may be not only dangerous, but potentially fatal. This is especially true when dogs prefer to dine on others’ dung. Dedicated poop eaters are at a higher risk of becoming infected with heartworms, hookworms, roundworms and tapeworms and of contracting parvovirus, giardia, salmonella and E. coli
If your dog is afflicted with coprophagia, you may want to visit your vet to make sure they haven’t been infected with anything and to also rule out the following health issues, which may also be motivating your dog to indulge:
- cushing’s disease (increase of appetite)
- thyroid disease (increase of appetite)
- malabsorption syndrome
If, like me, you have a dog who sticks to the regularly programmed dine-in option, please be mindful of others that are struggling with their coprophagic dog. The best thing we can do is pick up after our dogs. Not only is it part of being a responsible pet owner, but it helps in stopping the spread of disease. Doggy doo is not good for the environment. It’s not fertilizer – it kills grass and, if left alone, it can end up in our water supply. No one wants to step in it either. I like to consider doggy do pick up as a way to check in on my dog’s health. I know what I should be picking up and if it’s not what’s expected, it’s valuable information to have.
Try as we might, we still can’t remove all the poop from our dog’s environment. So what do we do to stop a dog from indulging? Management is always the first step in any training plan. This could mean keeping your dog on leash to prevent him from reaching the delicacy. It could also mean muzzle training your dog so that he can run around and play, but not eat anything that would be off limits. Training can also help. A solid recall, for example, would be golden. Being able to call your dog away from a tempting snack… yes please! You could also teach your dog that turds are aversive, but that requires a lot of management and getting to the feces before (or at the same time as) your dog. If your dog has coprophagia, you are probably already scouting out the environment for brownies, but teaching your dog that they are evil, sounds like a strategy that is unrealistic and exhausting.
If you are struggling with this issue, we can help. We offer a Total Recall class, private lessons, and we also have a (free) lending library stocked up with great resources.