Unlike humans, plenty of dogs just love feces (poop), whether from cats, horses, cows or most disgustingly, their own feces and human feces. This is also known as coprophagy. First and foremost it is important to know that at Peterborough West Animal Hospital we will recommend that you have your pet’s fecal sample checked at least annually for parasites. It is easy for them to contract parasites especially when eating poop!
Ingesting one’s own or other dogs’ feces is particularly prevalent in puppies. Fortunately, many grow out of this behaviour as they mature. Coprophagy is also normal in nursing mothers. Because their puppies are not able to eliminate on their own until they are about 3 weeks old, a mother dog will lick her pups to activate the defecation reflex. Ingestion of the puppies’ feces also keeps their environment clean. Feces in their environment would attribute to poor hygiene and attract predators. Coprophagy can start as a learned behaviour and then can become a habit.
As everybody knows, dogs evolved from wolves. Some wolves got closer than others did to human bands and, later, human settlements. Finding human garbage and human excrement, the wolves chowed down. Eventually, there evolved an animal like the wolf, except that it was smaller, it hung around people, and it mostly scavenged instead of hunting – the domestic dog. For these newly “domesticated dogs”, it was normal for them to eat anything lying around that might have some nutritional value, including human poop. As a matter of fact it is believed that dogs were first domesticated to aid in the “clean up” in the settlements, which of course included human excrement!
As for why dogs like horse and cow manure, your guess is as good as ours. Cat feces probably attracts dogs more than most because cat food is higher in fat and protein and is much more aromatic than dog food, and therefore cat feces is too. Dogs like plenty of things we humans don’t – when was the last time you rolled in a dead, smelly animal grinning your head off the whole time? Disgusting as it is to us, coprophagy seems to do no harm to most healthy, vaccinated dogs, apart from occasional digestive upset, occasional parasites and really awful dog breath!
A little poop won’t hurt your dog, but it does ring the bell on your Gross-O-Meter, so let’s talk about prevention. Your best defense is a solid recall or rock-solid response to a cue like “leave it” meaning “Leave that alone”. If and when you can control the environment, do it. If your dog’s cleaning up after herself or your other dogs continues, be sure to tidy the yard diligently as this is the best method is to eliminate the source. If she’s diving for her own feces as soon as she produces it, keep her on leash until she’s done her business. Then lure her away with something really tasty before she has a chance to start.
If you are still having problems Peterborough West Animal Hospital has a few other helpful ideas and we can order a product called “Forbid” which is sprinkled on the pet food to make the poop taste bad…..really! In terms of behavioral factors, the most common reason for dogs to eat poop is simply because they enjoy the taste.
Last word on poop eating:
Feces disgusts us; not so for dogs. Eating feces is dangerous to humans, but not nearly as dangerous to dogs. Prevent access as much as you can, teach your dog a strong “leave it” cue, and bear in mind that dogs will be dogs and sometimes we have to shrug and say “Oh well.”