Dogs can have some very strange/bad/gross habits that are often quite natural but also quite repulsive from a human’s perspective. Sniffing other dogs’ hindquarters, licking their own private parts, and licking out of a toilet bowl are just a few of the commonly known “gross” habits that a dog can have.
Something that you may not already know (or may be shocked to have witnessed), is that another habit that your dog can have is a tendency to eat their own poop. This is known as Coprophagia.
What is coprophagia in dogs? Coprophagia is where a dog will consume their own (or other dogs) faeces. This is a common habit in pups as they explore and learn about what food they should consume, however, for older dogs coprophagia could be the result of a medical or behavioral issue.
You might have been shocked to witness this act yourself or might just be intrigued to learn more about it so below, we cover what coprophagia is in dogs, whether or not it’s normal behaviour and whether or not it can/should be treated.
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What Is Coprophagia in Dogs?
Coprophagia in dogs is the scientific term given to the act of consuming faeces. While you might be disgusted to witness this habit first-hand, it’s actually quite common and is something that has even been linked to a dog’s DNA.
Dogs are traditionally scavengers and will instinctively find food from any source which is why a lot of dogs will rummage through rubbish. While eating anything they can find (including their own and other dogs’ stool) might seem like wild behaviour, it’s also commonly observed in domesticated dogs.
A study conducted on this type of behaviour in dogs shows that 16% – 23% of dogs engage in coprophagia between one and six times. That’s quite a high percentage and shows that coprophagia in dogs can be more common than what you might initially assume as an owner.
With such a high number of dogs displaying this type of act, the most important thing to do at first is to distinguish whether the cause of this behaviour is medical or behavioural.
Is Coprophagia Dangerous for Dogs?
Whilst Coprophagia in dogs is usually harmless, it can sometimes be the cause of an infectious disease or parasites; especially in the case of ingesting the faeces of another dog or animal species.
In addition, it can also cause gastroenteritis, which can result in vomiting and/or diarrhoea: Loss of appetite and an increase in tiredness could be indicators that your pup has been ingesting stuff it shouldn’t be.
Theories abound as to why dogs eat their own or other dogs’ faeces, however, most fall into two categories – Medical or Behavioural.
Medical Causes of Coprophagia in Dogs
The first thing you should do when you notice your dog is consuming faeces is to get a medical check-up by a vet. While this is not abnormal behaviour, it can certainly be an indicator of a potential medical issue that needs to be investigated.
Some of the medical causes of coprophagia could include:
- Nutritional Deficiencies: If your dog is underfed or has nutritional deficiencies then this can be one of the leading causes of coprophagia.
- Internal Parasites: Internal parasites in your dog’s intestines could also cause this as they will consume vital nutrients and lead your dog to have nutrient deficiencies.
- Digestive Enzyme Deficiencies: If your dog cannot digest their food properly then this can again lead to nutritional deficiencies which would result in coprophagia.
Behavioural Causes of Coprophagia in Dogs
Once a medical check by a vet has confirmed there is no medical reason for this type of behaviour, you will now need to consider the behavioural causes.
- Inherited DNA: The study we referenced earlier came to the conclusion that coprophagia in dogs could be something in their DNA. Dogs in the wild were scavengers and would eat any food they could find (which is why they rummage through bins looking for food). What they consider to be edible food is very different from what a human would eat.
- Curiosity: This is most evident in pups. Pups will eat a variety of things when learning what is edible and what is not. It’s highly common for a pup to consume faeces, however, this is also something that most pups should grow out of by the time they reach adulthood.
- Maternal: A female will eat her pup’s faeces while they are young in order to keep the den clean, hygienic, and disease free. This behaviour then stops as the pups reach a certain age.
- Attention: A common issue is that dogs may exhibit this kind of behaviour for attention from their owner. They may also do this to avoid punishment from their owner (though being punished for that will then create a negative feedback loop for the dog).
Can Coprophagia in Dogs be Cured?
If you happen to find your dog has been eating poop then don’t worry too much, once you find the cause of this behaviour then there are steps you can take to minimize or stop it from happening completely. Some of these potential solutions include:
- Cleaning up dog stools immediately. If it’s not around for long enough to consume, then over time you can break this habit as they focus on the food you feed them instead.
- Train your dog out of the habit. This can be done by distracting the dog away from stool with treats or a firmer approach can be taken by training them with the “leave it” command.
- Ensure your dog’s diet contains all the essential nutrients that they need. A low-quality dog feed could be the issue and is something that can easily be rectified by trying a better brand.
- Minimise the dog’s access to stools. This could be with immediate cleaning, distraction, use of a lead to pull them away, or even a muzzle in extreme cases.
** Training your dog is something every owner is capable of, however, for persistent issues we’d recommend seeking help from a professional dog trainer (most vets will have a recommendation in your area).
In Summary – What Is Coprophagia in Dogs? | Can It Be Cured?
There’s no denying that dogs are fun, adorable, and loving companions but that is only half the story. A lot of dogs can have some habits that simply turn our stomach and eating their own poop is one that is very high up on that list!
If you notice that your dog is engaging in coprophagia then your first step should be to seek medical advice from a vet in order to ensure that a medical issue is not the cause. If there is no medical issue, you can then look to ensure that there are no behavioural issues that are causing this.
Finally, if this is just a bad habit that your dog has picked up, you can train it out of them. We listed some of the potential cures for this behaviour earlier, though if they persist, we’d recommend seeking the help of a professional dog trainer.
Related Articles: Why Do Some Dogs Bury Their Poop?
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