Coprophagia is the eating of one’s own fecal matter and the fancy term for the behavior that dogs sometimes exhibit… that is they can eat their own poop.
This is in direct violation of my number one health recommendation for all humans and canines: Don’t Eat Poop!
Many times this nasty and dangerous habit is formed when poorly bred, poorly housed and maintained litters are forced to live in filthy conditions. Unless you’ve raised a litter of puppies before you’re probably blissfully unaware of the giant mess that puppies make.
Puppies poop nearly constantly. Starting at weaning (4-5 weeks of age) the puppies begin to poop… a lot. Big poop. Little poops. Soft poop. Sometimes runny poop. Smeary poop. Smelly poop.
And then these active puppies jump around and play in the poop. It is really gross and smelly. Puppies living in the house can go to bed clean and dry and smelling fresh and within 6 short hours you will wake up to a horrific smell in your house and puppies that really need a bath. It is just how it goes. There really isn’t anything you can do about it but attempt to offer puppies a “bathroom” to avoid pooping where they eat, sleep and play (and this does help) and to give your puppies a whole lot of morning baths.
Anyway this is why many breeders don’t actually put their puppies in their living space at home. (“Home raised” can mean raised in the garage, a closed off bedroom or unused bathroom or very often down in the basement). But if the puppies are in your living space and in your face all day you’d better learn to either clean poop nearly continually or you learn to live with permanent poo particles in your sinuses. I prefer to clean constantly and keep my puppies clean. And that is the preference of your top-tier premium puppy breeders. This requires work, dedication and effort unless one has a strange love for and fascination with poo. I am not one of those few individuals. My devotion to poo is trash-bag related only.
The lesser quality breeders out there will clean their litters when they get around to it. The better of them will do it once or twice a day. The worst of them will do it hardly at all.
Breeders that don’t care enough to raise their puppies in their house to properly socialize them do not care enough to spend a lot of money on puppy food. And weaning puppies eat vast amounts of puppy food. And buyers are going to pay the same price for the puppy whether you feed top tier feed or cheap-as-dirt-feed.
So the litters of these types of breeders are very often fed a scant amount of cheap (read a very low-quality) diet which leaves their growing bodies in desperate need of nutrients. Furthermore their mother is fed too little of this same low-quality diet and therefore her milk is lacking in volume, richness, nutrient and mineral content; leaving growing puppies weak and desperate for nutrition (as well as mother dogs weak and depleted of health and nutrient and fat stores).
Forced to live in their own waste is also highly unnatural (because poop makes animals sick) so some puppies feel driven to clean up. And also puppies get bored cooped up in filthy confines with no good food or room to play or toys. They become so accustomed to the presence and the taste of fecal matter that it just doesn’t bother them. This overrides their natural in-born instinct to potty train and stay healthy and far from poop.
Your well-bred and raised dog can also begin to exhibit this very undesirable behavior. This can be for several medical reasons. Your dog may not be getting enough nutrition from the food you are feeding. Switch your food to a really highly-rated food with higher protein content than the one you’re feeding currently. Your dog is a carnivore. He needs protein. Too little can cause strange and unhealthy behaviors.
Your dog may also have a medical condition or illness (such a IBS) that is causing the malabsorption of nutrients. Food intolerances and allergies to things like corn, soy and wheat can also cause these types of conditions in dogs. This is a good time to see your veterinarian and rule out any of the more common illnesses that can be tested for.
But definitely check out your current dog-food’s ingredients and begin to look for a food that is corn and grain free and higher in protein content. Maybe even organic if you’re concerned that overuse of pesticides and toxin content in the food itself may be causing the problems (and yes this does happen). That is a good switch to make if you’re already on a really amazing food but having these types of malabsorption issues (or excessive feet itching and hot spot type issues).
Any other causes?
Your dog may also be neurotic, anxious, stressed, nervous, under-exercised, or otherwise have a behavioral issue that is manifesting itself in this disgusting behavior. The best thing you can do here is evaluate if there have been any recent changes in your dog’s routine, environment, human or animal contact, diet or exercise routine. Poorly bred dogs again can be very prone to these kinds of conditions of temperament and they can exhibit the symptoms of this in all kinds of weird and self-destructive ways.
If you can ease your dog in some way by adjusting the routine then do so. You can try snug-fitting comforting vests like the ThunderShirt and lots of herbal calm-down remedies exist for dogs and puppies as well that have high reviews. There are also anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications on the market for the dogs that cannot be helped by other methods.
Increasing your dog’s exercise and training time each day is always a winning choice. So add more time in for your dog to have structured exercise (a free-romp in the fenced backyard alone does not count as exercise for your dog).
Make sure you clean up any poop as soon as it occurs or is spotted by you so that you can reduce the temptation or availability of this delicacy. Immediate poop removal may help to break a bad habit all by itself and when implemented with a better diet and more exercise you can very often have quick and complete success beating this oddity of dog parenting.
When this disgusting behavior rears its ugly head in your puppy or grown dog can sometimes be attributed to a very sad first couple of months of life at the hands of a greedy and lazy breeder. It can just as well be due to an illness that is causing malabsorbtion of nutrients. And another common cause of coprophagia is feeding a dog a low-quality food that is leaving your dog malnourished. Don’t assume your portly or downright chubby dog can’t be malnourished either. If your husky is on the husky-side of the spectrum of body size don’t assume the kibble you’re feeding is fulfilling all his body’s needs.
Just like heavy-set humans an overweight dog can be incredibly malnourished if he is eating a lot of calories in the form of useless sugars like corn, soy, beet pulp and tomato pumace. You could be very overweight on a diet of pure soda (as an example) but you’d also be very ill due to malnutrition at the same time.
If you notice this behavior in your dog switch his diet and see if that helps his condition. Have him vetted to assure he doesn’t have any intestinal or absorption disorders and give his breeder a call asap to see what she/he knows about this behavior in your specific breed and line.
When your pet (or your other dogs) poop be sure to clean it up right away so your dog doesn’t have a chance to gobble it up.
And get out in the fresh air with your pooch and get some training and exercise time in each day (or have someone sit at the top of a staircase and the two of you call the dog to go up and down to get in some stair-master doggy exercise on days that it is too cold to go outside).
There are definitely no magic pills for this unfortunate behavior. Many people try to give their dogs vitamins and supplements in an effort to fill nutritional gaps but these often fail at achieving their goal. This is not necessarily because nutrition isn’t the problem but it very often because dog supplements are of an inferior quality and made from chemicals that are difficult if not practically impossible for the dog to absorb at all.
If you’d like to try a supplement make sure you find a high-quality supplement (and this will very likely not be found at any big-box chain store). Feeding foods high in Omega fatty acids like wild-caught salmon and canned sardines several times a week will also help the situation (and give your dog a nice coat, too).
Other than healthy fatty acid containing foods like sardines there really isn’t any reason to add vitamins into your dog’s diet if he/she is already on a high quality feed. Dog food has lots of synthetic vitamins and minerals added so shoving in additional (especially low quality ones) can just end up being taxing on your dog’s blood-filtering organs. Less is more most of the time and the higher the quality the better for everything.
You will see also products in the dog medication and supplement aisle in most chain pet stores that are targeted specifically at this behavior.
You feed this supplement to a dog to reduce or eliminate this behavior according to the label of the supplement, anyway). The idea behind these supplements is to make the poop taste so disgusting the dog does not wish to eat it anymore.
I have no idea what could possibly taste worse than poop… and I think that is exactly why these supplements and treatments do not usually work. If you’ve addressed nutrition, possible anxiety or neurosis in the dog, unmet exercise requirements in the dog and illness then you can definitely give these treatments a go. But they don’t cure the underlying problem (if one exists). A more frequently helpful attempt at this is to feed your dog a big mouthful of pepper before or after a meal to make his poop a bit spicy (and therefore less pleasant) but you never know, you could just be seasoning it for him! 😀
And finally don’t kick yourself (or your dog) for struggling with beating this disgusting habit. Many poorly raised dogs are ingrained with this behavior from a very young age and therefore even with great diligence you may not be able to completely beat it. With patience, love, kindness, understanding and lots of toothbrushes you and your dog can eventually beat this disgusting habit or reduce it enough that it is at a manageable level.
And for the record my dogs do not exhibit this behavior however as a rescue trainer and trainer in general it is a problem I have come across many times. In most cases switching to a higher quality food did the trick within a month.
**Disclaimer- I am not a veterinarian and you reading this article is not the same thing as a veterinarian examining your your dog physically and in-person. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, cure or treat any condition or illness in any living or non living creatures.**