The act of dogs eating their own or another animal’s faeces is called coprophagia. No one actually knows for sure why dogs do it. In some situations it is normal for a dog to eat faeces. One example is a mother who needs to clean up the faeces and urine of her young puppies, who can’t go to the toilet on their own. This is because it is important to keep the nesting area clean to prevent disease and in the wild, to avoid attracting predators.
Many dogs eat the poo of other animals, especially herbivores such as horses and ducks. This is accepted as normal dog behaviour, although often undesirable. Some suggest that dogs are getting some nutritional value from eating the faeces of other animals, especially herbivores who only eat plants and are more likely to produce a nutrient filled poop.
If you think that’s gross, it gets better. Eating garbage and human faeces is thought to be one of the functions of dogs during their early domestication some 12000 – 15000 years ago. They served as a waste management system! A study of village dogs in Zimbabwe reported that feces made up 25% of the village dogs’ diets, with human feces making up a large portion of that percentage.
But why do pet dogs eat poo? Some puppies eat their own poo or that of their litter mates, and it is suspected that this is exploratory behavior. They should grow out of it with some discouragement. However, a clean environment for puppies to live in should prevent the issue.
For an adult dog, one of the main suspects for coprophagia is nutritional deficiencies. So if your dog eats poo the first thing to do is get him checked out by the vet to rule out medical issues, such as an issue that prevents the dog absorbing nutrients from a healthy diet. Once given the all clear, make sure your dog is on a healthy and nutrient dense diet. When dogs eat low quality food, the body disposes of much of it because it is low in nutritional value, so poos are big, sloppy and smelly. To the dog, it probably smells much like what went in and so they will go back for another taste. On the other hand, a healthy diet means smaller, firmer poos that don’t have an offensive smell.
It is unknown why some healthy adult dogs on healthy diets still eat their own poo. If a puppy has been raised in a dirty environment and has formed a habit of coprophagia, this can be carried into adulthood in some cases. Some dogs development the habit later in life, perhaps after finding some partially digested food in the faeces. I have even heard of dogs who follow the other family dog around and eat the poo on the way out, or even turn around and eat their own as it’s going to the toilet!
Treatment for coprophagia is difficult, but it can be done. One of the first things to do is clean up the yard and clean up straight away when your dog goes to the toilet, to try and break the habit by not allowing access.
For more tips and guidance, you can contact us for an appointment to deal with the issue one on one in your home. In the meantime, perhaps don’t let your dog give you kisses!