Eating poo is a relatively common phenomenon in many dogs. The scientific name for this habit is coprophagia and there are a number of behavioural and physiological reasons why some dogs eat poop, including horse manure and roo droppings. But not to worry, there are ways to discourage this yucky habit!
In a 2012 study presented at the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour annual conference, researchers found:
- 16% of dogs are classified as “serious” stool eaters, which means that they were caught in the act five times.
- 24% of the dogs in the study were observed eating faeces at least once.
Their conclusion is, simply put – it’s in a dog’s DNA to eat poop. Apparently, we invited dogs into our villages tens of thousand years ago because they did a good job eating our poo and keeping our villages cleaner.
Dogs evolved as scavengers, eating whatever they found on the ground. So coprophagia may be one of several evolutionary survival behaviours that have to cope when food is scarce.
It’s also a normal, natural behaviour in some canine life stages. For instance, mother dogs lick their puppies to urge them to eliminate and clean up their faeces by eating it. This keeps the whelping area clean, decreases disease risk and decreases smell that increases the risk of predation. Puppies will also naturally engage in this behaviour, eating both their own poop, poop from other dogs, as well as that of cats and other animals.
Eating their own faeces is harmless. However, consuming poop from other animals is generally harmless with some exceptions.
- Dog faeces from a parvovirus infected dog can infect the ingestor.
- Eating dog faeces can transmit some parasites.
- Eating large quantities of bird faeces can make dogs very sick due to the high nitrogen content.
If your dog starts to eat poop, you should consult your vet to rule out health problems. Sometimes dogs start eating their own poo due to environmental stress or behaviour triggers like isolation, anxiety or attention-seeking.
The best treatment of coprophagia is picking up the poop. However this is done best when the dog can not watch us. Seeing us collect faeces can set up a competition – the dog may feel they need to eat it even faster so we don’t get it first!
If you are going to add something to the poop to make it less appealing, make sure this is safe and not going to cause a horrible problem – like a burned mouth, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Luckily for us, most dogs grow out of this phase!
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