Coprophagia comes from the Greek words Corpos and phagein and means ‘to eat feces’. Almost all dogs partake in this nasty behavior at least once in their lives while others make it a daily habit. Why do they snack on their own feces and how do you make them stop if it does become a problem?
There are many reasons dogs eat their own feces – boredom, missing nutrients in their diet, hunger and instinct all can play a factor in why your dog may delve into the darker side of canine behavior. Understanding why they do it helps to develop a plan to stop the abhorrent behavior.
Bored dogs are generally poorly behaved dogs. They bark, dig, break out of the yard, dig some more, destroy their toys, or worse, your furniture and sometimes eat their own feces. Dogs require both daily mental and physical stimulation otherwise they become bored. Often the behavior is destructive in nature.
For any of these bad behaviors, the cure is the same – both mentally and physically stimulate your dog! A tired dog is a happy dog and a happy dog rarely destroys the house or eats their own poop!
Coprophagia can also be brought about by something either missing from their diet or possibly a lack of digestive enzymes. Canine diets are balanced for the average dog but not all dogs are average. Often changing the diet to another brand over a few days or adding a nutritional supplement to their food can stop coprophagia entirely.
Why do Dogs Eat Poop?
There is also some speculation regarding the need for dogs with a mildly compromised digestive system requiring digestive enzymes in the feces – it is a way of recycling the necessary enzymes for the dog. There is a supporting theory behind this way of thinking although researchers have not been able to prove it as of yet. One of the ‘tricks’ to stop a dog from eating their own feces is to add pineapple to their food to make their feces unappetizing. What if it was not a matter of appetizing or unappetizing but instead the high levels of the protein-digesting enzyme bromelain in the fruit? Bromelain is one of the two ingredients in meat tenderizer and works to break down proteins so the nutrients are more readily available. By adding the pineapple to the dog’s diet, you are negating the reason why they are eating the feces – to increase the levels of digestive enzymes in their system. Although there is little to no scientific proof of this theory, try adding some pineapple to your dog’s diet and if they stop eating their feces, you at least have a solution even if the cause is still being researched. Or, talk to your vet about adding bromelain to their diet direct – if that fixes the problem then you know it was a lack of digestive enzymes that was making them snack between meals.
Hunger is another reason why dogs eat their own feces. Obviously stray or starving dogs eat whatever they can get their hands on so why does your well-cared for dog require the mid-afternoon snack? Are they on a diet by any chance? Instinct tells dogs that if less food is coming from the normal route, then acquiring more calories from an abnormal route will have to happen. This why many well-behaved dogs suddenly turn into counter-surfing, garbage-diving and sandwich-snatching monsters! If this could be the reason your little angel has turned into a thief, try splitting the total food intake for the day into three meals versus two or add a fiber based food to their diet. If their stomach is full, their brains will not trigger them to go snacking, at least not as much. Fiber formula food is given to diabetics as a way to slow down digestion and keep blood sugar levels at a constant level versus the spikes of one or two big meals a day. For dogs that need to loose a few pounds, the fiber food makes them feel full longer and because of the low calorie content of the food, they can continue to be fed the same volume of food that they were eating pre-diet. It is a little mean to trick them but if it works and they lose the weight while stopping the nasty coprophagia habit, isn’t a little trickery worth it?
The other way instinct tells a dog to eat their own feces is from their mother. Brood bitches eat the feces of their pups to keep the den clean and lessen the odor. In the wild, the scent of milky feces attracts predators so it is vital that mom keeps the pups as odor-free as possible but this cleanliness behavior carries over into domesticated canines as well. Many brood bitches continue to eat feces whether it is their pups or their own.
This is probably the hardest to stop of all the reasons a dog may eat their own feces as it is ingrained into their mommy brain that they are doing a good thing and getting angry is only going to confuse them. Try the pineapple in the food – maybe it does make the feces unappetizing. There are also products on the market that are formulated for making the feces unappetizing that work well in difficult situations.
What is the best way to stop your dog from eating their own feces? Keep your yard clean! Pick up any feces as soon as they go the bathroom and be diligent on making sure the yard is spotless at all times. Walking your dog after meals is a great way to make sure they poop someplace other then their own backyard and they will enjoy the exercise. Make sure your dog gets well-exercised each day, lives in a clean yard and enjoys a bit of pineapple with dinner and you should find that your dog overcomes this bad habit.