Eating faeces (coprophagia) is a habit exhibited by many dogs at some stage in their lives. Some eat their own faeces as puppies, but not when they grow older as they have access to quality food supplied by their owners. Nevertheless, if they get the chance many dogs will attempt to eat horse and other farm animal manure. Whether they are eating their own faeces or other animals, in many cases dogs do this simply because they can and they like the taste, much to our disgust!
Why do dogs eat faeces?
Although there are many theories behind why they do this, no one really knows. Many years ago it was considered that dogs behaving this way were suffering from a dietary deficiency, but this is generally not the case. Some medical disorders are thought to contribute to the appearance of coprophagia although this is very rare. If you have any concerns over your dog’s health you should consult your vet.
Other theories include:
- An expression of fear or anxiety.
- Those that have been punished for inappropriate defaecation may eat their faeces to cover up their mistakes and so avoid further punishment.
- The behaviour may be learned from watching other animals and in the case of young animals they many may have learned this from their mother. Bitches eat the faeces of their puppies to keep the nest area clean and free from disease and perhaps to prevent attracting predators to the nest.
What can be done about it?
There are several possible solutions, which should be trialed separately (never together). If your dog is young, very old or has a history of gastro-intestinal problems these methods are not recommended.
The pineapple method. Put small chunks of fresh pineapple into your dog’s food (do not use large pieces as this may induce vomiting). This is supposed to give the faeces a bitter taste.
The courgette method. Cook some courgettes until soft in a small amount of olive oil. A batch can be made and stored in the fridge. Give the dog 1-2 teaspoons for a small dog or up to 1 tablespoon for a large dog with each meal.
Bait faecal material with a foul tasting substance, for example a small amount of a mild chilli sauce. However take care as to the type and amount of any substance used so that it does not have an adverse effect on your pet. Also, beware that your dog may develop a liking for some of these substances!
To help the methods above work more effectively, try to put in place the following measures as well:
- Restrict access to faecal material, supervise all outdoor access and clean up immediately after.
- Reward good behaviour with a tasty treat.
- Provide a wide variety of chew toys and increase quality time with your dog.
- Some dogs use this as an attention seeking behaviour so ignore your dog unless you catch him in the act.
- Increase the number of feeds (not the amount of food) during the day so that your dog is never hungry and does not feel the need to seek food elsewhere.
- In extreme cases a basket type muzzle can be used. Your dog should never be left alone with a muzzle on.
If your dog is only eating faeces when left alone, for example at night, it is possible that this may be separation related either due to boredom or anxiety. If you suspect that this may be the case seek the help of your vet who can refer you to an animal behaviourist.
For a long-standing problem you will need to be extremely vigilant and may require the help of an animal behaviourist. Again, speak to your vet for a referral.