Stool eating - the formal name is called Coprophagic.
The formal name is called Coprophagic.
It is normal when a Mum is nursing young puppies. She will ingest their faeces whilst she is cleaning them and stimulating their bowel movements Newborn puppies cannot voluntarily relax their sphincter muscles until later in life. Young puppies may begin eating their stools when the Mum no longer performs the task. Coprophagia is most common in puppies and adolescence, and in many cases, it is a habit that has arisen from natural behaviour which will be grown out of.
Coprophagia can be a common problem; some dogs prefer to eat their own stools, others like to eat fox poo, cattle or horse poo.
Coprophagia usually has behavioural roots, and common causes include attention-seeking, boredom, exploratory behaviour, copying and hunger. Some dogs eat stools purely because they have tried it once and liked it, so will repeat doing so until access to faeces is prevented, or the owner has trained them not to. We have listed below some top tips for you to try to prevent this.
It is a common misconception that coprophagia often occurs as a result of the diet lacking in nutrients. Dog food that is labelled as a complete must by law supply all of the nutrients required. However, some medical conditions can deplete nutrients and increase hunger, so a vet check is sensible if your dog has a voracious appetite for stools or other non-food items.
A condition that compromises the digestion can mean that even a very high-quality diet is poorly absorbed. Common culprits include protozoal parasites such as Giardia and Isospora, so if your problem continues, we would recommend speaking to your vet and having a stool sample tested.
Coprophagia may arise as a result of hunger or boredom. In multi-dog households, a ringleader often starts the habit, and the other dogs will copy. This can be a difficult cycle to break. Coprophagia does not necessarily indicate poor care or inadequate stimulation; some dogs are naturally more inquisitive than others, and others are instinctively greedy.
By eliminating any potential hunger, the likelihood of the coprophagia is reduced. You can try feeding your dog three or even four times a day until the habit is broken.
You can help with boredom by making the environment more interesting. Interactive feeding toys are particularly useful for keeping your dog mentally stimulated. Your dog must get a suitable amount of exercise so that he is less likely to amuse himself by eating things he shouldn’t.
If your dog appears to be eating stools as a form of attention-seeking, or habit-forming, then try the following.
When out walking, keep your dog on a lead, so you can move your dog away and clean it up.
Try not to bring to your dog's attention of picking up a mess quickly as it can be seen as a game, be calm and no fuss or words used. Don’t mention it!
With dogs that are interested in eating faeces for any reason, it can be useful to teach them a simple “off” command. You can encourage them to move away from the area using a treat, and so long as the treatment is sufficiently tempting, they should be happy to leave. Over time, they should associate, leaving the faeces with reward and attention.
It is never too late to break a bad habit, although you may need some help and support from a behaviourist if problems persist. It can be a challenge to break the cycle of ingrained behaviours, especially if the problem has been going on for some time.
It is recommended that faeces are immediately cleaned up straight away to avoid the temptation.
Some owners have found that squirting tomato sauce, chilli powder, pepper over the faeces have worked as a deterrent, and some people report that a small amount of pineapple or grated courgette added to the diet gives the faeces a very unpleasant taste to dogs.
The latter will, of course, only apply if the dog is eating his own faeces rather than the stools of other animals.
These suggestions are all harmless and worth trying.
Coprophagia is generally normal, but it is a bad habit that should be discouraged. A change of diet to a very high-quality pet food such as Ooddles may be beneficial if your dog is currently fed a less digestible food that is not giving suitable quality nutrition or satisfaction.