Coprophagia – What Is It, and Why Do Dogs Do It?
Coprophagia, what is it? If you’re eating right now, read this post later. This is not a good subject to read about while eating.
Coprophagia(cop·ro·pha·gia \? käp-r?-‘fa-j(e-)?\), not easy to pronounce, not easy to see your puppy do. Simply put – it is the eating of poop. I know yuck, right.
I received this question from a reader, and I would like to share this with everyone. This is a big issue for many pet parents.
Carole’s Email: Hi, I haven’t seen anything in your info about coprophagia…. I’ve heard everything from putting pineapple juice, spraying poop with vinegar etc. pills… What do you suggest I’m at my wit’s end… I clean it up, and it disgusts me.
Carole has a 4-month-old German Shepard puppy.
Thanks for your question Carole, and you’re right I have not posted anything about coprophagia, and it is a disgusting, nasty thing. Let me fix that now. Your question made me look into this and, while coprophagia not the most attractive subject, it is an important one.
Coprophagia is a behavioral issue, but can also be a medical issue as well.
A call to the vet is my first suggestion. When there is a serious issue, such as coprophagia, I want to make sure that there are no medical issues that are adding to the problem. No amount of training is going to work if there is a medical issue causing the problem.
Let’s look at some medical issues that can cause coprophagia.
Medical issues that can cause coprophagia. Things like diabetes, thyroid problems, enzyme deficiency, pancreatic insufficiency, and parasites. In addition, if your puppy or dog is on any medications that cause an increase in appetite, the puppy is going to look for anything to eat. This is sort of like rummaging through the trash can; they are looking for something to eat, because they feel hungry.
Nutrients in the puppy’s food is not being absorbed, gastrointestinal upset can cause the stool to become what they think is nutrition; because it not being absorbed, it’s expelled in their stool.
This can also cause malnutrition or a vitamin deficiency. When that happens the puppy thinks they are still hungry, and they start eating their own stool. If you have other pets including cats, they will begin to eat those stools also.
If they are eating cat stool from the litter-box this could be an even worse situation. Many cat litters have deodorizers, and chemicals that could really make your puppy sick or even worse.
If you notice a large amount of undigested food in your puppy’s stool, this is a definite sign that nutrients are not being absorbed, and they are more likely to eat their stool.
It is really important to get a complete physical for your puppy, which includes being tested for any parasites. Keep a small diary of their stools, when they eliminate, i.e. the times, the consistency, and if there are any definite signs of undigested food in your puppy’s stool. This will help when you talk to your vet.
If your vet gives a clean bill of health, we have to look at coprophagia as a behavioral issue.
Okay, by now we should have ruled out any medical problems. So here is what we have; we are dealing with a puppy, everything is fine health wise according to your vet, except for this nasty habit of coprophagia.
Because this is a repulsive habit, pet parents will pay more attention to it, this is almost like reinforcing the behavior. Let me explain, of course you will pay closer attention to this nasty habit, because you’re trying to fix it. In your puppy’s brain this means “Hey, this is something important”; see how this becomes a catch 22 of sorts.
One other thing to note is if you scold your puppy for pooping in the house, he or she will try to hide it. How will they do that – they will eat it.
This is normally a behavioral habit of puppies, and they will outgrow it. No one wants to wait this out until your puppy becomes an adult dog.
Now that you have determined this is a behavioral issue. Here is what you need to do, and it’s not just training.
While you are at that vet visit, ask for food recommendation. A good quality food will allow your puppy to absorb more nutrients, and there will be less waste.
Feed you puppy a diet that has human-grade (unprocessed) protein, and supplements with probiotics, and digestive enzymes. This is to help stop your puppy’s urge to find icky sources in the yard, or the litter box.
Pick up your puppy’s feces right after he or she has eliminated.
If you have a cat – place the litter box in a spot that your puppy can’t access. If you have the means, buy a self-cleaning litter box. You should also change your cats food, so they are digesting, and absorbing the nutrients. This leaves less waste, and less enzymes in the cats stool.
Boredom will bring on this behavior, be sure your puppy has toys that keeps him mentally active. Puppies need lots of physical activity also, lots of walks, and plenty of play.
Bored puppies are just going to get into trouble, because they will be looking for something to do, and that thing could just end up being coprophagia.
Until your puppy gets out of this nasty habit, even if you are letting him or her out in the backyard to go potty, use a leash. This will prevent your puppy from eating his or her poop after elimination.
Train them to come to you right after they have made a bowel movement, and ask for a sit. Once they sit, immediately give them a treat. Let this become the new learned behavior.
You don’t have to immediately go back into the house. Teaching them to come, and sit for a treat after pooping will create a much more appealing behavior for them. This will also allow you to clean up the mess before he or she can to get to it.
Making this small change can make a big difference.
Clean up the poop right away. I know that is a pain (especially late at night), but who wants poop in their yard anyway. It’s just an opportunity waiting for you to step in.
I know there are many products on the market for coprophagia, but I have not heard many good reviews, or good results.
I have included a YouTube Video recorded by Dr. Karen Becker to help you understand coprophagia in pets. I love Dr. Becker’s explanation and follow her regularly for medical issues in pets. This video is a great listen and it will summarize what we have discussed
Please feel free to email me with any other questions you may have. Give me your training topics, and we will get them posted on the website.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have readers, and followers who truly care for their puppies and dogs. I am always happy to help.
Until Next Time
Suzanne Dean, ABCDT
P.S. I have received many questions from readers, and followers of this website. I really appreciate it, so I have decided to incorporate your question in these website posts. So keep emailing me, I’m here to help you with your puppy issues. I would love for you to comment with any ideas you have, so we can all help each other out. Many times you are not the only one that is having the issue.
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