Updated July 19th, 2020
Try looking for answers when your dog eats their own stool and you’ll quickly see the problem. All the advice is the same.
Some top sites have literally cut and pasted the content from others, and those that haven’t appear to be just rewriting what everyone else says. The reason is simple: because no-one has all the answers.
A recent study (and the only good one) found that success rates with the sort of methods they discuss are only 1-4%. And it’s even worse if you try one of the many products being sold: 0-2%!
This fits exactly with my experience over 25 years. But it’s not hopeless! I’m going to use what I’ve learnt plus the evidence to give you practical, realistic advice. There’ll be a lot less promises, but also a lot less wasted effort.
Firstly, it’s important to separate the three causes of poo-eating: behavioural, medical and species-appropriate. They can nearly be split like this: if it starts as a puppy, it’s probably behavioural, but if it starts as an adult, there’s probably another cause. But when is it ever appropriate???
When Poo Eating Is Normal
Dogs are so like us that when they’re not it can be shocking. Nowhere more than when Oscar or Molly eat poo. But the truth is that dogs at heart are scavengers. Therefore, a dog that eats cat, bird or possum faeces is more normal than one that doesn’t. All you can do is prevent access.
The same thing is almost true even for eating the faeces of other dogs. There are so many who do this that it’s hard to judge them too harshly.
Where it’s definitely abnormal is of course the dog that eats their own poop. I’ll help you where I can with these, and some of what I say may be helpful for the other groups. But how seriously should we take the problem?
Is Coprophagia Dangerous For Dogs?
Coprophagy (“cop-ro-fay-jee”) is the technical name for poo eating.
Many authors consider coprophagia to be medically harmless, and that’s also my experience. One of the reasons they seem to get away with it is that most parasite eggs only become infective two days after being passed.
In fact, studies have shown that dogs overwhelmingly prefer faeces that are less than two days old. This has given rise to a theory that dogs eat fresh faeces because their wild cousins did it to keep the den free of parasite eggs.
Whether this is true or not, there are still important drawbacks to coprophagia:
- It disrupts the bond between dogs and their owners
- Bacteria and viruses will get passed on if the first dog is infected
- Medications from the first dog can be toxic: there are reports of thyroxine and carprofen causing toxicity in poo eaters
How To Stop Dogs Eating Poo
So let’s get on to the possible solutions.
If you’re reading this just as the habit is beginning, well done! I often only get asked about coprophagia after it’s been going on for several months. The highest success rates are enjoyed by the owners who react quickly.
In addition to getting cracking on the suggestions below, do everything you can to increase distractions. Puppies probably investigate stools partly out of boredom. Use of extra play, exercise, treat dispensers and toys can all help.
Exercise is especially helpful for the simple reason that most dogs prefer to poo during an outing. If you know your dog’s routine it’s close to guaranteed. More collected = less eaten.
Your greatest chance of success probably lies with diet change. Suspicion falls mainly on lower quality foods and very rich diets. Both of these may lead to the nutrients not being fully digested and appearing in the faeces.
If not already being used, I recommend a highly digestible but relatively bland diet like Hills Science Diet®. It produces a small, firm, low volume stool. Even if the faeces are still being consumed, you’ll see that now there are a lot less of them.
The study below found that “greedy eaters” were more likely to be coprophagic. More evidence that appetite plays a role is that poo eating often happens when dog owners reduce the food. As overfeeding is never the answer to coprophagy, I would try Royal Canin Satiety® or Hills Metabolic® for these dogs.
Failing either of these options, I would try using any food that substantially changes the faecal appearance and consistency.
I encourage the owners of poop eaters to take control again by going back to toilet training. If you crate trained your dog, now you can reap the rewards. Even if you haven’t, it’s not too late to teach some dogs, but for the rest even just supervision is a good idea.
A simple trick you can try is to teach your dogs to come to you for a treat after pooping. That way, you can go out and pick it up before they do. Additionally, some dog trainers claim success with their methods and I’m all for them as long as they’re positive.
Make sure you get your dog checked out by your vet. It’s especially important if the problem starts as an adult. All of the following can increase hunger or change food preferences:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Any gastrointestinal disease (e.g. parasites, IBD, EPI)
- Cushing’s disease
- Thyroid disease
- Use of steroid medications
What Doesn’t Work
Lastly, it’s just as important to know where not to put your effort. In the study below, very low rates of success were found for:
- Chasing away from stools
- Rewarding the successful command of ‘leave it alone’
- Lacing stools with pepper etc
- Punishment by electronic or sound‐emitting collar
- Commercial food additives or tablets
- Pineapple, pawpaw, papain
Again, this fits with my experience. There are no easy answers. But I hope you can see that it is possible to improve this revolting habit.
Please share your experiences below!
Hart, B. L., Hart, L. A., Thigpen, A. P., Tran, A., & Bain, M. J. (2018). The paradox of canine conspecific coprophagy. Veterinary medicine and science, 4(2), 106-114.
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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.