Nothing beats a best friend in the shape of a four-legged ball of fluff; in other words, a dog. Loyal, loving and empathetic, dogs make morning jogs ten times more fun. However, keeping animals as pets requires time and some animals may need a lot of maintenance. Dogs, like all pets, come with their own issues and problems. One of the most common, and perhaps the most repulsive habit dogs have is Coprophagia.
What is Coprophagia?
Coprophagia, in simple terms, is the consumption of one’s own poo! It is a fairly common behavioral problem in dogs. However, though the popular opinion classifies the problem of Coprophagia as purely behavioral, meaning that it purely results due to temporary stressors; in reality, Coprophagia can have serious underlying medical reasons.
How to Overcome Coprophagia in Dogs?
As mentioned in the above paragraphs, it is found that Coprophagia in dogs can either be due to behavioral or underlying medical reasons. Attempting to overcome this problem in dogs by simply taking on a symptomatic treatment is not enough. In order to successfully overcome this problem, it is of utmost importance to know and target the root cause.
Causes of Coprophagia in Dogs
The age old debate between dog owners about the cause of Coprophagia has resulted in the cause being broadly divided into two categories
Sometimes certain behaviors or habits adapted by the dog owner could further result in encouraging this kind if behavior. A dog that tries to or eats its own faeces will get the attention of the owner rather quickly. This, in turn, could potentially be causing damage by positively reinforcing the act of Coprophagia in dogs. In simpler words, when the dog gets the attention of the owner as a result of eating its own faeces, its associates the act of eating faeces with heightened attention.
Secondly, it is a known fact that when dogs give birth, the adult dog cleans the puppies by eating their faeces. This may result in the adult dog eating its own faeces too and the puppies learning this behavior from the adult dog.
Owners tend to leave their dogs without supervision for prolonged periods; this leads the dogs to experiment with its environment. They might start playing or eating with their own excrements.
Other behavioral reasons include ‘sticking the dog’s nose’, a fairly common practice in which the owner sticks the dog’s nose in its own faeces when the dog soils the owner’s house.
The possibility of an underlying medical problem in dogs that leads to the consumption of faeces is a huge possibility. It is found that medical issues that result in the malabsorption of nutrients tend to upset the gastrointestinal system, resulting in a Coprophagia.
An unbalanced diet could lead to nutritional deficiencies, consequently leading to the Coprophagia in dogs.
Thyroid disease, diseases that cause an increase in appetite, Cushing’s disease or steroid treatment, all may also lead to Coprophagia in dogs.
Overcoming Coprophagia by Altering Behavior:
- Firstly, the dog should not be left unsupervised for long periods of time; this gives it time to experiment.
- Secondly, if the dog seems to be trying to consume faeces, caution should be taken so as not give any positive reactions. The dog should only associate the act of consuming excrement with negative consequences.
- Thirdly, adding tried and tested substances to the diet that makes the consumption of stools less likely. Things like papaya, cottage cheese and mints are said to make the stool taste unpleasant to the dogs. However, these might not necessarily work and the dog might develop a tolerance to such unpleasant tastes and/ or smells.
- Since puppies may learn this behavior from adult dogs, implement measures such as cleaning up the pup’s poop as soon as they go or training the puppies from an early stage. Some researchers have found that Coprophagia is mostly found in adult, homeless dogs, which have been found to suffer abuse either on the streets of the pound.
Overcoming Coprophagia due to medical issues:
- A detailed physical examination combined with the careful evaluation of the dog’s nutritional intake, the number of times it passes stool and its constancy is necessary to find the root cause. The stool should be tested and checked for signs of blood, parasites or poorly ingested food. If the testing finds that the stool consists of largely of undigested food, it is simply the presence of undigested food that might be enticing the dog to consume its own excrements. It is, therefore, essential to alter the diet and shift to more nutritious, healthy and easy to digest diet. A diet high in fiber, but low in calories is recommended for such instances. Consequently, like overfeeding, underfeeding also causes hungry dogs to consume faeces.
- If the dog is found to have diabetes or thyroid treatment for either should be immediately started to counter Coprophagia.
- If signs of Cushing’s disease are apparent, then treatment for it should be started immediately.
Some of the most useful, effective and widely used prevention methods include:
- Associating the behavior with negative connotation from a very early age. The results of the consumption of faeces should not involve the owner of the dog. The owner could, perhaps, observe the dog from a hidden device such a camera monitor and use things such as remote spray collars that the owner can control from a distance. The collar can intercept and interrupt the behavior in adult dogs.
- Remote punishment can also be used as a preventive measure, the owner should implement remote punishment device when the dog is observed approaching faeces.
- An additive that causes nausea in the dog is most effective as a counter and preventive measure . In cases where the dog develops a tolerance, instead of an aversion, to the added substances it is found that the most effective way is to add substances that induce nausea. It should also be noted that such additives should be allowed to sit in the food for around 10-15 minutes prior to feeding.
- A diet high in protein and fiber should always be fed to the dog. Undigested food attracts the dog to the stools; it is, therefore, a preventive measure to make sure the dog is fed a well balanced, filling and fibrous diet.
- Periodically, the dog could be fed enzymes that make the digestive system healthier.
- If the dog already has a medical problem and is being treated, a preventive measure is to avoid certain drugs and the use of steroids, both of which have been known to encourage Coprophagia in dogs.
An attentive owner that knows and notices their dog’s behavior can avoid this fairly common problem. The key is to target the root cause and take up an approach that requires intercepting the behavior every time. The lack of access to faeces is both considered a tool for prevention and cure for Coprophagia in dogs. Excrements and other dirt should be removed immediately. The presence of stools may lead to the dog trying it at some point in time. Generally, having a rough idea of the number of times your dog passes stools and the general consistency of it helps identify the cause. An attentive dog owner can prevent the start of Coprophagia in their pet dogs.