The “ick” factor you assign to this article probably has a lot to do with your present state of mind. Some readers will find that it instantly engages their gag reflex. Others have witnessed so many stunning developments over the past few weeks and months — a Cubs world championship; the Brexit vote; the U.S. Presidential election — that nothing can faze them anymore. Still others, reeling from several of those same recent occurrences, may view this topic as an uncomfortably bizarre life analogy of sorts.
Regardless of what comes to mind when you read it, recognize that writing about it is no Caribbean vacation either. But let’s face it: Confronting the condition is the courageous thing to do. Medically, it’s called coprophagia— but it’s more commonly known as dog poop eating, potty mouth, fecal feasting, turd tasting, dung dining, and “the single grossest thing I’ve ever seen.” Take heart, though… because there are steps you can take to address it.
First, let’s remember that turds aren’t taboo to dogs. I mean, take just a moment to visualize the mortifying ways our canines often greet us, and one another. See? Dogs don’t share our same social inhibitions; and they have no inborn drive to define excrement as unpleasant. Plus, being naturally nose-propelled — not to mention fairly near to the ground — our pups routinely encounter stool while exploring their environment.
So coprophagia is often a purely compulsive behavior. However, it can also have underlying medical origins. Some of its causes can include:
These pesky buggers can make a home in the intestines, leaching nutrients until pups actually experience low-level malnourishment stemming from vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies. Enter stool, which — much like fertilizer — is nutrient-rich. When biological levels get out of whack, the body sometimes begins seeking out missing elements in strange places.
Veterinarian Dr. Richard H. Pitcairn notes that any health-related issue involving a decrease in nutrient absorption could potentially trigger coprophagia. The ailment in question could range from a general digestive disorder, to conditions like Celiac disease, to basic enzyme imbalance.
West Virginia-based holistic vet Dr. Jane Laura Doyle reminds pet parents that feeding pups a poorly digestible food source — for instance, commercial kibble packed with cheap fillers and artificial ingredients — can lead to these same vitamin/mineral deficiencies. If your dog’s stools contain large quantities of undigested food material, coprophagia sometimes results.
Yeah, it’s true, mama dogs often ingest puppy excrement to keep the nest area clean. This is perhaps the ultimate example of selflessly heroic Mom behavior … and young pups like to mimic.
My sweet rescue Bichon Sparky was a perfect angel — except for his diabolical habit of treating our cat’s litter box like the neighborhood Golden Corral. Then a canine behaviorist pointed out that he’d been raised in profoundly neglectful conditions. Over time, pups in desperate circumstances can learn to raid garbage cans and pursue non-food items that make many of us queasy. (Check out our recent article on how to keep your pups away from the litter box buffet.)
So have you noticed signs of coprophagia in your canine? Then as a first step, it’s extremely important to have a trusted veterinarian evaluate your furry friend. Underlying medical conditions, once treated, may resolve the problem altogether. But if your pet’s physical health checks out, there are several targeted lifestyle strategies you can try at home. Many of these can yield positive results. I know, because they helped Sparky kick the habit for good.
1. Prevent access
Persistence can break the compulsion over time — so don’t leave your unattended pup anywhere near excrement. When your dog eliminates, pick it up immediately. If you have a cat, cover and clean the litter box regularly, then watch that area like a hawk. I actually put a bell on Sparky’s collar, so I’d always know where he was. If that doesn’t work, position the box up high.
2. Use sensory deterrents
Our pet behaviorist recommended spraying half water/half vinegar or undiluted Bitter Apple on feces directly. Apparently, this helps to change acidity and aroma in a way that deters certain dogs.
3. Try interruption training
From many years spent walking shelter dogs, I’ve learned that consistent positive-association training can be useful. While out walking, wait until your dog eliminates. The nanosecond he’s finished, ask for a sit and reward it. Immediately scoop the poop. If you notice your dog sniffing excrement along the way, tug the leash, command a sit, then reward again.
4. Change proteins
Try gradually switching to a different diet with more digestible protein sources. Fish and salmon are especially digestible. You can also try brands like Nutrisca, which uses protein-rich chickpeas as a binding agent. Dr. Pitcairn and Dr. Doyle also advocate cooking natural meat-based diets at home.
5. Supplement with enzymes
I’ve had fantastic success supplementing with enzymes to improve digestion and nutrient absorption. I especially like two products: Prozyme Digestive Enzyme Supplement, and probiotic-containing Digest-All Plus. If you’re using dry dog food, try substituting about ¼ cup canned food or pure meat to incorporate moisture. Then stir in your chosen enzyme formula according to package directions.
6. Increase fiber
Most dogs who exhibit coprophagia seem to seek out well-formed stools. So adding stool-softening flaxseed to your pup’s diet — or a tasteless fiber source like Benefiber — can deter many dogs.
Have you discovered natural ways of coping with coprophagia? Share your insights!