This week, we address the issue of Coprophagia in dogs. Coprophagia refers to dogs eating their own stools (faeces/poop/feces).
In some dogs, especially puppies, eating feces (coprophagia) is a common behavior caused by their curiosity, and also a learned behavior from the mother when she licks a puppy’s anus to clean the excrement. This is normal behavior in puppies and doing so can help them obtain the friendly bacteria they need in their digestive system. This behavior will finally disappear when the puppies reach adulthood, but in some dogs this behavior still remains. While this behavior disorder could be caused by numerous reasons, this time we will discuss about coprophagia from a veterinary medicine point of view.
One of the causes of coprophagia is gastrointestinal disorder. This could be nutrient malabsorption, pancreatic enzyme deficiency, vitamin deficiencies, gastrointestinal upset, intestinal parasites, low quality (or low quantity) diet, and many more. Like most animals, dogs have the natural instinct to balance their dietary or digestive deficiency and one of the ways is coprophagia.
One of the best ways to prevent dogs from coprophagia is to remove the feces immediately. This can be done by assigning a specific toilet place for the dogs and supervise them while in the area or when they are outdoors. When you see them sniffing or investigating the feces, immediately interrupt them (by pulling their leash, or saying a firm “NO”, or whatever method you usually do to behave your dog). Once they move away from the feces, encourage the good behavior by giving treats, patting them in the head, or other similar positive reinforcement training.
Most importantly, we have to treat the underlying cause of coprophagia. Your veterinarian will able to detect gastrointestinal disorder through some lab tests and advise accordingly. Some of the recommended tests include complete blood count, blood chemistry panel, urinalysis, fecal float, fecal stain, fecal fat, fecal trypsin, fecal muscle fiber, trace minerals, and digestive enzymes such as amylase, lipase, and canine trypsin-like immunoreactivity, as well as pancreatic enzyme, cobalamin, and folate.
Consider changing your dog’s diet into a more digestible diet, and you can try changing the protein source and the amount of fiber in your dog’s diet to see how your dog react to the feces. Some protein sources will cause a more pleasant taste in the feces, which may lead to coprophagia. Adding some enzyme supplements can also improve nutrient digestion and absorption. If you want a more natural approach, consider adding some probiotic like yogurt in your dog’s diet, and fruits with natural source of enzymes, like papaya or pineapple.
Don’t forget to deworm your dog every few months as advised by your veterinarian. While most of the deworming tablets can kill most of the intestinal worms, there may be some other parasites that require another treatment to get rid of. This is when getting the feces checked for parasite is also important
If your dog has a healthy digestive system but still eats its feces or other dog’s feces, then the cause of coprophagia may be behavioral or psychological. It is not always possible to separate medical from behavioral causes, and in some animals, one may be complicated by the other.