Garima with Boo
Of all the repulsive habits our canine companions have – drinking from toilet, rolling in swamp muck, licking their butt. And nothing tops the practice of eating poop. It might not be motivated by their desire to gross out their pet parents, but it certainly hits the target. There are both behavioural and physiological reasons why dogs view ‘deposits’ from cats and other dogs as delicacies. –by Garima Singhal

What is coprophagia?
Coprophagia or coprophagy is defined as the habit of dogs consuming faeces. The term ‘coprophagia’ is combination of two Greek words—copros, which literally means ‘faeces’ and phagein meaning ‘to eat’. Coprophagia refers to various kinds of faeces eating, including eating feces of other species, other individuals or one’s own.
There are a couple of cases—when a mother dog licks her puppies to stimulate them to defecate up until they are about three weeks of age. During this process, she will consume faeces of the puppies to keep the nest area clean and prevent from predators harming the puppies. In the second case, even puppies also occasionally eat their own or other dog’s faeces when they are young. Puppies who do this will usually outgrow it by the age of six months. If it continues after this age or as an adult dog, this behaviour then needs to be corrected and you must consult your vet for the same.
But why does my dog eat poop?
There can be clinical and behavioral reasons for this.
Enzyme deficiency: Digestive enzymes are a key component of your dog’s digestive process, and without them, they can’t digest and absorb their food properly.
Parasites: Intestinal parasites that absorb the nutrients that your dog should be getting from his food could be another reason your dog is craving stool.
Conditions that increase appetite: Diseases like diabetes and thyroid issues as well as steroids can make dogs ravenous and they might eat stool.
Malabsorption: Any condition that may lead to poor nutrient absorption can in turn lead to poop eating. Not only might your dog want to eat his stool for those undigested nutrients, but also he may find cat stool even more delightful. It is important to consider whose stool he is seeking, as this may be an indicator of a deficiency or illness in the pet.
Underfeeding: Despite being on a clean, fresh, whole diet and being fed regularly on time, your dog is still seeking stool, then feed him more. And keep to a regular feeding schedule.
Cleanliness: When a mother dog is cleaning up after her puppies to keep the nest clean before they have been weaned, it is very much in the natural order of things.
Puppies: As puppies start to get curious about their surroundings, they might take a nibble out of some faeces as part of the exploration, but they usually grow out of this. A younger dog can learn this behaviour from an older dog who has acquired a taste for poop. So make sure to nip the problem in the bud.
Scavengers: Dogs are natural scavengers and are attracted to scent and they don’t react to odour the same way that humans do. And if an opportunity presents itself, they just might take it.
Boredom: A pooch who is home alone, bored with nothing to do, might take up this opportunity as a new way to entertain himself and get a little treat in the process.
Attention seeking: If your pet feels a little ignored, they might resort to coprophagia to gain a little attention. He will get a snack and your attention and it will be a double whammy for them.
Stress: A dog who is kenneled all day might resort to eating poop all day. Various other factors for stress can also cause poop eating.
Punishment: A dog who is punished for eating poop might think that eating poop is bad and might eat the evidence to prevent your displeasure. Clearly, the simple but gross act of poop eating may be somewhat complicated. Look for medical causes and if he is clear of all issues then make sure to keep things clean and your dog engaged and well fed. Be patient and consistent.
How to curb coprophagia?

  • Pick up your dog immediately as soon as he eliminates, if possible.
  • Make sure your dog’s toys are designed to stimulate his brain and alleviate his boredom.
  • Ensure that he is well exercised. Bored, sedentary dogs tend to develop very strange behaviours and habits than dogs who get plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.
  • For a trace mineral deficiency, add some kelp or take a certified veterinarian’s help.
  •  Check your dog’s stool regularly for parasites.
  •  Keep on top of the digestion situation of all the pets in your household. Your dog might be attracted to another dog or cat’s stool, not only because he is deficient in something, but also because they are not absorbing their food and their poops are extra enticing.
  •  Deterrents such as bitter apple, red pepper flakes, tabasco sauce can be applied to faeces already deposited on the ground to make it bad taste and develop repulsion for dogs towards it.
  •  There are supplements available in the market that make stool of dogs taste terrible when it is eaten.
  •  In some cases, poop eating can become an obsessive behaviour for which your dog will need medication as per vet’s advice. (Garima Singhal is a pet behaviourist, neurobiologist, school teacher and a long-term pet parent.)