It’s 2 a.m. You’re making your way to the kitchen for a glass of water when you pass by the litter box to find your dog munching away on the…contents. Or maybe you’re out enjoying your favorite park when – to your dismay – Fido decides to snarf up another pet’s poo before you can even blink your eyes. As disgusting (and shocking) as this behavior may seem, seeing a dog eating poop is not uncommon.
While this scene may not be a favorite among pet owners, it’s important to understand why your potty-mouth pooch may be feasting on fecal matter.
Coprophagia isn’t exactly a word that rolls off the tongue, but it is the scientific term for ingesting feces. When it comes to dogs who are omnivores and natural scavengers, the tendency to eat a wide variety of things may perplex us, but seem perfectly OK to them. For this reason, we must take great care to keep our canine companions from eating something toxic or something that carries disease, such as a dead rodent or bird.
When it comes to feces, however, there are a number of different reasons that have been widely debated for some time. Theories include:
- Hunger or adjustment to a restrictive diet (if your pet is on a strict diet, he or she may decide poop is what’s on the menu)
- Malnutrition or certain vitamin or mineral deficiencies
- Underlying illness
- Compulsive behavior
- Boredom or lack of enrichment
While it’s best to rule out any health issues that may be causing your pet to eat feces, in most cases, it’s simply because your dog likes to do it.
As you may have witnessed in your dog’s day-to-day behavior, canines tend to explore the world with their noses and mouths. It’s understandable that a pet owner would wish for more discerning taste buds in their pooch pals, but the behaviors that repulse us may be exactly what your dog needs to navigate life.
When it Becomes a Problem
Obviously, ingesting the poop of other animals isn’t always safe for your dog. Fecal matter contains several viruses, bacteria, and parasites that can make your pet ill. Your safest bet is to ensure your pet is on all of the needed vaccines and parasite prevention medications. Annual screening is also highly recommended, as intestinal worms in animals are quite common.
To discourage fecal ingestion, practice the following safety measures:
- Clean up immediately after your dog defecates.
- Keep a watchful eye while at the park or on a walk; use a shorter leash for more control.
- Place your cat’s litter box in an area that’s inaccessible to your canine.
- Keep house rabbits and pocket pets in a separate area; remove their waste frequently.
- Teach your dog the “leave it” command if he or she doesn’t already respond to it.
It may be that your dog needs adjustments to his or her diet, or perhaps there’s a health condition that requires medical attention. If your dog is ingesting poop, please schedule an appointment so we can verify it’s just your dog “being a dog” rather than anything more serious.
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