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Poop Snacks

by Katie McKay | Mar 30, 2014

My mom called me the other day to tell me that her Gorden Setter (a now 4 year old rescue) was flinging frozen turds all over the backyard (they live in Cleveland).  She wasn’t eating them, just playing with them and having a wonderful time.  Sophie is a known poop eater, but my mother was thoroughly appalled that she had turned it into a game.  When was the last time you were walking down the street and saw a dead squirrel and ran to go roll in it?  Believe it or not, sometimes dogs just do stuff that people don’t understand or think is gross.  One of the most fantastically terrible is poop eating.  The scientific term for this is called Corprophagy, but that’s about all we understand about, well, because we’re humans and not dogs.  And trust me, there aren’t even a lot of scientists out there who want to run those kind of experiments.  For the most part, this activity appears to fall into the “normal” category for dog behavior.  But as normal as they think it is, it still exposes them to some potential health hazards that we as their humans need to look out for.  

Poop eating, whether it’s their own or others, usually happens in young dogs and with a little luck, most dogs “outgrow” this behavior.  That doesn’t mean every pup will be able to get past the delicious backyard snack, but remember, the reason for it is almost completely unknown.  Don’t stress, there are some theories from those that don’t mind admitting that they study s*** for a living.  One theory surrounds the dog’s relentless quest for the cat box.  Cat poop is probably the most coveted of all poop snacks.  Because cat food is much higher in fat than dog food, our dogs just plain find it yummy.  Humans have their deep fried everything and dogs have cat poo.  There are great pet/child gates available now, complete with people and cat doors and don’t require drilling to your door frame.  Keep your pup far away from the cat box or you’ll have a visit from all those fun changes to your dog’s poop that we talked about last time.  Guaranteed.   One of the most well-known theories is nutrition and diet.  Are you feeding a low quality diet that may not be balanced for your dog?  This has been a strong theory for why dogs eat their own poop.  The reason behind it is that with low quality foods, they don’t get good digestibility and absorption of nutrients with the first pass thru the digestive tract.  By eating what comes out and passing it thru the digestive tract again, they are able to extract more of what they need to absorb.  Dogs aren’t that smart?  Well you’d be surprised at what instinct drives without even thinking about it, especially survival.  As for horse and cow and goose poop, well we just have no idea.  Perhaps they just find it tasty.

Humans get stressed out about this habit.  Not only because it’s well, disgusting, but also because of the potential health concerns involving both the animal and human family members.  Take a moment to think about some of the situations that some animals come from, the way they are treated might help your patience and understanding a bit with this behavior.  For example, dogs that are born in their own cages and never let out, like in the case of puppy mills, are forced to “clean-up” after themselves.  Just like humans, they don’t want to live in their own filth, but they may also be starving.  After a certain period of time, this just becomes a habit that can be near impossible to break.  For the first few weeks of life, Mom consumes all her pups feces and urine to keep the environment clean for her new babies.  We see a continuation of this a lot with pet store puppies for the same reasons as puppy mill dogs.  Dogs who have been neglected by their owners may do it because they are stressed, not getting enough exercise or just for your attention.  When they find these little treasurers in the backyard or on a walk, it turns in to a fun game making it tough to break, if at all. 

So is it harmful?  Well….for the most part no.  As long as your dog is otherwise healthy, up to date on vaccines and takes regular heartworm preventatives all year long, you’re probably safe.  Your dog won’t get heartworm from poop, but they can pick up various intestinal worms.  Heartworm prevention protects against some of these parasites, so it’s still important to get that poop looked at, at least once a year with a visit to your vet and sooner if they are having any diarrhea, vomiting, or decreased activity. Aside from that, I’ve never heard or seen a dog get really ill from eating poop.  Although there was a dog once that got some pretty wicked pancreatitis that we determined was likely related to corprophagy.  However, I’m pretty sure this was a result of dining on the all you can eat buffet at the dog park.   Geez people, pick up after your dogs!

So what can we do about it because it’s still gross!?  Ok y’all aren’t going to like this but it takes patience and consistency.  For medical issues, although unusual, like malabsorption (mineral deficiencies), diabetes, Cushing’s disease or treatment with some steroids, you’ll need to work with your vet.  Feed your dog a high quality food that is fed in the appropriate amount because sometimes calorie restricting or underfeeding can cause them to start eating their poop.  If it’s behavioral, there are few other things you can do. 

  1.  Change their diet—it might be beneficial to lower the protein content a bit in the diet (this is what makes it palatable).  If you can break the habit, you may be able to switch back to a higher protein food.
  2. Prevent access- clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere!  No one likes doing it, especially right away, but they can’t eat it if it’s not there.
  3. Teach “Leave it”.  Make sure you get a good solid leave it before you try this in the backyard fence.  It won’t take long for your dog to figure out that if they disobey your leave it command, they can inhale those nuggets before you get to them.
  4. Add probiotics to their diet.  The easiest is plan, non-fat yogurt.  But there are others available just for dogs.
  5. Add commercially available products to food to make poop taste bad.  Personally, I’m not a fan of this option, but feel it warrants discussion.  Adding something to your dog’s food will only make THEIR poop taste bad, it doesn’t keep them from eating others.  I think it’s pretty unlikely you’ll solve your problem this way, so I’d rather not add something that’s clearly not a normal part of the diet to their food, the risk is just not worth it to me.  If you do chose to go this route, make sure you consult with your vet about the proper dose to use.

Side note:  I had a foster once who came with 6 boxes of some stuff called “For-Bid”.  The owners who surrendered her claimed she ate her poop.  I saw her try it once at my house and I simply said “anh” and she stopped.  In the weeks that followed, I made sure to watch her when she went outside.  With exercise, a good diet and being sprung from the laundry room she was locked in, I never saw her try it again and I never gave her that product.  Not saying this will happen with every dog, but just one experience.  I threw every one of those boxes straight in the trash.

  1. Make sure your dog is getting enough attention and exercise.  Anxious or stressed dogs are much more likely to consume their own feces.
  2. Monkey see, Monkey do.  Have one dog that eats poop and one that doesn’t?  Be careful giving attention (even bad) to the one that does….pretty soon you’ll have an army of poop vacuum cleaners on your hands.  As hard as it is, the best thing to do is ignore the behavior.
  3. Reward good bathroom behavior.  Teach them to go in a certain spot and then restrict that spot in the yard during playtime.
  4. Maturity.  Cross your fingers and hope for the best, some dogs simply grow out of this behavior.
  5. Remember, dogs are dogs.  Sometimes we just can’t change them.

So go hug your dog, tell him you love him even though you don’t understand him sometimes.  But probably best to stay away from the kisses on the lips.

Cheers!

Katie 

Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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