The who, what, when, where and why of Dogs who eat Poo

Coprophagia is the medical term for eating poo or stool eating. A frequently query presented to me in practise (often after the dog has coated my face in Eau de dog lick) is ‘why does my dog eat poo?’. It was this very question that formed the core of a study presented at the 2012 Annual Symposium of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour. 3000 people participated in an online survey to understand more about this behaviour. The results in summary were:

16% dogs frequently ate stools.

Dogs within multi dog households were more likely to be stool-eaters.

Greedy eaters were more likely to be stool-eaters.

Sterilised male dogs and females were more likely to be stool-eaters.

Stool eaters were 30% as likely to eat their own poo compared to those of other dogs

Fresh stools were more desirable than non-fresh deposits.

While this information sheds light on the who, what, when and where of stool eating, the question still remains….why?

The answer will vary depending on the individuals genetics, environment and experience but in general the consensus is on the following information:

1. Stool eating may reflect an innate dog behaviour that protects the family group from intestinal parasites
present in stools that could occasionally be dropped in the den/rest area. In the absence of opposable
thumbs, dogs have only their mouths to remove stools that may contain infective larvae before they hatch and
spread.

2. Ingesting non-food items is a common form of exploration in the young pup. This may include stool-eating and
typically resolves within the first 9 months of life.

3. Gastrointestinal disease: there are some medical diseases that result in food being poorly digested with
stools still containing valuable nutrition. These conditions can be diagnosed with blood tests and faecal
analysis.

4. Behavioural problems: some dogs that have anxiety or been punished in the course of toilet training may
stool eat.

Who are your allies when it comes to dogs stool eating?

The first port-of call should be your regular veterinarian. They can rule out medical disease that may contributing to the behaviour. Once important medical rule outs have been taken care of the approach turns to behavioural management. The key to management relies on addressing underlying anxiety, providing adequate environmental enrichment, altering the palatability of faeces, dietary changes and minimising access to faeces (implement regular poop patrol!).

Dr Kate

About Dr Kate

Perth vet and proprietor of Kalmpets Animal Behaviour Centre and Dog Day Care, Dr Kate Lindsey completed a first class honours degree in zoology and neuroscience at UWA, followed by a veterinary degree with first class honours, at Murdoch. Since graduating in 2005, Dr Kate has worked as a vet in small animal practices around Perth. As her zoological roots show, she has always had an interest in animal behaviour. Dr Kate successfully completed a post-graduate program in veterinary behaviour medicine and was admitted as a member of The Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists by examination in Animal Behaviour in 2012. She is a qualified veterinarian behaviourist. Dr Kate established Kalmpets in 2012, Western Australia’s only sole focus mobile vet behaviour practice that delivered comprehensive solutions to improve behaviour problems in dogs, cats and pets.

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