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Health series - Coprophagia

Posted 16/06/2020

This post, which forms part of our health series for dogs, looks at the common problem of Coprophagia.  For advice on how resolve this habit, it is always beneficial to speak to your vet or a dog behaviourist. You need to work out why your dog is showing this type of behaviour to be able to effectively solve it.

What is Coprophagia?
Coprophagia is a term used to describe the eating of faeces – either your dog’s own, or those of other animals such as other dogs, cats, horses and sheep.  It is a common problem, especially with puppies.  

Why do dogs eat faeces?
As puppies, young dogs are unable to pass faeces without stimulation, therefore mothers will lick the perineal region of her pups, stimulating them to pass motions.  The mother will then ingest the faeces, which is a perfectly natural behaviour.

Puppies are naturally inquisitive, using their mouths and noses to investigate their surroundings. Many puppies will sniff and eat faeces out of curiosity but will grow out of it before it becomes a habit. 

As adult dogs, there are several reasons for eating faeces.  These can include, but are not limited to:

  • Curiosity
  • Isolation or restrictive confinement
  • A medical problem that causes malabsorption or malnutrition 
  • Boredom, anxiety or stress
  • Underfed or fed very low-quality diets.  If this is the case, a dog may eat their own faeces to try to improve their nutrient intake. 

Coprophagia is not always related to a medical condition - it can simply be a habit, or a way of your dog investigating the world around them. If your dog does have a tendency to eat faeces, you may want to get them checked out by a vet to ensure that they don’t have any problems that could contribute to Coprophagia. There is also a risk of digesting parasites if your dog has a tendency to eat faeces from other animals. 

What can be done about Coprophagia?
Once you have found the reason for the habit, it should be reasonably easy to resolve it.
It is important to keep the dog’s environment free from faeces.  Clean up immediately after your dog, or any other animals in the house, when they have toileted so the the faeces can't be eaten. When dogs are out for a walk they may be attracted to other animal’s excrement, so supervision is necessary and keeping your dog on a lead can help.

If the source of the problem is boredom, this can be alleviated by increasing play time, more walks, puzzle games and distraction tactics. For medical or behavioural causes, your vet or behaviourist will be able to advise the best action for your individual needs.

Training may still be necessary as most cases of Coprophagia are behavioural.   You should always feed a good quality dog food which is easily absorbed to prevent partially digested food particles being passed in the faeces. You can find more about Naturediet's delicious, wholesome, high-quality, natural meals here.

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