One of the most common complaints I hear from pet owners is that their dog is eating poop. Sometimes, the dog is eating his own poop, sometimes that of other animals. Either way, it is a disturbing habit for dog owners to see and can be frustrating to deal with.
Coprophagia is the proper name for this behavior. Coprophagia is defined as ingesting feces. There are many theories which attempt to explain the cause of coprophagia. In many cases, an exact cause is never known and the behavior is simply a habit which the dog has developed. If at any time, you have doubts about your pet’s health or your pet acts abnormally, a veterinarian should be consulted immediately.
Sanitation is the Key to Preventing Coprophagia in Dogs
Sanitation, meaning removal of all feces in a timely fashion, is the cornerstone of preventing the dog from ingesting feces. The theory behind this technique is simple: If the poop is not there, it cannot be eaten. This works well in theory, but in practice is not always possible. However, there are a few things that can be done to improve the odds of being able to clean up the poop before it is eaten.
Using a Gentle Leader® Head Harness on a Dog as a Deterrent to Eating Poop
Proper housebreaking is essential to dealing with dogs who eat their poop. Controlling coprophagia involves supervising the dog when and where he defecates. If he is defecating indoors unsupervised, you will have no control over this behavior.
Dogs with a tendency toward coprophagia should not be allowed outside untended. Before you take your dog outdoors, place a head harness, such as a Gentle Leader®, on him. Use the head harness to control his head and prevent him from ingesting his poop. Once he has finished moving his bowels and is done outdoors, take him inside and return outside alone to clean up the poop. Pick up the feces promptly each time your dog defecates. Do not allow the poop to accumulate in your yard.
Behavior Modification in the Treatment of Canine Coprophagia
Using a head harness, such as the Gentle Leader®, take your dog outside. Have plenty of treats handy but do not show them to your dog yet. When your dog has a bowel movement, immediately distract him from the poop by calling him toward you. Use the head harness to direct his face away from the poop and towards you, if you need to. Entice him with the treat and reward him when he moves toward you. Continue to call him toward you and away from the poop until he no longer shows interest in the poop. Once you are finished outside, take your dog indoors and return alone to clean up the poop from the yard.
Continue this exercise each time your dog goes outside. Eventually, your dog will lose interest in eating the feces and will move toward you after he defecates. After a time, you will be able to begin giving the rewards intermittently, eventually discontinuing the treats altogether. This is a classic form of behavior modification, replacing an unappealing behavior with a more desirable one.
Food Supplements in the Treatment of Coprophagia in Dogs
Several supplements have been added to the food in an attempt to treat coprophagia in dogs, with varying degrees of success. Some of the supplements recommended are:
- pumpkin filling
- Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer®
Commercial products are also available, such as Forbid® and Defend®. These products are added to the food and must be fed to all dogs in the household to be effective for those dogs which eat not only their own poop but that of their housemates as well. The theory here is to increase the digestibility of the diet and make fewer digestible components available in the feces.
A treatment which works well for one dog may not work for another. Experimentation may be necessary to find the right supplements for your dog. In addition, in some cases, a simple change in diet may result in improvement or resolution of the coprophagia.