Coprophagia is the medical term for when a dog eats either its own faeces or that of another animal. There are three types of Coprophagia: Autocoprophagia eating its own faeces; Intraspecific Coprophagia eating faeces from within its own species (ie another dog); Interspecific Coprophagia eating faeces from another species (ie cat, deer, rabbit, horse, etc)
Interspecific Coprophagia is the most common version of this trait. The cause of this behaviour is not fully understood, these are some suggestions and theories
Attention-seeking behaviour: The owner reprimands the dog despite being a negative reaction it is attention, which is what the dog may crave.
Allelomimetic behaviour: The dog observes the owner picking up the faeces and learns from them to do so as well i.e monkey see monkey do.
Genetic: the dog dates back to the Mesolithic period some 14000 years ago and fed off our middens and latrines therefore this was a staple diet.
Taste: taste may be a factor. It likes the, this is the likely mechanism in interspecific coprophagia such as eating cat faeces.
Maternal behaviour: A bitch with puppies has to stimulate the pups to toilet in the first 3 or 4 weeks. She then eats and drinks the resulting faeces/urine, therefore keeping the den clean and preventing the scent of the faeces from attracting predators. The pups see this and copy. Monkey see monkey do again.
It has also been suggested that eating faeces could be to aid digestion, in other words a probiotic which encourages healthy flora in the gut.
Forbid (TM)(R): A powder added to a dog’s food. It is supposed to make the faeces taste bad (veterinary prescription only).
Deter (TM)(R): This is a pill given to a dog with its food. Like Forbid, Deter is supposed to make the faeces distasteful.
Some people put chilli sauce or mustard on the faeces in the hope that it will deter the dog. One of the best treatments is simply picking up the faeces. Lack of access can sometimes break the cycle.
Positive Reinforcement: This is the process of reinforcing another behaviour Instead When the dog is about to begin eating the faeces, the owner can then use a number of techniques and commands – “Leave it”, “Off “, “No”, etc.
Simple aversion therapy can be done by letting the dog approach the stool on a long lead. If he starts sniffing it, give a leash check with something like a Jingler or a noise aversion device such as training discs or a plastic bottle with pebbles can be rattled, these devises should be pre- programmed. If he passes by, then simply praise him.
Another technique that I have found can work extremely well is get one of the dog’s or cat’s faeces; allow it to dry a little. Go to your local joke shop and purchase a cap banger; this is a spring-loaded device that makes a bang when something is moved or lifted. Place the slightly dried faeces on the cap banger and await results. It works after about three bangs. Also great for counter surfing/food stealing which can of course be dangerous to a dog if it eats the wrong things.
If, as in the previous cure, the dog is “Autocoprophagic”, i.e. eating own faeces, then a method that sometimes works is to feed your dog pineapple slices in its food. It apparently makes their faeces foul tasting. Not something even in the depth of scientific analysis do I intend to test for myself.
There are some health implications to coprophagia. It is merely a habit, which we see as vile and disgusting, but generally causes no real problems. However there is a risk ingesting internal parasites. This can happen if your dog eats the faeces of unfamiliar, infested dogs or cats or the faeces of wild life such as rabbit deer etc. If you worm the dogs regularly then the risk is far less, The fecal-oral route can also transmit some rather nasty canine viral diseases. Hepatitis and canine parvovirus are just two of these serious diseases. Fortunately, vaccinated dogs should be covered for these potentially fatal viruses.
I would also strongly recommend keeping the dog away from cat faeces because of the risk of organisms such as Toxoplasma gondii which can cause serious and sometimes fatal consequences including hepatitis, pneumonia, blindness, and severe neurological disorders. The intestinal phase of this nasty disease occurs only in cats (wild as well as domesticated) therefore transmission to dogs is by ingestion of oocysts (in cat faeces) or bradyzoites in raw or undercooked meat.
This article was reproduced with the kind permission of Stan Rawlinson, The Dog Listener