Coprophagia (poop eating)
Coprophagia (sometimes called coprophagy, or poop-eating) is a pretty disgusting habit that fortunately only some dogs indulge in. It seems to be “one of those things” as far as dogs go: a behavior that defies logic and scientific study, and mystifies dog trainers and veterinarians around the world.
Many, if not most, dogs will eat the feces of other animals (particularly other dogs, cats, sheep, and horses) with gusto whenever the opportunity presents itself. It’s a very common behavior in dogs, but not particularly well understood.
The simple truth is that nobody really knows why some dogs will make a beeline for a pile of poop that’s lying on the grass. It’s natural for dogs to want to sniff the poop – almost all dogs will do this, since the depositor’s anal glands have left a kind of Post-It note there for other dogs to “read” – and it’s just as natural (seemingly) for some dogs to want to consume these little signposts. It’s just that we don’t really know why they do it. Actually eating the feces seems to be a matter of personal preference, from dog to dog: some dogs derive great satisfaction from consuming poop, whereas other dogs appear to be simply more fastidious by nature.
There are several popular theories about the causes of this strange habit:
– A dog that eats poop is doing so in order to supplement his own, nutritionally-deficient diet. He is not getting enough vitamins from the food he’s given in his own home, so he chooses to eat the poop of other animals (usually dogs and cats) in the hope that there may be some residual nutrition available for him to sponge up the second time around. This is a faintly plausible theory, apart from the fact that studies have been conducted on dogs suffering from malnutrition and well-nourished dogs with a clean bill of health: and the incidence of cophrophagia among both groups was virtually identical.
– The behavior may be derived from the carnivorous/scavenging heritage of our dogs. When carnivores make a kill, they typically consume the entire carcass of the animal – everything from the actual flesh to sinews and tendons to “offal”, which includes the stomach, digestive tract, and its contents (poop). It’s been suggested by some that coprophagia is a simple and natural extension of this instinctive behavior.
– It may be related to boredom or stress. The particulars of this theory are hazy, but essentially, bored or stressed dogs – such as those that spend too much time on their own, those that lead understimulated, underexercised lives, and those that are excluded from family life and adequate human attention and affection – often succumb to strange and compulsive habits, like pulling out their own fur, spinning in circles for hours on end, and (theoretically, at least) poop eating. In other words, a dog will eat poop simply because there’s nothing else for him to do. Poop Donations
– Internal parasites, such as worms, may be leaching nutrients and calories from the dog’s stomach and digestive tract. Typically, a dog with worms will have a voracious appetite (even more so than usual!) and will consume all the food that he has access to. In more advanced cases, an infested dog will turn to technically-edible substances (such as poop), which he would not normally consider appetizing, to fill the gap.
– Improperly house trained dogs sometimes eat their own poop in an attempt to conceal the “crime” from their owners and thus avoid detection. This is especially true of dogs whose owners tend to punish them for house training mistakes, whether out of impatience/frustration or because they believe that the dog is somehow doing it to “spite” them. A dog that’s pooping inappropriately indoors either has not been house trained correctly, in which case the accidents are not his fault; or the reason is medical in nature. To rule the latter out, the dog should be taken for a check-up at the vet (particularly if the indoor defecation has started suddenly and without warning).