Authored by: Dr. Lindsey, DVM
Dogs can sometimes do weird and gross things. Coprophagia is one of those things. Coprophagia is the eating of feces. Dogs of all ages can do this, but I see it most often in puppies. Some dogs eat their own feces, and some dogs may prefer eating other dog’s feces. Regardless, it is still gross especially when they want to give us kisses afterward.
Why would any dog want to do this you might ask? Well, there are several possible reasons. Most cases are behavioral but there can be some medical causes as well. It’s important to rule-out medical problems before just assuming it’s a behavioral problem. A decrease in the absorption of nutrients, medical conditions that cause an increased appetite, or intestinal parasites are just a few medical causes. Since coprophagia is common in puppies, they may be trying to mimic their mother’s behavior when she grooms them and ingests their feces when they are very young. Also, when puppies are left unsupervised, they become inquisitive and may want to investigate or play with feces.
Thankfully, there are treatments for this! If it’s due to a medical problem, treating the underlying condition will help resolve the coprophagia. If it’s due to a behavioral problem, early intervention is best so hopefully the coprophagia won’t become an ingrained habit. It’s never recommended to stick a dog’s nose in the feces to try and “teach them a lesson”. That can actually have the opposite effect because it creates a great deal of owner attention. The best way to get coprophagia to stop is by keeping the yard constantly cleaned up of feces and direct supervision of the puppy when they are out in the yard. Puppies can be very quick to eat feces so some owners will only take them out on a short leash so they can pick up the feces immediately. I have heard mixed reviews on taste deterrents that are out on the market. From what clients tell me, they don’t seem to deter most puppies.
Dr. Lindsey graduated from Colorado State University in 2009 and works in general practice, shelter medicine, and more recently as a civilian contractor veterinarian for the Army. She is also certified in acupuncture and resides in Palm Springs, CA.