Canine coprophagia is an event that does not seem to happen too rarely to our four-legged friends. For those who do not know the term coprophagia, it means that the animal eats his own excrement. Surely, the subject is not pleasant to deal with, but we can assure you that it is very common for many animals. The only exception are female dogs and cats who have had their puppies and deliberately ingest their feces.
Coprophagia is also common in other animals such as rabbits, rodents, pigs, horses and even primates. However, the issue is more significant in dogs as they lick (kiss) our face! Puppies regularly eat poop because they like to chew and will eat anything. The problem arises with the development of an habit. In some dogs it is a sign of a nutritional deficiency.
There are actually many reasons explaining why dogs eat their own excrement. Sometimes there is an underlying medical condition such as enzyme deficiency or pancreatic insufficiency that can be of a genetic nature.
In the majority of cases it is caused by poor nutrition (we will cover this later in the article).
Even intestinal malabsorption or parasites are among the most common medical causes of coprophagia. The advice is, in these cases, to check your four-legged friend every six months in order to find out if there are any parasites in the intestine. Fecal examination twice a year can determine whether there are parasites in your dog's body and thus become a very useful tool to overcome this problem.
The pancreas and its functions
The dog's pancreas secretes enzymes that support the digestion of food that is introduced in the body.
If the pancreas does not work properly and therefore the enzyme's production is not sufficient, the animal will automatically eat other animal's stools which are a good source of digestive enzymes. This explains why coprophagia occurs. For example, rabbit's excretions are also a source of B vitamins in addition of digestive enzymes. Dogs who follow a dry diet often seek other sources of digestive enzymes that can offset a chronic enzyme deficiency caused by this diet which is physiologically inadequate.
The same is true for some cat foods that being of poor quality lead to enzymatic deficiency and malabsorption. Being able to benefit from cat excrements becomes a unique temptation for dogs. Cheap fkibble often contain ingredients that are impossible to digest and therefore pass through the gastrointestinal tract of the cat and are excreted with the feces. Once out they become a real temptation for dogs who eat them directly from the litter box.
The most common solution for some animals will be a change / improvement in diet. First of all, I suggest switching to at least a premium wet food and gluten-free kibble. If your pet is already eating quality cans or kibble you can switch to raw food (the BARF diet) or add probiotics, enzymes and a detoxifying supplement. Studies show that foods rich in fat, protein, dietary fibre and low in carbohydrates reduce the tendency to coprophagia.
The addition of probiotics and enzymes will then lead the animal to no longer have to look outside for the deficient substances.
In addition to the factors mentioned above, there are some behavioral causes that lead to copraphagia. When dogs live in a kennel, they may feel anxious or stressed out about the situation which leads them to eat excretions.
Even puppies, who often suffer from hunger and who are struggling to access food, become vulnerable and can therefore suffer from canine coprophagia. Often, eating excretions may also be a behavior learned from older dogs.
Older dogs could actually give an incorrect example by encouraging younger ones to inherit this bad habit. There are also examples of very selective dogs that only pick certain types of excrements with particular characteristics such as frozen or those of certain breeds or only in a given period of the year.
A case study on this eating behavior
Researchers from the University of California conducted a study by collecting data from 1500 pet owners in order to deepen their knowledge on coprophagia.
The study pointed out the following data:
- 16% of dogs eat feces with frequency and 85% eat excretions of other dogs. Dogs eating excretion are most likely living with other animals and have some degree of voracity and greed in consuming this product.Among the various breeds 40% of Border Collie and Shelties are fecal eaters. It has also been noted that 90% of dogs eat stool within two days of the evacuation from the body. Based on the data of this survey, researchers at the University of California have established that dogs who eat stool prefer a fresh product. It also emerged that food additives are only effective as deterrents in 2% of cases. In addition to this, the electronic collars and clicker training are certainly ineffective. The best solution, according to experts, is to keep your dog under control and immediately clean the environment where he lives.
Advices and useful remedies for all owners of animals suffering from coprophagia.
For owners who have an animal suffering from coprophagia it is important to have him on a diet that contains proteins, preferably uncooked , probiotic supplements as well as digestive enzymes that can help contain your dog’s urge to look for external sources of the latter found in excretions.
Simply put, your pet's pancreas no longer digests all the cooked food that is ingested (cooked meat and crocks) and tends to swell up creating other issues such as diabetes; undigested foods will remain in the colon and the entire body becoming a feast for parasites, worms and harmful bacterias (the same thing happens with humans !).
By feeding your pet with raw meat of controlled or organic origin, or at least offering premium products without gluten, adding probiotics , digestive and systemic enzymes and a herbal detoxifying supplement EVERY DAY you will have a good chance of eliminating this habit.
Here are the suggestions / remedies I advise in this case:
1) Barf diet (get very good advice before starting it and consult with a holistic veterinarian or an open-minded one). Initially, it is recommendable to still add probiotics and enzymes. The downside of Barf is that the packs are minimum 500 g and they come frozen so it is difficult to make smaller portions and the sight may be a little rough to a « sensitive stomach ».
The advantage: it costs less than the best premium products and after an adaptation period (it takes some patience) your pet will feel great and thank you for life!***
*** Fitopets has found an excellent alternative to raw diet, which is dehydrated human grade pet food. The brand is called Pure Pet Food and it is available in differente tastes in our webshop.
2) Add probiotics, possibily clincically tested for pets. Probiotics help strengthen the immune system, eliminate toxins and improve the absorption capacity of other nutrients by about 40-50%.
3) Add vegetal digestive enzymes to support the pancreas and prevent our friend from searching for them in the excretions as we have seen before.
Ideally, it would be a product with a mixture of digestive enzymes such as amylase, protease, lipase together with bromeline and beta-glucanase which are both digestive and systemic enzymes; The latter are extremely useful in case of candidosis (beta-glucanase) and in case of inflammatory conditions such as osteoarthritis (bromelina).
4) Add a supplement with detoxifying propreties.
Turmeric (Curcuma Longa) is an excellent herb for countless aspects including its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and hepatotoxic properties.
It is precisely on the liver that the curcuma exerts a strong detoxifying action by depleting it from excessive waste accumulated over time.
Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinalis) also works on liver detoxification but also has a prebiotic action, thus improving gastrointestinal function.
Burdock root (Articum lappa) is a detoxifying herb as it supports liver function and helps its regeneration when damaged (infections, contaminated food, etc.).
There are multi-herbal supplements in the form of alcohol-free glycerin macerates which are specific for dogs and cats.
I would personally recommend picking a kosher, no GMO and possibly certified USP (American Pharmacopoeia).
As mentioned above, it is essential to always pick up the stools in order to keep everything clean. If there is a cat in the house you must always keep the litter box clean and make sure is out of reach to your dog.
Adding probiotic and digestive enzymes in your cat’s food is a good idea so that his stools becomes less appealing to your dog.
Always leave toys to your dog in order to stimulate his mind and avoid boredom. Take him for a run or a walk and play with him ; these are essential steps to help prevent sedentarity and boredom which can lead to particular behaviors such as those listed above.
If you do not see any improvement after following these tips, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian in order to rule out any medical reason that may be the underlying cause of this behavior.