Written by Josephine Lategan
Dog do is a smelly subject, and it becomes all the harder to handle when you see a pooch eating its own poop.
Before you yell, ‘bad dog,” you might be amazed to learn that there are legitimate reasons for this. Understanding why your pooch eats poop can give you insight to your dog’s instincts, training, and well-being.
Coprophagia, as it is officially called, is a habit that appears in dogs, rodents, rabbits, beavers, and even elephants. The behaviour also occurs amongst non-human primates. In canines, it can appear in puppies or adult dogs.
It’s most natural and relatively common in puppies. They learn the behaviour from their mother, who eats pup poop instinctively to protect them.
In the wild, a predator can smell pup poop in the den and may try to catch the helpless little ones while mom is out hunting herself. Eating the poop also keeps the den clean. Mommy dog usually ceases the poop snacking when her pups move onto solids and simultaneously start pooping outside the den. Puppies learn by mimicking and may follow mom’s lead. However, they usually stop it once they’re adventuring outside their safe space. Pups separated from mother dogs too soon may rely on humans to continue to remove the poop, and if this didn’t happen, may continue the behaviour unwittingly into their adulthood.
Adult dogs who were properly weaned and naturally outgrew the behaviour may do this for other reasons.
Stress – big changes like new household members or moving can result in stress-related own-poop eating.
Boredom – dogs deserve mental stimulation and can suffer sheer boredom along with the best of us. This may lead to them eating poop simply to have something to do. Try increasing exercise frequency and getting your hound some safe, suitable toys.
Attention – if your dog is attention-starved and you shout at him for eating poop, he may do it again, just to get attention. Avoid reacting dramatically to the behaviour and give him positive attention in other areas, like playtime, chilling together time or park time.
Elimination-related anxiety – On the other hand, if you’ve shouted at your dog for pooping somewhere inappropriate, he may eat what he’s just eliminated to try to cover it up! Try to stay calm, remove the poop as soon as you can, and then find out why he might be making a mess where he’s not trained to. It might have a medical cause.
Malnutrition + Digestive issues – dogs may eat their poop because they’re having digestive issues or in need of more nutrients. Parasites like intestinal worms can be the cause of malnourishment in pups or adults, or pups may be experiencing food too low in digestible nutrients.
Symptom of serious illness – “If your adult dog has never been a poop eater and suddenly develops the habit in association with symptoms of disease like weight loss, lethargy, discomfort, other behavioural changes, vomiting or diarrhoea,” warns PetMD, it’s time to see your vet.
It also happens that pooches eat another animal’s poop. Dog coprophagy may include duck do, goose droppings, baboon faeces, fresh cat litter deposits or even your toddler’s out-of-nappy accident. It’s generally accepted that if it’s not age-related, health-related, emotionally caused, or instinctual, dogs do it because it is tasty to them, …but that doesn’t make it any easier for us to stomach, does it? 😊
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