by Vetsavers of St Thomas’ Road, Spalding
The act of dogs consuming their own or other animals’ faeces is known as coprophagia and is an extremely unpleasant habit.
Although it’s not known exactly why it occurs, coprophagia is a normal behaviour in many species (rabbits), including dogs.
Ingesting their own or other dogs’ faeces is particularly common in puppies.
Fortunately, many grow out of this behaviour as they mature. Coprophagia is also normal in nursing mothers. Because pups are not able to eliminate on their own until they’re about three weeks old, a mother dog will lick her very young puppies to activate defecation. Ingestion of the puppies’ faeces also keeps the nest clean.
A few dogs continue to ingest their own or other dogs’ faeces into adulthood. Some of these dogs are highly motivated and the behaviour seems to become compulsive.
Some dogs even follow others around, waiting until they defecate so that they can eat the faeces right away.
There has been a lot of research carried out about nutritional deficiencies causing this, there is no apparent reason for this strange behaviour, However, this has not been proved.
What causes coprophagia?
It’s common for puppies to ingest faeces, although the reason for this behaviour is unknown. It may just be part of investigating their environment.
Many puppies outgrow this behaviour by six months of age with no intervention beyond mild discouragement.
Many species ingest their own or others animals’ faeces if the faeces are rich in nutrients.
Herbivores, who eat only plants, are most likely to produce faeces with nutritive value for dogs.
What to do about coprophagia
Resolving coprophagia can be challenging. Attempts to discourage any type of contact with faeces are bound to fail because sniffing faeces is such a fundamental investigative behaviour in dogs. Drawing the line between sniffing and eating is not easy.
If the behaviour has developed into a compulsive disorder, in addition to avoiding access to faeces or discouraging ingestion, it’s important to provide environmental enrichment, such as toys and games like fetch and tug, and adequate physical exercise. It may also be advisable to incorporate medication.
What NOT to do
l Do not rub your dog’s nose in faeces. This procedure won’t fix the problem and might make your dog frightened of you.
l Do not physically punish your dog for eating faeces. Hitting him with a newspaper or spanking him probably won’t stop him from eating faeces, and it might cause more serious problems, such as fear or aggression.
There is an old wives tail that makes reference to giving your dog pineapple juice.
One of the most frequent recommendations I’ve heard for stopping coprophagia is pineapple.
I have personally had no luck with pineapple, and after doing a bit of internet surfing, there are lots of recommendations for it but very few documented success stories.
Coprophagia is often said to be initiated by an enzyme deficiency. I’m sure that pineapple got to be a popular recommendation simply because it contains a proteolytic enzyme (bromelain). Bromelain breaks down proteins, and is often used in meat tenderizer (another frequently recommended coprophagia remedy) and is thought to act as a digestive aid.
A special note if you decide to try pineapple for yourself: use fresh pineapple only. While canned pineapple is much more convenient, the canning process destroys bromelain.