When Dogs Eat Stool (Coprophagia)

Coprophagia is the name given to the habit of eating stools-either the dog's own or another animal's. Cats' stools seem particularly tempting to dogs.

Most dogs with coprophagia are well nourished and show no evidence of a nutrient deficiency that would account for the compulsion to eat stools. These individuals may have acquired a taste preference for stools beginning in puppyhood. Other reasons sometimes suggested for stool eating include boredom and confinement in close quarters, such as a kennel. Scolding the dog for a housetraining accident may also cause him to want to eat the evidence. Whatever the cause, once established, the habit is difficult to break.

A minority of dogs have a medical reason for coprophagia. Dogs with malabsorption syndrome,in particular, have a ravenous appetite and eat stools in an attempt to acquire additional calories. Coprophagia has also been described in dogs on corticosteroid therapy and those with Cushing's syndrome, diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, and intestinal parasites.

Stool eating is undesirable, not only for aesthetic reasons but because ingesting animal feces can bring in intestinal parasites. Dogs who eat large amounts of horse manure can develop severe vomiting and diarrhea. Dogs who eat the feces of large animals that were wormed recently may develop toxicity from the worm medication residue present in the stools.

Treatment: Veterinary examination is warranted to check for parasites and other medical problems. Management includes removing stools from the environment as quickly as possible, making cat litter boxes inaccessible to dogs, and distracting the dog by providing extra exercise and interaction with pets and humans. Providing suitable chew toys may also help prevent coprophagia caused by boredom. Sometimes, giving the dog canned food to provide a similar texture may help.

A number of ingredients have been suggested as additives to the dog's food to improve digestion or to render the stools unappetizing. A partial list includes meat tenderizers, crushed pineapple, Viokase, B-complex vitamins, sulfur, glutamic acid, monosodium glutamate, sauerkraut, and canned pumpkin. Forbid is a frequently recommended product made from alfalfa that gives the stool a disagreeable odor and taste. There are no scientific studies to prove or disprove the effectiveness of any of these additives, but anecdotal reports suggest they may be of benefit in some cases.

This article is excerpted from “Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.