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Coprophagy (Eating Feces)

Medical information

652-B Lindero Canyon Road - Oak Park, CA 91377

The term coprophagia is used to describe the phenomenon of dogs ingesting feces, either their own or those of another animal. Coprophagia is considered a natural behavior for dogs and it serves the purpose of keeping the den of wild dogs clean. In domestic pet dogs, however, coprophagia serves no useful purpose and is an esthetically displeasing behavior. Coprophagia can also result in intestinal infections with bacteria or parasites as well as bad breath. Although coprophagia can be due to a medical problem, this is uncommon. Dietary deficiencies have sometimes been suggested as a cause, but scientific evidence to support this is lacking. If your dog engages in coprophagia and your veterinarian has ruled out a medical cause, then the problem should be treated as a behavioral condition.

For dogs that ingest cat feces from the litter box, the most practical solution is to put the litter box in a location that allows the cat access to it but eliminates the dog's ability to reach it.

For dogs that ingest the feces of other dogs when on walks, keeping the dog on a leash will allow the owner to keep their dog away from any other dog's feces that are encountered.

For dogs that ingest their own feces or those of companion dogs, the feces should be picked up as promptly as possible to reduce the dog's chances of getting to them. In situations where this is not always possible, the owner can try a form of aversion therapy to get their dog to lose interest in coprophagia. One way of doing this is to pack the bowel movements in the yard with a distasteful substance such as hot peppers or hot sauce. Some dogs, after ingesting a few such altered feces, will dislike the taste so much that they will never again ingest feces. A similar approach can be taken by adding substances such as meat tenderizer or For-Bid® to your dog's food. In some dogs, these will impart an unpleasant taste to their own feces causing an aversion to ingesting them. If successful, such therapies do not usually need to be continued for very long in order to have a long lasting effect on your dog's behavior. In persistent dogs, a more extreme measure that can be taken is for the veterinarian to prescribe an emetic (a drug that induces vomiting) for the owner to use. This drug can be packed into or sprinkled onto bowel movements that are left in the yard for the dog to eat. After ingesting these feces and becoming nauseous and vomiting a few times, the dog may develop a permanent aversion to eating feces. Although dietary deficiencies are not thought to be a cause of coprophagia, changing your dog's diet may be successful, possibly by changing the flavor of the stools your dog produces.