By John Andersen, DVM
[Author’s note: Please excuse the content and childlike language used in this article. This is actually a very common problem and I simply hope to shed some light on it. You may want to read this after you’ve finished your breakfast!]
“Oh, no! She didn’t just do that!” I thought to myself as I looked through the window into the backyard. “Ruby! Drop it! DROP IT, RUBY!” I yelled frantically as I put down my coffee and ran out to where she was. Oh, no. She just ate poop! Dog poop! Probably her own! Ugh!!
My dog has a problem. My dear sweet dog whom I love and have raised since she was a puppy… eats poop. But at least I’m not alone. “Coprophagia,” aka poop-eating, is a very common complaint from a lot of our clients. Most owners are likewise horrified when they first figure it out, then frantic in their search for a cure. They often wonder if there is something lacking from their dog’s diet, or if there is an intestinal problem. Or maybe they were emotionally scarred from days of being a hungry shelter dog. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Most of the time, your dog just likes to eat poop.
To be fair, all dogs like to eat some types of poop. Cat poop, rabbit poop, deer poop, and horse poop are all delicacies if you’re a dog. So, really, dogs eating their own poop isn’t such a far stretch.
What about similarly disgusting activities that most dogs like to partake in? Found a dead, rotten animal? Let’s roll in it! How should we say hello to a new friend? Smell their behind, of course! Going for a walk? Why not stop and smell someone else’s urine for 10 minutes!
OK, I’ve probably officially dissuaded anyone who was thinking about getting a dog for the first time. But, why do dogs do these disgusting things? What is wrong with them?
Until I get to heaven, where naturally all dogs will speak, I will just have to guess. But I think it all has to do with their sense of smell. Although dogs generally do have great vision and hearing, it’s their sense of smell that trumps all senses. A dog’s sense of smell is from 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than our own. We simply cannot fathom their different perception of the world through this incredible sense. To use vision as an analogy, it would be like what we could see clearly half a mile away, dogs could see just as clearly 5,000 miles away! (Note: A dog’s vision is very similar to our own.)
With this new perception in mind, who are we to say that eating animal feces is distasteful? To us, of course, it is completely repulsive. But to a dog, that pile of poop is likely to be a cornucopia of wonderful smells. Or that dead rotten animal carcass is likely to be the most pleasing perfume one could imagine. Unfortunately, I’m serious.
So what can you do on a practical level if your dog is a wretched poop-eater? First, walk them more, scoop the yard more, and don’t give them much unsupervised time outside. That is the simplest answer, but not so easy when it’s zero degrees outside and you have a fenced-in yard. We always call Ruby back in after just a few minutes outside and that usually is safe.
There has also been much talk about adding things to their food to make their poop less tasteful. Such as pineapple, meat tenderizer, pumpkin, fiber, and green vegetables to name a few. I have researched extensively for evidence-based solutions as well as just anecdotal solutions for this problem and have never found a magic bullet. I have tried some mixtures of pineapple juice and pumpkin, but to be honest did not try it long enough to give it a fair chance. I did hear about a veterinarian who would go out and place hot pepper sauce on the poop in his backyard, hoping his dog would eat it and learn a lesson. I’m ready to try that one.
Last, it’s one thing if your dog eats poop but is otherwise healthy and active. But it’s another if your dog is underweight or has chronic diarrhea. This could indicate a malabsorption problem that could lead your dog to eat poop just from a frantic need to get in more calories. If your dog seems not right, be sure to get a check up from your regular veterinarian.
So if your dog has coprophagia, hang in there and be vigilant. Meantime, you may see me walking around my backyard with a bottle of Tabasco sauce.