Coprophagia is the technical term for eating feces. This has been studied in dogs by several people with no definitive answer for "why" being found. Nutritional deficiencies may be present in some dogs, but not very many. This may be boredom related in many dogs. It has some "natural" roots in the fact that dams often eat their pup's stools, apparently as a method of hiding their presence from predators. Dogs will eat the stools of other species, especially cats and rabbits, too. Dogs obviously do not find the taste of feces objectionable or the behavior would be self correcting. So I think of this as a natural behavior that upsets people. Since dogs have to live with people, it is becomes an issue. There is a product sold that is supposed to help with this habit -- Forbid. It doesn't work in all cases (it might not even work in most cases). Another alternative is putting Adolf's meat tenderizer in the dog's food. This works for some dogs. Walking a dog on a leash and working hard to keep it from turning and eating its stool is helpful. It is sometimes possible to distract the dog by running a short distance after the dog has a bowel movement or by taking a couple of rapid steps then telling the dog to "sit" and giving it a treat. These behaviors may stay on as substitutes to eating the stool. If you can keep the dog from eating stool for a month or so it is sometimes long enough to break the habit. Picking up stool to prevent its ingestion works in dogs that don't quickly eat their own stool but do so when put in the yard alone. "Booby trapping" a sample of stool by cutting it in half lengthwise, and putting some Tabasco type sauce on the inside of the stool, then putting it back together so that the dog is not aware of the hotsauce until it eats the stool can help in some cases. This can be a hard habit to break. Mike Richards, DVM
Cat litter - problems as dog snack
Question: Dear Dr. Mike, I have a question that might seem a little strange. I recently decided to switch from a popular brand of cat litter to "Feline Pine", not only because I think it sounds like a healthier, more eco-wise alternative, but because my dog eats a lot of cat poop! I started thinking I didn't like the idea of her ingesting a heavily treated clay litter, no matter the amount. Now, after just purchasing my first bag of the wood pulp alternative, I'm concerned that maybe wood pulp isn't so good for her (the dog) either. (The bag talks about how the pellets swell when they absorb urine). Could small daily doses of the wood pulp litter hurt my dog? I live in an apartment and don't really have the option of keeping the dog away from the litter. Thanks T. Answer: Tricia- I can't tell you which is better for the digestive system, for sure, but I suspect it is the wood pulp. It is basically indigestible fiber and wood pulp was used in some of the "high fiber" breads made for humans several years ago. A lot of my patients chew up sticks and other wood objects, too. Based on all of this, I think that the wood pulp won't cause problems. Mike Richards, DVM 12/8/99 Eating feces Q: Dr Mike, Our 4 and a half month old puppy was put in a fenced yard for a few minutes to do his business. Shortly after he was called into the house and his beard was full of what appeared to be dirt but smelled like feces. He appeared to be very uncomfortable and then vomited. We immediately went to his aid and discovered that the vomit was feces. Is it possibly that he ate his own feces and than just vomited. Or could he have a problem with his bowels and the only way for the feces to exit was through vomit. I may be totally off base, but am no expert on disease. He is resting comfortably right now but I would like to know what I should be looking for if anything. Thanks much, Judy A: Judy- Dogs often eat their own feces or feces of other animals that they find. It is highly likely that was what happened. Most of the time by the time an obstruction is so severe or chronic that a dog begins to vomit up material that looks like feces it is very ill. Mike Richards, DVM
Eating feces after disc surgery
Q: Dr. Mike, Thank you for wonderful page first of all. I have a 6 year old Dachshund Rudy. He had to have surgery in August for a Spinal disc problem. He is just starting to show signs of being able to walk again. Since the surgery he has had no control over going to the bathroom, but he is starting to hold it until I let him out. The odd thing is that ever since the surgery after he has a bowel movement, he turns right around to it and eats it. Nothing seems to work to stop it, I tried some tablets that stated that it would make his stool taste and smell "undesirable" and before that I tried scolding him, both to no avail. Now I just try to get it up before he gets to it. My questions are why!? and do you think it will stop once he is up and walking and can go outside? Is there something else that you can suggest to make him stop, surely it can't be healthy? Thanks again for your time. A: I am not sure why your dog developed this behavior after the disc surgery. This is not an uncommon behavior in dogs but it is strange that he picked it up after surgery. I do not know of a better way to stop this than the one you are already using -- getting to the stool first. I hope that he will stop doing this when he can get around better. Have you considered the use of one of the carts for the rear legs (like wheel chairs for dogs)? Dogs seem to do really well with these. Mike Richards, DVM
Dog feces and children
Q: my grand mother told me that dog feces can be very poisoning to a child if it is swallowed, or comes in contact with their eyes. I was wondering if this is true? thanks A: There are no poisons in dog's feces, unless the dog ingested a toxin prior to having the bowel movement. There are good reasons to discourage children from handling dog or cat feces, though -- and to teach them to wash their hands carefully when contact may have occurred. Dogs sometimes have intestinal worms which can cause problems if the eggs or infective larvae are transmitted to people. The effects can include local irritation at the site of infection in the case of hookworms or damage to the eyes or cysts in the lungs if the case of roundworms. These are rare problems but they do occur and it is wise to avoid contact with dog stools due to this. Cats may also transmit Toxoplasmosis through their stools. This can cause serious problems if a woman is infected during pregnancy and can lead to neurologic disease or eye damage in humans. Toxoplasmosis is more commonly acquired from eating undercooked infected meat but there is no reason to take any risk - avoid contacting cat feces directly and wash your hands (or the children's hands) thoroughly if contact occurs. So your grandmother was right in one way, contact with dog stools or cat stools can eventually lead to eye problems, but not through a toxic reaction. Mike Richards, DVM
Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...