Preventing Coprophagy (Dog Eating Feces)

If your dog is eating feces, you're not alone. Canine coprophagia, or dogs eating feces, is a common problem that's often the result of a behavioral problem or an underlying medical condition, such as a mineral deficiency. Here's what you should know about canine coprophagia and how to stop it.

Why Dogs Eat Feces

Canine coprophagia can be a behavioral problem, or it can be the result of an underlying medical condition. Some dogs eat feces simply because they like the taste, and others might do so out of boredom, anxiety or stress. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are another common cause of coprophagia, especially in puppies. Overfed dogs often eat their own feces because it's only partially digested, and still smells and tastes appetizing; underfed dogs may eat their own feces because they're hungry and scavenging for a meal.

Bitches with puppies will eat their puppies' feces to keep the den clean and hide the litter from predators. If you have multiple dogs and one of them gets sick, the other dogs may eat the sick dog's feces to hide its weakness from predators. 

Dietary changes, especially to a diet higher in fat or protein, can cause your dog to eat his own feces. This is also why dogs often eat cat feces; cat food is much higher in protein than dog food, and some of that protein survives the digestive process and is present in cat feces.

Stopping Coprophagia in Dogs

If your dog is eating feces, there are a number of things you can do to stop the behavior. Feed your dog nutritionally balanced meals, and feed twice a day rather than once a day, so that your dog doesn't get hungry between meals and eat feces. Keep your lawn and home as free of feces as possible; pick up after your dog right away (it helps if you can be present each time your dog defecates) and keep any litter boxes out of reach of your dog. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise, attention and companionship, as these can reduce the stress, boredom and anxiety that might be causing your dog to eat feces.

Teach your dog the obedience command "Leave it" and use this command when you catch your dog eating feces. Reward your dog for his good behavior when he refrains from eating the feces. Use a muzzle to stop your dog from eating feces when he's not on a leash.

When to Seek Professional Help

If your dog continues to eat feces despite your best efforts to prevent it, it might be time to seek professional help. Your vet can rule out physical causes by performing an exam and doing routing blood tests to check for nutritional deficiencies. If your vet doesn't find any underlying physical causes for your dog's coprophagia, you can seek the services of an animal behaviorist, who can perform behavior modification therapy and prescribe any behavior modifying drugs that might be needed.