Coprophagia – Dealing With a Disgusting Habit
I have heard of dogs consuming their own feces for a variety of reasons; however, when I noticed my dog “Duke” eating feces from the cat’s litter box, I felt that he had taken disgusting to a whole new level. For the remainder of the day I kept wondering what caused this and how to prevent it from happening again. I certainly didn’t ever want to see him doing this again. You’d think that my cats, being very clean by nature would appreciate the help with the cleanup but even they did not. The further Duke is away from them and their litter box, the happier they generally are for some reason.
Consumption of feces by an animal is called coprophagia, and it comes in three different forms: autocoprophagia is when the pet consumes its own feces; intracoprophagia is when the animal consumes feces from another animal of the same species; the consumption feces of an animal from another species of animal is called intercoprophagia. Now knowing that Duke had intercoprophagia did not make it any easier to accept. The strange thing is that he was not bothered by this in the slightest bit.
Coprophagia in all of its various forms can cause ingestion of internal parasites, fungus, viruses, and bacteria so a solution must be found as soon as the problem is detected. Canine Parvovirus and hepatitis are also easily spread by the fecal to oral route. My biggest concern for Duke when I saw him eating from the litter box is toxoplasma which can be transmitted in cat feces, and may cause central nervous system and muscle damage in dogs.
In order to prevent Duke from doing this again I had to make sure all the feces were picked up right away, while trying to figure out why the sudden interest and change in diet. There are many behavioral and medical theories that may attribute to this behavior in dogs.
Behavioral theories may include attention seeking behavior, learned behavior (when a dog observes other dogs consuming feces and try to do the same thing), maternal behavior (cleaning after puppies is a good way to disguise their scent from predators), dominance behavior, anxiety or stress, and also possibly because dogs may want to keep their surroundings clean.
Medical theories include hunger because of food being withheld or improper absorption of nutrients, any disease or medication that can cause an increase in appetite (Diabetes, Cushing’s disease, thyroid disease, and treatment with steroids), food allergies that lead to malabsorption, pancreatitis, intestinal infections, and it simply could be because some feces (i.e. cat ) contains a high amount of protein and other nutrients. Sometimes over-feeding can cause a problem because it leaves undigested matter in the feces which can be tempting to dogs.
While searching for ways to prevent this from happening again I came across many different suggestions from a variety of sources. Some recommend exercise, scolding, positive reinforcement, or simply maintain the health of the dog. The suggestions I read about that seemed to have the most potential for me were to stop the behavior early to it doesn’t develop into a habit, keep cat boxes out of reach, and using a taste deterrent.
As soon as I realized that the recent change in food was potentially to blame for Duke’s sudden interest in eating the cat feces (probably to get the nutrition he was missing from his own food), the problem was very easy to solve. I returned to the food that I had been giving him that he seemed to digest well, rather than force the change in diet and I moved the cat litter box out of his reach. I also added a product called NaturVet Digestive Enzymes with Prebiotics & Probiotics to his diet as well as to the cats’ diet.
NaturVet Digestive Enzymes with Prebiotics & Probiotics is a concentrated enzyme blend that does not come from animal sources. It contains a good source of naturally occurring microorganisms that help support a healthy digestive tract. Alpha Amylase will hydrolyze starch, Protease will hydrolyze proteins, Cellulase will break down cellulose, Lipase can hydrolyze triglycerides, and probiotics enhance normal digestion. This product seems to slow the growth of disease-causing bacteria while strengthening the immune system and normalizing the bowel movements. In about 2 weeks I was able to move the litter box back when I noticed that Duke had no more interest in it.
When the pet has autocoprophagia (eat his own feces), a deterrent called FOR-BID can help in the early stages. FOR-BID makes its way through the intestines as the purified vegetable protein and sodium glutamate are digested, ending up in the feces. This gives the feces a very bad taste when excreted, and discourages consumption by the dog. Some people recommend pineapple to be added to the diet which also seems to add a bad taste to the feces while others suggest adding hot sauce directly to the feces. Another recommendation is to use a high quality dog food (or as in Duke’s case one that he had an easier time digesting) and making sure the dog is free from any other underlying condition.
Whenever a change in a pet’s health is observed it is highly recommended to make an appointment to have the pet examined by a veterinarian. A good relationship with the veterinarian and maintaining a regular schedule for check-ups are two of the most important things that you can do to keep your pet healthy. If you have any medication related questions, a pharmacist at 1800PetMeds is also available to help answer those for you.