Managing a pet that eats poo

Coprophagia describes the unwanted behaviour of eating faeces.

OVERVIEW

Coprophagia refers to the ingestion of its own stools or other animals such as the cat's stools from the litter tray. 

Eating faeces is a common behaviour in puppies and young dogs. Often they outgrow this behaviour as they mature. Breeding bitches also eat the faecal material of their puppies to keep them and the nest clean.

Studies have shown that dogs obtained from a pet store are more likely to exhibit this behaviour than those puppies from a breeder.

CAUSES

Common causes of eating faeces:

  • Behavioural problem such as stress
  • Inappropriate attention following action
  • Taste
  • Nutritionally unbalanced diet
  • Cleaning up
  • Stress
  • Pancreatic disease
  • Intestinal disease
  • Hunger

MANAGEMENT

Your veterinarian will be able to determine whether the action is a medical or behavioural problem through obtaining a thorough history and performing some tests. Offering information about the pet's diet, whether it was obtained from the pet store or breeder, frequency of behaviour, whether you are present when it performs it, the source of faeces being consumed such as another dog, its own, wild animal or cat's, will assist in determining the motivation for the behaviour.

A physical and faecal examination will determine whether there are any digestive issues such as chronic pancreatic insufficiency, malabsorption or starvation.

TIPS

Tips to help manage a pet that eats faeces:

  • Complete and balanced diet
  • Immediate cleaning up of stools
  • Walking the pet out to toilet on a leash
  • Preventing access to the cat's litter boxes
  • Adding hot sauce or 'Bitter Apple' flavour directly to the faeces
  • Avoiding attention following the act
  • Parasite and worm control
  • Removal of any stress factors
  • Adequate exercise for the breed and life stage
  • Environmental enrichment such as toys

If your pet shows sign of illness, seek veterinary attention.