This is a topic that is hard to swallow.  Sorry!

Coprophagia– isthe scientific term for a dog eating its own or another animals stools!   There are thought to be two main reasons for this behaviour – one is the adult dogs eating the puppies faeces to keep the communal den clean and to prevent scent attracting predators;  the other is the belief (not shared by everyone) that the stools may contain the valuable nutritional vitamins B and K.

Coprophagia can turn your stomach and make you disgusted by your own dog – one that you love, adore, cuddle and (help) maybe allow to lick your face – when you see it eat faeces for the first time.   Our lovely Lucy, when she was young, used to think our black cats faeces were are real delicacy – if she could get to them before we could clean the litter tray!!   However, when Lucy had a litter of puppies, her behaviour of eating their faeces seemed totally natural (which it is) and quite honestly it was a relief to have her help to clear up the mess from the eight little treasures!!  (I must add that we have never allowed our dogs to lick our faces!!)

So, other than the instinctive behaviour by the nursing bitch, that has its origins way, way back in the dogs ancestry, why else would a dog eat faeces?   It is seen most commonly in puppies and adolescent dogs; can occur in dogs that are left alone too much or are bored and sometimes in dogs that live in groups and in rescue pounds; can be witnessed in the submissive dog eating the faeces of a dog that is more dominant; and may be seen in dogs that were disciplined too heavily for mishaps while being house-trained.   In the latter case, the dog knows it should not mess in the house and tries to remove the evidence!   (When Lucy was a young puppy I left her in the kitchen while I went to have a shower.  She had an ‘accident’ and, although she did not eat her ‘accident’, she tried to remove it by pushing it under the cupboards.  Her nose and my kitchen floor were a delight.)

The suggestion that it may also be caused by the dog trying to gain vitamins that remain in the faeces has believers and non-believers.   At one extreme it is the poor dog trying to balance what it lacks in its diet, and at the other I have read it referred to as a depraved appetite.   If you are sure your dog has a balanced diet containing all the necessary vitamins and minerals then diet is unlikely to be the reason why your dog habitually eats faeces.   And to many that is the key word – habit.  

It is more than possible the behaviour has become a habit and the best way to effect a cure is prevention – ensure the dog cannot access his own or other dogs faeces for a month or more and the habit should be broken.    Clear your garden frequently of your dogs own faeces and if the problem also involves the faeces of other dogs, try and avoid areas where other dogs foul or walk your dog on a lead, again to break the habit.  All of the pieces I have read on his subject state that you should not clean up your own dogs faeces while the dog is watching, as this makes the dog believe the faeces are ‘valuable’, and in watching you clean up you are reinforcing the behaviour as the right thing to do.

One article I have read suggests, “If you catch your dog about to eat a stool, startle it with a loud “No” and then call it over to you, giving lots of praise if it obeys”.   This is good advice if you can be sure to be with your dog every time temptation may be in its path!   There are also remedies available on the market that you add to your dogs food that make the resulting faeces unappetising!    Also, you could ‘treat’ the faeces topically with such preparations as pepper, mustard powder and the like.  However, these will not deter consumption of the faeces of other dogs.  

If you have a dog with this habit and it is causing you ongoing concern, talk with your vet who can check for any medical or dietary problems that may be prompting the behaviour,  and if these are negative your vet may refer your dog on to an animal behaviourist for further habit modification.

Finally, on the health implications of this behaviour, most dog diseases that can be transmitted through faeces should be prevented by normal vaccinations, although it is advisable to ensure your dog is regularly ‘wormed’ to prevent the ingestion of any parasites.

If you have any thoughts or comments on this topic, to share with other members, we would be interested to hear from you.   Please contact the ISCGB via me, Gillie Gomarsall, on 01284 735222 or e-mail – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For immediate health and dietary advice, please telephone Elaine Kirkham, Health Sub-Committee Co-ordinator on 0121-444 5478.