Charlotte Peltz Living with Your Dog "Coprophagia (Otherwise Known as -- Yuck!)" brought to you by Joy Beckner Artist/ Bronze Sculptor

Living with Your Dog

Coprophagia (Otherwise Known as -- Yuck!)

By Charlotte Peltz

While this behavior is not totally abnormal, it does little to endear dogs to those around them. Eating feces (coprophagia) may be limited to dogs enjoying a tasty snack of burro droppings, or it can go the limit and result in a dog who eats any and all feces including its own. This behavior usually begins in early puppy-hood, and while it often is self-limiting, unfortunately that is not always the case. If it is not considered abnormal, why do I say "unfortunately?" That is because of how people view the behavior and because it almost always indicates some problem.

Some dogs are practically forced into the behavior because of abusive treatment on the part of their owners where housetraining is concerned. On other occasions the behavior is a result of boredom -- a dog left alone for too many hours out of too many days with no toys and nothing to do. But, there is also a strong connection to various medical problems.

Dogs fed an inadequate diet often "reprocess" their feces in an attempt to get any remaining nutrients from them. And the same holds true for eating the feces of other animals -- undigested nutrients. There may be an exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, pancreatitis, intestinal infections, mal-absorptive syndromes and even over-feeding.

In an article in Whole Dog Journal, in June 1998, it was stated that, "Some dogs eat feces because they are missing trace minerals in their diet…Sometimes dogs don't produce enough digestive enzymes."

According to Care of the Racing Greyhound, (Blythe, Gannon & Craig,) the five most common causes of coprophagia are:

1. a dietary excess of fat or carbohydrate (fats, oils, sugars, starches) which come through in the manure and are only partly digested.
2. a lack of bulk in the diet, i.e. no feeling of fullness or satiety after eating.
3. an intestinal irritation from worms or indigestible foreign bodies.
4. deficiencies of calcium, phosphorous, or iron in the diet.
5. boredom or lack of challenge or interest in the area of confinement.

It is clear that a high quality diet would go a long way to help resolve most of these problems. Poor quality food -- and that means just about anything you buy in a grocery store! -- will be too high in carbohydrates, will probably have sugar in it, and the fats will be of poor quality. Of course, everything else will be of poor quality as well!

Recently this was a topic for discussion on the raw diet e-mail list to which I belong, and several people indicated that their problem with coprophagia disappeared when they switched their dogs from kibble to a natural, raw diet!

While there are a number of products on the market that are touted to solve this problem, I know of few successes using them. However, at least one of them includes enzymes which suggests to me that we are right back to diet! Best to put the enzymes into the body in the way of proper diet than sprinkling some costly extra on cheap kibble. Some people suggest sprinkling the feces themselves with something to repel the dogs but, heck, why not just clean up the yard instead!

If you have a dog with this problem, I suggest a vet check for parasites or pancreas problems, feeding the highest quality food you can buy (that is not necessarily the most expensive, incidentally!), at the very least include raw bones in the diet, keep the premises as pristine clean as possible, and give your dog a life! Once this behavior is established it is not always easy to eradicate, so do not take it lightly. [Please see Charlotte's Recommended Reading.]

"One can measure the size and moral progress of a nation to how she treats her animals." Mahatma Gandhi.

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