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What is Coprophagia?

If your dog is eating feces, it is a good idea to have him seen by a veterinarian. The veterinarian will help determine if there are any medical conditions causing the dog to be excessively hungry. If coprophagia is a behavioral issue, the veterinarian may also make recommendations which may help stop your dog from eating feces.

Coprophagia is the scientific term for eating feces. Although coprophagia is upsetting and revolting to us; it is a common problem in dogs and puppies. There are physical, medical and behavioral reasons why dogs eat feces. Here they are.

Symptoms of Coprophagia in Dogs

  • You see your dog eating feces in the backyard
  • Dog is found eating cat feces from the litter box
  • Dog eats poop he finds during his dog walks
  • Dog vomits feces
  • Dog eats her puppies' feces
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Causes of Coprophagia in Dogs

Medical and physical reasons for coprophagia in dogs:

  • Intestinal parasites - The parasites are feeding on the dog’s nutrients
  • Endocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) - This is a disorder where the pancreas is not producing digestive enzymes; the food being ingested is not broken down nor are the nutrients being absorbed (the dog is starving)
  • Underfed - Not feeding the dog the right amount of food
  • Poor quality diet - Malnourished
  • Taste - Cat feces may taste good to a dog
  • Dogs will eat their puppies' poop to clean the den; this is a normal behavior in dogs
  • Prescription medications can make a dog very hungry

Behavioral reasons for coprophagia in dogs:

  • An abused dog that was not being fed (got used to eating his own feces)
  • Puppy mill puppies that were neglected and overcrowded causing anxiety issues
  • Puppy wants to seek the pet parent's attention
  • Boredom (no activities or playtime)
  • Kenneled/isolated for an extended amount of time
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Diagnosis of Coprophagia in Dogs

The veterinarian will go over the patient’s medical history with you.  Let him know your concerns regarding your dog eating feces.  The veterinarian may want to discuss what your dog’s current diet is and how often is he fed. He may also want to know the dog’s daily activities and his regular schedule (playtime, walks, whether he is crated or socialized).

The doctor will then perform a physical examination, which may include taking the patient’s weight, temperature, pulse and blood pressure.  The veterinarian may want to run blood work such as a complete blood count (CBC) and a serum chemistry panel.  The complete blood count can help evaluate platelets, red and white cell count. The CBC can also help determine if the dog is anemic or has a bacterial infection.  A serum chemistry panel aids in determining organ function and how well the body’s organs are working.  The veterinarian may also recommend a urinalysis, fecal fat test (measures fat in the stool sample), and a fecal exam (checks for parasites). These diagnostic tests can help narrow down the cause and may reveal underlying health issues.

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Treatment of Coprophagia in Dogs

Endocrine pancreatic insufficiency is usually treated by replacing digestive enzymes using freeze dried pancreas extracts from pig and cattle. The extracts are sprinkled on the dog’s food usually 30 minutes before feeding.  The patient will also be placed on dietary supplements and vitamins.

Parasites are treated with a de-wormer and your dog’s bedding, toys, and bowls will need to be washed in hot water.  Flooring should be cleaned and disinfected to help eliminate any remaining eggs. 

Dogs diagnosed with deficient diets will need to be fed a better quality commercial food. It is recommended that you read the ingredient label; the first ingredient should be a protein not a “by-product”. Dietary supplements and vitamins may also be prescribed.  Patients that are anemic may need B-12 injections.

Dogs with no medical conditions may be eating feces due to behavioral reasons.  The veterinarian may suggest more playtime and walks, and less alone time.  Dogs that are exercised and played with tend to be more content. If your dog persists in eating feces the veterinarian may recommend a dog behaviorist.

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Recovery of Coprophagia in Dogs

Patients that were diagnosed with a medical condition will need follow-up visits to monitor their progress. Dogs that were diagnosed with a behavior problem will need their pet parent to have patience and breaking the habit will require consistency. 

Dogs are pack animals and do not do well being isolated or confined.  They require love, activities and attention.  In addition, picking up feces from the yard, regularly cleaning the litter box, providing toys and teaching him the command “leave it” may also help him to stop eating feces. There are also deterrent soft chews made of natural ingredients which may help the dog not to eat his own feces.

Conditions related to coprophagia can be expensive to treat. To avoid high vet care expenses, secure pet health insurance today. The sooner you insure your pet, the more protection you’ll have from unexpected vet costs.

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Coprophagia Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Nina

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pitbull

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24 Months

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Serious severity

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5 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

None

I have recently adopted a dog from another owner. I discovered that she eats her poop. She is in good health and I know her previous circumstance included long hours of being crated and little outside activity. Her potty area was a back deck. She now has a companion and access to outside and inside areas. She potties inside (a basement area, she doesn't potty in the living areas, so technically she is 'house trained')and eats her poop. She doesn't eat the other dogs poop so this appears to be a habit from her two years of isolation. Will the additive deterrents be effective in this situation. Unfortunately, it happens while I am at work and I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to address it behaviorally.

June 2, 2018

Nina's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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5 Recommendations

The additives that you can buy, both OTC and prescription, are certainly worth a try for Nina. It may be difficult to stop this behavior, since it is such a long-standing habit, but it you add the medication to her food consistently, she may learn to leave her feces. It may also take time, as she is in a new environment.

June 2, 2018

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Clara

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Mixed

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12 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

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6 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Eating Feces

If I cannot afford to have extensive testing done by veterinarian, is the better initial approach to treating coprophagia to administer something that will balance nutrients or Would the preferred method be a giving a deterrent that makes the stool taste bad?

March 7, 2018

Clara's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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6 Recommendations

Thank you for your email. The answer to your question depends on how long the problem has been going on, and Clara's general health status. An examination by a veterinarian should not constitute extensive testing, and they will be able to give you better advice if they have seen her and talked to you about her. Typically, taste deterrents are quite effective, but, again, it does depend on the situation. I hope that she does well.

March 7, 2018

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