“Dr. Nelson, I think there is something wrong with my dog,” a concerned owner whispers in my ear. Their face reddens before they speak again. “He eats his own feces. Although I support recycling, this takes it too far. Is there anything you can do?”
While disgusting to humans, the condition known as coprophagia is actually a fairly common problem in dogs. We humans view this behavior as a problem, but some dogs seem to really enjoy it. This may be especially true if they are stealing morsels from a cat box. So, why do they do it? The short answer is that we do not know for certain why seemingly healthy dogs choose to eat poop. Some theorize that they are looking for vitamins or minerals absent in their diet. Others think they are trying to tidy-up the back yard. I treated one dog who ate his own feces because he was starving. When his health problems were cured, he stopped the behavior . . . and the owner rejoiced.
The truth is that many ‘normal’ dogs will go through a phase of eating feces when they are young. For those animals, I recommend removing the feces immediately to prevent the problem. But what happens if the dog is faster than their owners? In these cases, I recommend a product called Forbid. Place Forbid in the dog’s food and it will make the feces less appetizing. Most dogs are cured within a few weeks.
For really tough cases, I recommend a basket muzzle. The muzzle is made from wire mesh. This allows the dog to drink but not eat undesirable objects. I also prescribe it for all of the rock eaters I run into. Some stubborn dogs try to squish the feces through the muzzle. Add a layer of duct tape to stop these stalwarts in their tracks.
Please feel free to contact me with other questions or experiences with this nasty habit. -Dr. Nelson