If the answer is yes, read on….. (just be warned that there is a fair amount of poo talk on this post! But as dog owners, my guess is you probably talk about their poo all day already)
COPRAPHAGIA is when dog’s eat their own or other dogs poo.
Contrary to some belief, this is not generally a normal behaviour, because poo is meant to be waste (not food).
The exception for this being a normal behaviour is for bitches who may clean up after their young pups in and around their den area.
So, other than being a sensible and clean mother to her pups- why might dogs eat poo?
There are a few reasons:
1) The dog has been raised or confined in an unclean and contained environment where they were likely left too hungry for too long.
2) The dog has observed the mother doing it and has learned to do it through social learning.
3) The behaviour has been reinforced unintentionally by the owner or simple explorative (sniffing) behaviour has been punished. When people swoop in really quickly to stop a dog sniffing (or eating) something there is potential for the dog to perceive this as resource guarding by us (or simply awful social etiquette) and that our behaviour can raise the value of the resource (ie the dog thinks “if you want it THAT bad, it must be good!”).
The dog then resorts to gobbling quickly in anticipation of an incoming human! This can also apply to Pica (eating inedible objects).
4) The dog is not getting enough nutrition and therefor eats poo in order to gain additional nutrition.
5) One of the above factors likely originally triggered the behaviour, but in some instances, eating poo then becomes a deeply engrained behaviour and the dog does not respond to any strategies put in place to change it. In these instances there is the potential for it to be pathological.
In my experience, the vast majority of Coprophagia cases are resolved through a change in diet alone. The recent example that prompted me to write about it was a puppy class graduate who told me that their puppy stopped eating dog poo within 24 hours of starting a new food (on my recommendation).
This shouldn’t be surprising when a dog is eating certain commercial pet foods that are exceptionally low in protein and very high in simple carbohydrates.
An interesting study (of one dog) revealed that dry food is possibly passed through the gut far quicker than more fresh food (raw was used in the study). If this study is representative of how all/most dogs digest
unprocessed/processed food, then it might explain why a lot of kibble comes out of the other end looking pretty similar to how it looked going in.
If a dog is getting the bare minimum nutrition (and synthetic nutrition at that) in the form of low protein food with poor quality ingredients- then it should be of no surprise that they will try and gain extra nutrition through scavenging. And for dogs who are on low protein/high simple carb food, a readily available source that seems similar to their food in texture (and potentially smell and taste, but I don’t fancy trying it to find out!!) is other dogs or their own poo!
Dogs that are fed high protein diets (and low simple carbohydrates) tend to poo a lot less, because the body metabolises more from high protein diets and even more from unprocessed diets.
Can you believe that on average, Kanita (my 16 kilo Thai fox) does one small poo a day!? In all fairness, she’s not your average dog…..but my partner and I joke that it’s because she’s such a wild animal it’s efficient for her to absorb everything from her food.
In my dog walking experience you can very much tell which dogs are on high simple carbohydrate diets by the quantity of their poo alone (as well as the grainy/gritty texture and acrid smell).
Another example of how much protein is metabolised by the body (as well as keeping on the poo eating topic) is this:
My dogs will eat cat poo given the chance. Why? Because, on the whole, most cat food contains a range of different ingredients to dog food. It contains taurine and also tends to be higher in protein (relatively speaking, depending on the quality of food brand used) as well as being more aromatic to entice cats to eat it. Many cat foods are also full of sugars.
(There’s clearly something in cat food that smells irresistible to them, because they don’t eat dog poo and absolutely don’t eat fox poo!)
Whilst doing some gardening (a yearly event) the other day I discovered, tucked well out of eyesight, a ‘secret’ cat latrine full of my two cats’ poo!! A secret to me with my meagre amount of scent receptors, glaringly obvious to my four dogs’ noses.
My cats are raw fed, and their poo is kind of like the old school white dog poo you use to get back in the day…..like a ghost poo or skeleton poo if that’s such a thing? Hard, crumbles easily and a bit fossilised looking (that’s the bone content!)
Basically, everything of nutritional value had been absorbed by my cats and all that was left was genuinely empty waste. My dogs are simply not interested in it because it no longer resembles food in any way what so ever!
Because high simple carb food comes out the other end similar to how it goes in (ie much of it is just filler and passes through quickly as a waste product), the local cats that are fed commercial dried foods provide little amuse bouches for my dogs to sniff out and munch on their local walks (I do recall them away or cue ‘leave it’ when I see them tracking a cat poo, but sometimes it’s too late!)
So, why does my dog eat sheep, horse, cow etc poo?
My theory (which is shared by others) is that this poo contains micro biome that the dog needs to boost their gut flora (bacteria found in the gut).
It’s possible that there are also some nutrients remaining in the poo from all of the plant matter the animal has eaten, or perhaps the dog is seeking fibre?
Either way, some of you may be shocked to read that I let my dogs eat whatever herbivore poo they like!
I live pretty rurally and my dogs have an abundance of cow and sheep poo to eat. Do they eat it on every walk? Nope!
They can go weeks or months without eating a cow/sheep/horse poo, and when they do they are very selective about which one they want.
They don’t go for the nearest cow pat in a whole field of cow pats. Oh no, I have seen my dogs collectively (all three of them!) track and locate one cow pat out of hundreds!
I’ve seen them pick apart a horse poo to get to a certain bit, and after a tiny little taste they leave the rest.
So, what is it about that one cow pat or tiny bit of a horses poo that they needed? If it was just for the love of eating poo then why not the one 100 yards closer to them? Why not the whole poo or random mouthfuls of it? Why not different poos each?
Why does Kanita pick through rabbit droppings like me sifting through a bag of skittles for the red ones?
Because, in my opinion, they can detect (through scent) and instinctively know that there’s something in that poo that benefits them, and micro biome, fibre or plant based nutrition seems like the likely options.
This is an example of zoopharmacognosy- animals self selecting from nature to aid their health.
They look confident and controlled making their choices, far from desperate guzzling.
If I deprive them of eating it, then I feel could actually be hindering their health.
‘But what about antibiotics and wormers in the poo?’ I hear you gasp in shock?
Well, listed at the bottom is a great article that explains these quantities will be so small that they should be of little concern.
And to be fair, I actually trust my dogs’ judgement and think that perhaps they even know which ones to avoid and don’t eat the poo that contains these chemicals.
‘But what about worms?’ I hear you say in concern. Well, I’ve not wormed my dogs in five years and their worm count is zero. (I’m not telling you to not worm your dogs, but if you’re interested in boycotting the wormer then read up lots on the subject)
I’m going to trust my dogs’ judgement on this one as they really seem to know what they’re doing.
By allowing my dogs to eat herbivore poo when they want, they actually don’t eat very much at all. Looking back at number 3) as to why I think Coprophagia may occur, sometimes punishing a seeking/foraging behaviour can make an animal act a little more recklessly and gulp/gorge while they have the chance (rather than taking the time to assess whether something is genuinely needed).
FOOD DESPERATION- it’s not just because your dog is a labrador.
Interestingly, on a similar note, I often see some dogs who are on low protein dried foods act incredibly desperate to eat more fatty and meaty foods/treats as well as an increase in scavenging behaviour (searching for food when there is no specific scent to follow, ie searching for the scent trail/plume rather than happening upon it and following it).
The amount of times I’ve had other people’s dogs on walks make a beeline for me (I’m not going to flatter myself, it is making a beeline for my meat filled treat pouch!) and ignore all other people around. I find myself thinking, ‘I wonder when was the last time that dog ate some moist, high protein, more fatty food?’
Don’t get me wrong, my raw fed dogs love treats and never turn them down- but they don’t nearly take my arm off when I offer them a treat, they don’t counter surf to get them, nor do they follow or raid other people for them.
They love treats, but they don’t act as if their life depends on them.
This isn’t just about them being taught food manners (which I haven’t really had to teach at all!). If an animal is desperate for moist, fatty, high protein food (because they’ve not had anything but their kibble for weeks/months/years) then asking them to be polite for it may be somewhat unethical.
I digress a little, but the underpinning point is there that diet is hugely important for our pets, just as much as it is for us.
When we feed our animals the same cereal/grain based dried food day in day out, it’s no wonder that some become desperate for some meat with some moisture/fat in it!
Yes I’m an advocate for raw feeding, but even if you don’t want to feed raw food- you can give your dog variation by adding a variety of vegetables, eggs, plain live yoghurt (preferably goat or sheep) and feeding meaty treats and chews.
Feeding the same thing day in day out is not only boring, but it can also prop the door open for intolerances to form (that’s a whole different post!)
If your dog eats their poo or other dog’s poo then review what you feed first and foremost. (If that doesn’t resolve the issue employ the help of a qualified force free behaviourist. Members of the ABTC and APBC are credible and knowledgable as they are all assessed to meet a certain standard).
A fantastic resource for diet info is:
If you’re Bristol based pop in store and we’ll help you if you need it.
The link to the article on raw food vs dry food digestion times is sadly not coming up. If anyone can find an alternative source please do let me know.
Information on levels of chemicals in herbivore poo:
NB!! IMPORTANT!! When I mention ‘fatty’ foods it’s important that you assess whether these suit your dog. Pancreatitis is an unfortunate endemic in dogs and some dogs need to avoid fatty foods if they suffer with it or have potentially exhibited symptoms.
However, we are led to believe that fat is the devil in dog food and actual it is an important part of their diet, providing the body with energy, helping with brain function as well as physical ability. To gain these benefits fats have to be fresh, which they are not when they are found in a dry food.