Copraphagia (cats or dogs eating poop)

There is a lot of speculation on what causes animal to eat their own poop.

Disgusting as it sounds to us humans, many animal species indulge in this it isn’t always something to be concerned about – at least as far as our animal companions’ health is concerned. You need to check out other  medical conditions such as Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI, to ensure that copraphagia isn’t the result of something that requires medical intervention.

To our pets, we presume that  eating their own poop isn’t too different from any other sort of scavenging that is part of their natural instinct.  Some consider that consumption of dung from cows, horses and sheep may actually be beneficial for dogs, and provides a rich source of good bacteria and other nutrients. The risks however are high of consuming worm infested dung and /or  medications and such like with which these herbivores may have been treated with.

As humans we find the practice disgusting and certainly those of us with small children certainly don’t want kisses from an animal family member who has consumed dung of any kind. There are some things that can be done to manage and prevent the problem, from a holistic perspective – which means taking all aspects of the issue into consideration and treating the being ‘as a whole’.

The Nutritional Element

Many experts agree that animals on a poor quality diet may be more susceptible to picking up the poop-eating habit. In many cases, changing to a fresh, whole-foods diet with lots of vegetables and minimally processed ingredients will help with the problem. Food allergies and mal-absorption issues can also be a factor.
Supplementation  in the form of kelp, spirulina, alfalfa or other high-nutrient foods is recommended. Digestive enzyme supplementation is also a good idea to help improve absorption and assimilation of the nutrients in your dogs food making it less attractive and decreasing the need.

Management

Training your dog is a vital component of  the holistic approach to prevent copraphagia. Management begins with prompt cleanup of the yard to remove temptation, and use of a leash to prevent access to or contact with faeces that might have gone undetected, out on walks.

Teaching the command ‘Leave it!’ is also immensely helpful. Start on a leash, and reward with a well-timed click, treats and lots of praise each time you successfully call your pup away. Don’t reward for coming away after eating poop – the reward should only come for successfully averting the undesired behaviour.

One other approach is to supplement your dogs diet with pineapple chunks for a about a week making sure that you strictly control  access to any faeces during this period. I cannot vouch for it personally but it has been suggested that the pineapple chunks will eventually impart an undesirable taste to the faeces. After a week of feeding the pineapple you allow the dog to take its own faeces in the hope and expectation that it will put the dog off.

Some pet owners report success with the application of hot sauce or chilli powder to stools, to provide a negative experience when they are consumed but in the time it takes to apply these seasoning’s, it’s more efficient to actually pick up and remove temptation.  The use of punishment for stool eating is not recommended

Behavioural Issues

Some cases of copraphagia result form a learned behaviour – the mother cleaning up after her pups or  copying and  joining in with other dogs’  at the dog park.  Copraphagia does seem to be more common in dogs who live  with cats. They start off unable to resist the high-protein left over’s in the litter tray and move on to other types of faeces later on.

In other instances, stool eating can begin in an animal’s attempt to alleviate boredom, loneliness, anxiety, which results from being left alone for long periods of time, or other stressful situations. Stuffed Kong’s, raw meaty bones and other ‘interactive’ puzzle toys filled with treats can provide a useful management tool to address the emotional causes.

Whatever the cause, a multi-pronged approach that takes into account all aspects of copraphagia is more likely to yield success than focusing on one factor alone.

Use a high quality digestive tonic or support to strengthen the digestive system.  Undigested food could be contributing to the problem and the long term use of highly processed, poor quality dog foods can result in a weak digestive system.

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