Q: My dog, a healthy 13-year-old male German shepherd-bluetick coonhound mix, loves to eat stool droppings like candy. We live next to a conservation area with trails where others walk their dogs leash-free, as do we. He never eats any fresh droppings but finds dried ones to eat. I have done everything to stop him, short of putting him on a leash. Do I worry needlessly?
A: There’s a name for that not-so-charming habit: coprophagy. It comes from the Greek words “copros,” for “feces,” and “phagein,” meaning “to eat.” For dogs and other species, it can be a natural behavior, but to humans, it’s distasteful – to say the least. Who wants to be kissed with that mouth? We don’t know exactly why animals dig poop, but we do know a few things about the tasteless habit. It’s more common in dogs than in cats, and it’s more common in females than in males. It’s possible that females do it because it’s normal for them to clean up after their pups in this way. One theory as to why dogs eat poop is that they do it out of stress or boredom. Some people suggest that dogs who do this are lacking certain nutrients in their diet or aren’t getting enough to eat. Dogs who have been scolded for pooping in the house may be attempting to hide the evidence of new transgressions. The behavior may also be in response to an underlying medical cause. Besides the yuck factor, eating poop can result in a case of intestinal parasites. And if your dog snacks on manure from a horse recently treated with ivermectin, a common deworming agent, he could become sick. Take him to the veterinarian to make sure the cause isn’t health-related. Otherwise, since your dog seems to only eat poop that he finds on the trail, the easiest solution may be to fit him with a basket muzzle if you’re unwilling to keep him on leash.
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Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com.