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Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Every dog to his taste

I have a German Shepherd bitch who is eight months old and is fed 200 grams of Arden Grange in two feeds. She eats her own poo, has had a lick of horse poo, and we think eating other dogs poo when out at night. I have tried pineapple juice, fresh pineapple, grated courgette, and chilli on poo but nothing works.

Any advice would be helpful. Also she licks everybody's arms, feet, and face, and even the side of the bath when we get a bath, and because of this poo eating habit we don't want her to lick us. I have had Border Collies and Jack Russells, have been a puppy walker, have done some rescue work and worked in kennels, and I have never had this problem before. Can anybody help solve this problem? I have had her checked at vet and the vet says to carry on with whatever I'm doing as she is perfect weight etc.

Shirley Holmes, by email

Jenny Prevel, D for Dog, says...

There are a number of potential reasons why a dog might eat faeces.

Firstly it is important to realise that coprophagia (eating faeces) is actually quite common. Horse or rabbit dropping would usually be preferred but dog poo will suffice if no other faeces are available.

Nutritional deficiency is commonly believed to be a reason for poo eating, so it is important to rule this out first. However, a dog fed on a good quality complete dog food should already be getting all the nutrients they require. If you are feeding a low quality food then try selecting a better quality brand.

Another possible clinical cause of coprophagia could be a digestion problem. In other words, you are feeding the correct nutrients but your dog is not able to digest what it needs.

Poor digestion due to fast eating may in turn result in poor nutrient absorption. Instinctively the dog may then try to reprocess it by eating up his nutrient rich poop. Specially designed dog food bowls are available that stop the dog from making a clean sweep of their food. It moderates the dog's eating pace. We recommend the Eat Better Dog Bowl

One particular nutrient often thought to lead to poo eating is a lack of vitamin B. Supplementing your dog’s diet with Vitamin B could therefore help, but please note that this should not be required if your dog is already fed a good quality complete food. However, if supplementation is required, try conditioning tablets from the pet shop or brewers’ yeast from the health food shop.

Other reasons for eating faeces are behavioural based. Your dog may simply do it because it is an instinct or is even a pleasurable activity. In this case, your disapproval will have little effect since the pleasure gained from eating the poop probably outweighs any displeasure from an unhappy owner.

It is worth mentioning that variety is the spice of life. Don’t discount the fact that a scavenging dog may simply be bored with his usual diet, making them more likely to seek out more novel food sources. Therefore, introducing some new food sources to their diet could help. Try adding small amounts of raw meat, raw offal, fish, egg yolk, green leafy vegetables, or brown rice.

Eating poo seems revolting to us but many wild animals eat faeces, especially at times when food sources are scarce. The dog’s instinct is that of a scavenger. Faecal matter can contain many nutrients and be a surprisingly good source of protein. A dog that eats faeces may therefore just be seeing poop as another food source – waste not want not. Clinical reasons aside, it is often thought that this is the most common reason why a dog eats faeces. The dog will start by recycling their own poo and generalise to eating any poop they come across.

Assuming that clinical reasons for the coprophagia have been ruled out and assuming the issue is therefore a behavioural one, how can we stop our dog from eating poo?

Many people simply muzzle their dog during walkies. This will only work if you muzzle your dog each and every time it is likely to encounter poo, unless you are lucky and the use of the muzzle breaks the habit. That aside, the use of a muzzle doesn’t actually teach your dog not to eat poo, nor does it address any underlying medical problems or behavioural issues. Having said this, it can be a relatively simple solution to a difficult problem. If you do decide to use a muzzle then pick a light weight basket design that allows your dog to pant and breathe normally.

If your dog gobbles up his own poo or the poo of other dogs in the household, some suggest feeding small amounts of pineapple in with their usual meal. This can apparently put them off eating the end product. Courgette is also said to make stools taste unpleasant. I see you have already tried this without success.

Another solution for a dog who eats their own poo is simply to clean it up as soon as they have toileted. You can hope to break the habit but it may take some time. Also, if you clean up poop quickly you risk the poop becoming an item of perceived value to your dog, which is the opposite of what you wish to achieve. Instead, call your dog in for a treat after they have toileted, close the door and with your dog inside go out afterwards to pick up the poo.

A more long term solution is to train your dog not to eat faeces. If you make a big fuss when your dog eats poop and try to stop your dog mid-scoff, your dog is likely to simply attempt to be quicker next time. Your dog may even think you are in competition and trying to reach the poop first because you desire to have it. The eating of poo has then become a significant event and could easily escalate into a habit. Distraction and reward is therefore preferable. Teaching the leave command can help. Start with something of low value before you graduate to using the leave command on something as rewarding as poo eating.

As already mentioned, the eating of poo can be very rewarding to your dog. Therefore any alternative you offer must be more rewarding than the poop. The aim is to make it more rewarding for your dog not to eat poo than to eat it. Provide something your dog will prefer such as slices of hot dog sausage or something else that they really enjoy.

Owners are right to be concerned about the health issues connected with their dog eating poo, but surprisingly not as much as you would think. Probably the biggest concern is if your dog eats the faeces of other dogs and especially if they have a penchant for poo that is not fresh. In such cases, roundworm is a particular health concern. It is therefore important to worm your dog regularly. This will lessen the risk of infection with parasitic eggs.

A dog’s guts have a powerful immune response to bacteria. The modern dog’s diet can be so sterile that they may even seek out bacteria in order to address the balance and keep their immune system working effectively. So, having mentioned health concerns, it is important to point out that your dog will not suffer many ill effects as a result of eating poop, at least not in the way that humans would.

1 comment:

  1. This is often caused by a nutrition deficiency, but Arden Grange is a reasonably good food, so I wouldn't think its that, it sounds like a behavioural thing, if you are sure she is getting all she needs.

    Don't make a big fuss when she does eat it, otherwise she may think its a fun game. You need to train her to stop. Find a reward that is far more interesting than the poo, and distract her every time she eats it. A squeaky toy kept only for when she is about to eat poo, or a high value treat such as hotdogs or cheese, or bits of cooked liver has worked for me in the past. Make her look at you instead of the poo!

    Also, you need to clean up her own poo as soon as possible, don't give her the chance to eat it. There's not much you can do about other poo, but it will stop her eating her own at least. Finally, make sure she is up to date with worming, as she could pick up nasties from eating it.