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Why does my dog eat his own poop? Explanation of coprophagia

Coprophagia is when a dog eats its own feces. This is quite normal in some cases, such as in the case of a bitch who is taking care of her newborn puppies. In other situations, coprophagia is abnormal and several causes are put forward to explain this behavioral disorder. What exactly is it and how should you react to your dog eating its own poop or the excrements of other animals?

What is coprophagia?

Coprophagia is the term used to describe a common and normal practice among many animals, including insects: eating their own excrement or that of other animals. It can also occur in puppies and bitches that have just given birth to their young, but in these cases, coprophagia is also quite normal.

On the other hand, it is considered abnormal if it is repetitive. Coprophagia can have a medical or behavioral origin.

Coprophagia: normal in the mother dog and in the puppies

There is no need to worry when a bitch eats her puppies' excrement. Indeed, after licking the perineum of each of her puppies to promote defecation, she eliminates their excrement by ingesting it to keep the sleeping area clean.

As for the puppies, they frequently eat their excrement without this being considered pathological. Let's not forget that they are discovering their environment and their first experiences are at the oral level. This attitude only lasts a few weeks at most.

My adult dog eats its own poop: the causes

Adult dogs can eat their own poop or that of other animals for a variety of reasons, including dietary, behavioral or medical.
  • Coprophagia in dogs due to food: dogs that eat too quickly and those that do not receive a quality diet tend to evacuate excrements that are still full of nutrients, or even pieces of undigested food. These animals are usually hungry and find their feces appetizing enough to eat.
  • Coprophagia in dogs of behavioral origin: lack of training, poor socialization, recurrent punishments, mistreatment, are all problems from which a dog can suffer. In adulthood, it is not surprising that he presents behavioral problems. Coprophagia can be an expression of one of these problems. In any case, there are countless behavioral causes of coprophagia in dogs, such as
    • A developmental disorder, especially when the puppy over 4 months of age has not been able to integrate certain self-controls,
    • Stress,
    • Hyperactivity,
    • Bulimia,
    • Boredom,
    • Fear, especially in dogs that have been violently punished following a potty training accident,
    • Aging: when an old dog (at the end of its life) eats its poop and at the same time becomes unclean and adopts certain behaviors of a puppy, we talk about involution depression. It is a kind of regression.
    • The smallness of the living space: dogs that are constantly locked in a tiny enclosure practice coprophagia to avoid living in their excrement.
  • Medical coprophagia in dogs: when the dog considers its feces as food, a medical cause is invoked because usually, the analysis of the droppings reveals a high concentration of undigested food. The origin of this digestion problem can be :
    • Amylase deficiency: when this enzyme is missing, the dog does not digest the starch found in certain foods. This is particularly the case with poor quality dry food (kibble). The dog's excrement contains a lot of starch and the animal eats it as if it were any other food.
    • Pancreatic insufficiency: this pathology leads to a poor absorption of nutrients and certain foods are not digested. They end up in the faeces without having been transformed. The dog therefore considers its excrement to be edible.
    • Chronic inflammation of the intestine or stomach: coprophagia is frequently promoted by digestive disorders such as intestinal problems and gastric problems.
    • Intestinal parasitosis: the presence of parasites in the intestines compromises the digestive process and the complete absorption of nutrients, which are eliminated in the dog's excrement,
    • A hormonal disorder,
    • A brain tumor...
It must be said that dogs rarely behave like this out of play, but this cannot be ruled out.

Is it dangerous for an adult dog to eat its own poop?

An adult dog that practices coprophagia runs the following risks:
  • Extremely foul-smelling breath,
  • A contamination by :
    • Fungi (mycotic contamination),
    • Parasites (parasitic contamination),
    • Viruses (viral contamination),
    • Bacteria (bacterial contamination).
If the excrement contains a contaminating agent, the coprophagous dog can become seriously ill, especially if it is already weakened by a health problem or if it is very old. The risk of pathology is also higher in a puppy of a few weeks old than in a healthy adult dog.

However, the risks of coprophagia should not be overlooked. That's why it's highly recommended to consult your veterinarian at the slightest alert. To remedy this behavior, it is obviously essential to identify the cause. The dog's owner must therefore be able to provide the veterinarian with all the information he or she deems useful in order to help him or her make a diagnosis.

Therapy is necessary when the cause of the coprophagia is behavioral and it can be completed by a drug treatment. If the cause is dietary, it is often sufficient to change the dog's diet, but this must be done in an insensitive manner. Of course, it is important to choose food of excellent nutritional quality and to make sure that the dog eats enough. Finally, the treatment of a medical coprophagia must include the treatment of the pathology in question after it has been clearly diagnosed.