Eating the feces of another animal can be either a normal behavior or one of desperation. Dogs that have been starved will eat feces of others. Puppies in pet stores or puppy mills/farms may have not been fed enough and are conditioned to eat feces out of desperation. This is typically due to inadequate amounts of available food.
Dogs who are inappropriately punished for elimination may become incredibly fastidious to avoid the pain and anxiety associated with eliminating. In extreme cases, some dogs have been observed ingesting their own urine as soon as that have eliminated. These behaviors may have been reinforced prior to an owner adopting said pet.
Finally, some dogs ingest feces as a manifestation of OCD. These dogs often need specialized help from a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist.
Many dogs enjoy eating feces of other animals. For example, they may enjoy cat feces due to their high protein diet and the animal muscle that is not fully digested. Dogs often eat rabbit feces. Rabbits and other herbivores have bacteria and some researchers have suggested that this bacteria form a source of protein. Additionally, ingestion of herbivore feces can be an effective way to get partially digested herbs and grains, such as oats.
Ingestion of feces is a challenging behavior to change because it is normal. There are a few key ideas to controlling eating of feces.
- Prevent the behavior from ever starting
- Owners must monitor the environment so that they see feces before the dog, and redirect the dog’s attention.
Any dog who ingests feces, whether their own or from another animal, should have fecal samples checked every six months. Using year-round Heart-worm prevention year-round to help prevent parasite infection is also recommended. A word of caution as well. Several intestinal parasites can be contagious to people. Always be sure to wash hands any time after handling feces.
If the dog eats dog feces, the solution can be easy: clean up all the dog feces found, including feces deposited by other dogs. When wild life is involved cleanup is more difficult.
The best solution to avoid the consumption of feces is avoidance, which is not always easy. This may mean supervising your dog in the yard until you are certain the pet had eliminated and there are no feces in the environment.
Using Positive Reinforcement to train a “Leave It” command and a good recall will allow you to call your dog to you when you see that he or she is about to gulp down feces. These commands need to be trained initially in a controlled environment before expecting them to work when temptation is great. Use a really high value food reward and a lot of praise to teach you pet that coming to you is the best thing in the world. These foundational behaviors will be useful in many situations beside feces eating and will give you a better quality relationship with your pet.
Not sure how to get started? Here are some great, short videos to show you what to do.