Coping with Coprophagia
Why does my dog love to eat goose poop?
Coprophagia is the medical term for eating feces. Although coprophagia is upsetting and revolting to us, dogs and puppies seem to enjoy it. Feces of all types, including goose, horse, cow, cat, dog and even human may be consumed. There are physical, medical and behavioral reasons why dogs eat feces. It would be nice if the cause were obvious so the behavior could be easily stopped, but many times this is a frustrating problem to solve.
Studies conducted on coprophagic dogs show they were more likely to come from multiple-dog households and tend to be ravenous eaters. Neutered males or females were more often stool eaters than intact males. These dogs were 33 percent less likely to eat their own stools as compared to those of other dogs. The behavior was mainly directed at consuming fresh stools.
The medical and physical reasons for coprophagia in dogs are varied. Prescription medications can make a dog very hungry. This is especially common when a dog is taking corticosteroids (predisone) or anti-convulsant medications (phenobarbital). Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease or thyroid disease, will cause an increase in appetite or an appetite for eating unusual, inedible things. Dogs that are underfed or eating a poor-quality diet are more likely to eat stool, as are dogs infested with intestinal parasites.
Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is a disorder in which the pancreas is not producing digestive enzymes. The food the dog is consuming is not broken down so that the nutrients can be absorbed. In these cases, even though the dog is eating, he is essentially starving.
Bitches that are raising puppies will eat their puppies’ poop to clean the den. This is a normal behavior in dogs. Certain dogs are coprophagic because they enjoy the taste and texture of stool, although how this was actually determined is hard to imagine. If the stool contains large amounts of undigested food, there is an increased likelihood that the dog will eat the stool.
Behavioral reasons for coprophagy are observed in dogs that have been neglected, abused or kept in unclean, over-crowded conditions. Dogs that are kenneled or isolated for an extended amount of time or dogs that need more exercise or interaction will eat feces out of boredom.
Puppies may engage in attention-seeking behavior. When left unsupervised, puppies may simply begin to investigate, play with and eat stool. This behavior usually clears up by adulthood with good nutrition and proper supervision.
Eating the feces of other animals can be attributed to scavenging behavior. It is not unusual for dogs to chew on or eat non-food items that most humans would consider disgusting. Cat feces and those of some other animals are often appealing enough in odor, texture and taste to overcome the fact that they are fecal wastes. Dogs that eat the feces of herbivores, including horses, cows, deer, rabbits and geese, may be attracted to the digested vegetation.
Your veterinarian will go over your dog’s medical history and physical condition. You will also discuss your dog’s current diet and feeding schedule, as well as how much, how often and what type of exercise your dog receives. Blood tests and stool checks are run to determine if there is a medical problem that needs to be addressed.
How is coprophagia treated?
Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is treated by replacing digestive enzymes using freeze-dried pancreas extracts from pigs and cattle. The extracts come in a powder form and are sprinkled on the dog’s food, usually 30 minutes before feeding. Once stabilized on the extracts, dogs with EPI gain weight and have normal appetites.
Parasites are treated with the appropriate de-worming medication. Bedding, toys and bowls should be cleaned with hot water. Flooring should be disinfected to eliminate any remaining parasite eggs.
Dogs that are diagnosed with deficient diets need to be fed a higher-quality food. The first ingredient on the label should be a protein and not a “byproduct.” Dietary supplements and vitamins may also be prescribed. Dogs that are anemic will benefit from vitamin B-12 injections.
If the coprophagia is a behavioral problem, it can best be corrected by preventing access to stool and other fecal material. Careful supervision, along with thorough cleaning of the property, may eventually modify the behavior.
Dogs are pack animals and do not do well isolated or confined. They do best with regular exercise and companionship. Teaching a “leave it” command is helpful. For dogs that are determined scavengers despite training, owners can consider having them wear muzzles when outside. There are several styles of basket-type muzzles that allow dogs to pant and drink water, but prevent them from ingesting solid materials.
There are products on the market made of natural ingredients that change the consistency of the poop, making it less attractive to consume, such as Forbid and Stop Eating Poop. The addition of meat tenderizer to the food may help increase protein digestion, resulting in a less palatable stool. When adding some of these items to dry dog food, it may be necessary to moisten the food first and allow the product to sit on the food for 10 minutes to increase effectiveness.
Other solutions with questionable effectiveness are adding papaya, yogurt, cottage cheese or Certs breath mints to the dog’s food. These additives are supposed to give the stool an unpleasant taste. Since most dogs seem to prefer a well-formed stool, adding sufficient quantities of stool softeners or bulk laxatives will usually deter most dogs.
Can eating feces make my dog sick?
In general, dogs do not become ill from eating a small amount of goose droppings, but it is still a bad idea to allow it. Goose feces may contain the parasites giardia and cryptosporidium, as well as the bacteria salmonella, clostridium, E. coli and campylobacter.
Cryptosporidium poses the most serious health hazard, since it causes cryptosporidiosis. Dogs affected with this show symptoms, including watery diarrhea, dehydration, weight loss, painful stomach cramps, fever, nausea and vomiting.
Most breeds of dog that eat a small amount of horse, cow or sheep manure do not get sick. However, there is a risk of toxicity due to chemicals in worming medications, which are passed in the feces. Large-animal worming treatments often contain ivermectin, which is effective against many different parasites in many species. Some worming medications for dogs also include ivermectin, but in very low doses.
There is a far higher concentration of ivermectin in horse and livestock worming treatments. The ivermectin is passed in manure for days after the large animal has taken the medication. This can be toxic to dogs that eat it. The risk depends on the breed of dog, when the worming treatment was given and the amount of manure consumed.
Dogs of certain breeds have a gene mutation, known as the MDR1 (multidrug resistance) mutation, which predisposes them to toxicity from ivermectin, even at low doses. The breeds most commonly affected are herding breeds. There is a test for the MDR1 mutation so you can determine if your dog is at risk.
Ivermectin can be toxic to any dog if a large enough quantity is consumed. Symptoms of ivermectin poisoning include dilated pupils, disorientation, vomiting, drooling and seizures. There is no antidote to ivermectin. The care is mainly supportive, including intravenous fluids along with medication to control nausea and seizures. All dog owners should be extra vigilant around stable yards and farms, especially at times when horses and livestock are known to have been wormed.