I have three dogs, two youngsters, Pearl and Zoey, and a senior, Pepper. Because Pepper is 14 years old, I have given him his own “office” area where he can do his “business.” It consists of a corner containing a tray with a puppy pad in the bottom of it, closed off by a cute little curtain that he can go through and get some privacy—not that he needs it. Pepper is not modest.
Most days, Pepper does his duties before I get up—at least I think he does, because I never find any. Later in the afternoon there’s usually something to pick up, but very often there isn’t. At first I thought that Pepper was having digestive issues, or—gasp—that someone else was taking the poop, but I had no proof and I’m not one to jump to conclusions. Maybe a thief breaks in every night and all he takes is Pepper’s poop. It wasn’t off of the list of options.
Then, one day, I had a friend over to look at something I was doing on the computer. Pepper pooped a little bit off of his tray (his aim isn’t the best) and I said, “Sorry about that, I’ll pick it up in a second.” Then we went back to engaging with the monitor.
Less than a minute later, my friend looked up and I could hear him gasp. “I think something disgusting just happened,” he said.
The poop was gone. Pearl stood there where the poop had been, licking her lips and wagging her tail happily, looking at us, so content with herself. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time—the combination of the look of happiness on Pearl’s face and my friend’s face contorted in disgust was priceless. It seems that Pearl, my dainty little princess, has a nasty habit.
Coprophagia—poop eating—is common among many animals, and is how some animals gain proper nutrition or fill their gut with the bacteria they need in order to digest food. The word comes from the Greek copros (feces) and phagein (to eat).
I beelined to the vet and picked up a product that’s supposed to make the poop taste terrible, but of course Pepper wouldn’t eat it. At least one of them has a discriminating palate. It was a big, rough-edged, oblong chunk of yellow stuff, not a pill, which is easier to administer. I tried to break it up and put it in his food, but it was useless. And I didn’t feel good about giving a 14-year-old dog this remedy anyway. Pearl was the problem, why should Pepper suffer?
My next step is always to call my friend, Dr. Patrick Mahaney, a veterinarian in Los Angeles. He is very knowledgeable and has a good sense of humor about these things.
“Dogs will eat their or other dogs poop for a variety of reasons, but none are officially proven,” said Patrick. “Dietary deficiency is one option. There can be protein, carbohydrates, vegetable matter, fat, or bacteria in the feces – there’s also tons of good and bad bacteria in poop, and if a dog’s digestive system isn’t working properly, he instinctively knows to eat the poop. That’s one theory.”
“Another theory is that it tastes good to them, so it’s like a snack,” he continued.
That’s what I surmised about Pearl, who is, shall we say, a “full figured” gal. I free feed my dogs dry food and they get one meal of cooked food a day, so I know she’s not hungry. Then Patrick asked me about Pearl’s former life. I told him that she was a stray dog and had been living on the street for some time before I adopted her from the shelter.
“If a dog is wandering through its environment, it will often scavenge off of the carcass of an animal and eat offal, meat, bone, and intestines. Pearl probably picked up that habit because it was natural for her, so she’s used to it.”
Patrick told me that coprophagia isn’t necessarily bad for dogs, but it can cause vomiting and digestive upset in some individuals. Pearl seems to be doing fine, no complaints that I know of—no digestive distress, no upset tummy. So, should I lose sleep over it?
“Well, it’s absolutely bad for us,” he said. “I wouldn’t let your dog lick your face, lips, nose, or eyes because of the potential transfer of bacteria from their mouth onto or into your body. Even when a dog licks your hand, you can put your hand into your mouth. This can transmit bacteria, viruses, and parasites. For the most part, a healthy person with a normally functioning immune system is not going to get sick from their pet, but others might.”
Shoot, I knew there was a catch.
“One means of stopping this is to be super vigilant about not allowing your pet to have access to the poop,” continued Patrick. “Number two—pun intended—would be to use a fecal deterrent product to makes their feces less palatable.”
I told him that we tried that.
“Add fresh or canned pineapple to his food, which also has bromelain, a natural anti-inflammatory, so it has other benefits too,” he suggested. “It’s really safe, even for senior dogs. For an 18-pound dog, like Pepper, perhaps start with a tablespoon and work up to a quarter of a cup, depending on the pet’s response. And for Pearl, add more nutritious plant-based nutrients to her diet, like spinach, carrots, and cauliflower. Also, adding a probiotic to Pearl’s diet might help her get the bacteria that she needs, which may prevent her from scavenging. Don’t lose sleep over it, but make a concerted effort to stop it.”
Of course, no matter what the situation, I come to Pearl’s defense. If I don’t do it, who will? Certainly not Pepper.
“But it’s Pearl’s joy,” I said, knowing how ridiculous it sounded the minute I said it.
“I’m sure you can find other means of providing Pearl joy,” he said.
He’s right. Pearl, you may have eaten your last poop. Then again, Pearl outwits me often.
Have you ever lived with a dog that ate poop? What did you do about it? Did you ever catch him or her in the act? Did you notice any health concerns as a result of it? Why do you think that your particular dog ate poop? I’d love to hear from you. And if you ever meet Pearl, please don’t tell her that I wrote this. She’s at “Pearl The Pound Puppy’s Cookie Crusade” on Facebook if you’d like to drop her a line, but not about this—she’d be mortified.