Owner Documentation of Coprophagia in the Canine

Erik Hofmeister; Melinda Cumming, DVM PhD; Cheryl Dhein, DVM, MS, DACVIM
 

Overview

Coprophagia is defined as the consumption of feces by an animal and is a common complaint of owners to their veterinarians. Since there has been little research done on this particular behavior, the veterinarian is usually poorly equipped to give a recommendation to the owner. This study is intended to provide epidemiological information about the incidence of the behavior in the canine population, the age of onset, age of disappearance, and various other pieces of information crucial to form a basis from which to study this very important behavior.

 Proposed Causes

Coprophagia may result due to various medical problems. Primary among them are exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, pancreatitis, intestinal infections, malabsorptive syndromes, and over-feeding (especially high fat content diets). However, with the majority of these conditions, many other signs beside the coprophagia will be prominent, particularly diarrhea. Coprophagia is usually only a small aspect of these medical conditions.

 There have been a variety of behavioral theories put forth as to why canines engage in coprophagia. It is important at this time to define different kinds of coprophagia. Autocoprophagia deals with an animal eating its own feces. Intraspecific coprophagia deals with an animal eating feces from another animal within its own species. Interspecific coprophagia deals with an animal eating feces from another species (dog eating cat, deer, rabbit, etc feces). Several behavioral explanations of coprophagia are discussed below.

Treatment Options

These treatments are all the opinions of the authors of this study. We make no claims about the efficacy of these treatments, nor do we endorse using any specific products herein. This is provided merely to inform interested individuals of what has been used in the past, and the authors' opinions of these treatments.  Our study will provide more objective data regarding the efficacy of some of these treatments.

Health Implications

Most of the time, coprophagia is merely a habit which is disgusting to owners but causes no real problems for the dog who is eating it. There are some important exceptions to this, however. The most critical is the possibility of ingesting internal parasites. Usually this will happen if your dog eats the feces of unfamiliar, infested dogs or the feces of wild life (such as deer). If you keep your animals properly dewormed, the dog eating the feces of these animals is usually not at risk for internal parasites. However, the possibility of picking up a parasite from a strange animal (especially wild life) is very real, and the dog should be prevented from eating such feces as much as possible.

In addition to internal parasites, organisms such as Toxoplasma gondii is transmitted in some cat feces. This can cause a dog a variety of problems, including CNS and muscle damage. Try to keep the dog away from cat feces as much as possible because of this.

It's also possible that the feces, if left to sit too long, can become infested with fly larvae, foreign bacteria, fungus, etc. It is best to make sure your dog avoids these sources of disease as much as possible. Be sure to keep your dog away from strange feces when on a walk and clean up any old feces in your yard as soon as possible.

Some important canine viral diseases can also be transmitted by the fecal-oral route and infection could result from coprophagia of infected dogs' feces.  Hepatitis and canine parvovirus are two important diseases which can be transmitted in this manner.  Fortunately, vaccinated dogs are at little risk.

If you have any additions or thoughts, please send email to Erik Hofmeister and he will consider them and possibly add them.  Please do not send email about individual cases and help with them.  Erik has received too many of these to reply to and will not continue to do so.  It is suggested you speak with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist if you have individual questions.

Study Status

The preliminary information is completed.  The publishable study is currently being written.

This page has been accessed Hit Counter times since   February 29th 1998

Page last edited 11 December, 2003