Q: Molly, my 2-year-old cocker spaniel, eats other dogs’ pooh. I resent other dog walkers who don’t pick up after their dogs, and I’m mystified by my own dog’s behavior.
A: You undoubtedly regard Molly’s preference for “recycled” cuisine, formally called coprophagy or coprophagia, as irrational. Having lived with a coprophagic dog, I agree. Her breath was offensive when she’d try to smooch after she’d indulged. Worse, when she ate another animal’s excrement, she also ingested their intestinal parasites.
Animals often carry roundworms and hookworms, two intestinal parasites that can infect people, where they may cause blindness, seizures, organ damage and skin problems. Other microscopic parasites excreted in dog feces include Giardia, coccidia and whipworm eggs.
I suggest you take Molly to see her veterinarian to rule out physical causes of coprophagy. Take a fresh fecal sample so your vet can rule out parasites as a cause. Most often, though, eating feces has behavioral roots.
The condition seems to be more common in female dogs, especially those used for breeding, as they instinctively clean their pups and ingest their feces to rid the nesting area of puppy scent that might attract predators.
If Molly is simply cleaning up the environment, she should wear a basket muzzle with stool guard to prevent her from picking up pooh. If she is bored or anxious, increase her physical exercise and mental stimulation. If Molly is eating feces because she’s hungry, you can supplement her regular dog food with raw green beans and carrots.
Walk Molly on a leash and teach her to ignore feces. This is best accomplished by asking her to turn away from pooh and rewarding her obedience with praise and a delectable dog treat.
Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.