Eating Feces (Coprophagia) in Dogs

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Key takeaways

Coprophagia describes the behavior of eating feces. While distasteful to humans, this is a relatively normal behavior for dogs.

  • There are a few medical causes which include malnutrition, Cushing’s disease, cognitive dysfunction, and anxiety
  • The primary risks of coprophagia include gastrointestinal upset, transmission of intestinal parasites, ingestion of medications excreted in the stool, and transmission of fecal bacteria  to humans through licking
  • If further investigation is warranted, diagnosis includes an assessment of the diet, feces, and physical health followed by bacterial culturing and pancreatic or GI diagnostics as needed
  • Cophrophagia rarely causes serious medical issues, so treatment is targeted towards stopping the unwanted behavior or treating underlying medical causes
  • When required, treatment can involve medication, surgery, and symptom management if an underlying cause is identified
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A closer look: Eating Feces (Coprophagia) in Dogs


Coprophagia is a common behavior in dogs that is generally not a result of a medical condition. It can be challenging to train a dog out of coprophagia behavior as they age.

Severity of this behavior does not tend to vary. If the behavior is associated with an underlying condition, the symptoms of that condition can vary in severity.

In most cases, the primary method to treat coprophagia is to remove access to feces and monitor the dog when in areas where they may encounter other animal feces.

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Possible causes


Coprophagia is a common behavior in dogs which may not have an identifiable cause. Nursing mothers and young puppies are especially likely to eat feces as normal behavior, and many adult dogs will continue the habit.

Risk factors


The risks of fecal consumption can include gastrointestinal upset, transmission of intestinal parasites, rare ingestion of medications that are excreted in the stool, and transmission of Salmonella and E. coli to humans via licking.

Coprophagia is very common in dogs, especially in nursing mothers, who eat feces to keep the environment clean for the puppies, and in young dogs

Testing and diagnosis


If medical attention is warranted, a physical examination, medical history, and dietary evaluation may be performed. In addition, a number of tests can be done to identify a cause, including

  • Fecal examination
  • Bacterial tests
  • Pancreatic and GI function testing

If there is an underlying cause, treatment for that condition can include medication, surgery, and symptom management. Dietary adjustments may also be required.

Similar symptoms


Associated symptoms


If coprophagia is due to an underlying medical cause, there may be associated symptoms.

References


Jacqueline Brister, DVM - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Dr. Lisa Radosta - Writing for Clinician's Brief
Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM - Writing for VCA Animal Hospitals
Gary M. Landsberg , BSc, DVM, MRCVS, DACVB, DECAWBM / Sagi Denenberg , DVM, DACVB, Dip. ECAWBM (Behaviour), MACVSc (Behaviour) - Writing for Merck Veterinary Manual

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