Transcript from this week’s episode of The Web-DVM:
Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome back to The Web-DVM final episode of 2011. Tonight, I will be addressing a most unpleasant habit of some canines, eating their own feces, or the feces of other dogs. For most of us, the thought of such an act is nothing short of appalling, which is why it is often incomprehensible to most pet owners that their dogs would partake in such an act.
So why do they do this? What many people are not aware of is that under certain circumstances, this is a natural canine behavior. Mother dogs clean their nursing puppies and their environment in part, by eating the feces of the puppies that do not have the capacity to leave the nest to defecate. With multiple puppies in the nest, one can imagine the unsanitary and unhealthy situation that would result from the puppy waste being allowed to accumulate. Other adult dogs in the pack will sometimes help pick up the mommy cleaning duties when litters are too big for her to keep up, or mom becomes sick or dies. This hardwired instinct, therefore exists in most dogs, and certain life circumstances can act as triggers for the behavior.
A dog with an underlying condition that can lead to excessive hunger, such as inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, or pancreatic disease, to name a few, may resort to eating feces.
A dog with intestinal parasites or other conditions that create blood in the stool can make it more appealing and may cause a dog to eat feces.
Too much time between meals and the hunger sustained in between can trigger a dog to eat feces. Certain diets in individuals can lead to subtle GI malabsorptive issues that can lead a dog to eat feces. Even if you are feeding a good quality diet, there is not one diet that is appropriate for every single dog, hence a change of food may be helpful.
Boredom or separation anxiety when the owner is away from the home can lead to the consumption of feces.
So what do you do about it? First off, the most important thing is to resist the temptation to just assume that your dog is just simply gross. While an underlying cause may ultimately elude us, dogs cannot tell us how they are feeling, so we owe it to them to try to figure out if there is an underlying medical trigger that we can fix.
Your starting point should be a veterinary visit for a general examination, and having the stool examined for parasites and trace blood. It would also be wise to run general blood work to rule out any underlying systemic disease.
If these diagnostics do not reveal anything, try gradually transitioning the dog to a different diet, especially if the one you are currently feeding is of poor quality. If you are feeding your dog only once a day, try splitting his daily food intake into 2-3 separate meals per day.
If you suspect that your dog may suffer from boredom, try engaging with him more with trips to the dog park, walks, etc. If your dog is destructive, soils the home, or vocalizes severely and incessantly when you leave the home, talk to your vet about managing what may be separation anxiety.
If no underlying problem is identified, then be certain to exercise good potty patrol, picking up the feces as it hits the ground. If your dog is too fast for you and gets that feces before you can pick it up, then you may need to resort to leash walks for elimination so the dog can be pulled away from the feces before he can eat it.
Some pet owners resort to food additives to discourage the eating of feces. Some claim to provide a certain nutrient that the dog does not get in his diet and ceases to eat his feces because he no longer craves what he is missing. Others are designed to make the feces less appealing to the dog.
Whatever the approach, be sure to ask your veterinarian if a product is safe before feeding it to your dog, as these products are not FDA or USDA regulated. Even if deemed safe, however, I would not hold your hopes too high for a miracle cure, as most pet owners are left disappointed by these products’ lack of effectiveness.
That concludes tonight’s broadcast. While this is my last YouTube broadcast of the year, I will be concluding 2011 with my final podcast of the year, Veterinary Advice, Animal News and Views, Wed, Dec 14, 2011 at 9 PM EST, so be sure to tune in. I bid all of you happy, safe holidays, and I thank you sincerely for another year of your support!
This is Roger Welton reporting, for The Web-DVM.
Dr. Roger Welton is the President and chief veterinarian at Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne Florida, as well as CEO of the veterinary advice and health management website Web-DVM.net.