My Dog Eats Cat Poop - Why and What to Do
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Coprophagia is the term for the ingestion of feces. In humans, it is a rare occurrence related to mental illness and occult practices, but it is a relatively common behavior in some animals. Dogs can sometimes ingest either their own stools or those of other animals. These isolated occurrences of eating poop should not usually cause significant concern in the animal's guardian. When eating poop becomes a habitual behavior, we need to determine the cause and find out how to stop it.
At AnimalWised, we look at why my dog eats cat poop and what to do about it. We understand the risks involved in this coprophagic practice and learn how to best prevent our dog developing any related diseases.
Why does my dog eat cat poop?
As stated in the introduction, the act of a dog ingesting feces is called coprophagia. When the excrement in question belongs to a different species than their own, it is known as interspecies coprophagia. Dogs often cat cat poop from the litter box because it is easy to access, but they may also eat it from the garden or while out walking.
Coprophagia is considered a normal behavior in some animals, although this may only be during certain stages of an animal's life. We can see this in female dogs that have just given birth. Mother dogs will ingest the feces of their puppies until approximately 10 weeks of life. The purpose is to maintain hygiene in the environment and prevent disease.
When a dog ingests poop either habitually or compulsively, it is likely a behavior related to either physiological or psychological issues. When a dog eats cat poop, this context can help us to understand the underlying reason. The main reasons dogs eat cat poop are:
- Exploratory behavior: puppies and adolescent dogs need to discover the world around them. They do this in various ways, including using their mouth if they are curious about something. At this young age, the occasional ingestion of their own or cat stool is usually part of the normal exploratory behavior of dogs. They will likely determine this to be unpleasant and stop eating cat poop after they mature.
- Boredom or lack of environmental stimulation: dogs need daily physical and mental stimulation. The types an amount needs to be adapted to their state of health, age, character and breed. If you leave your dog alone at home for a long time with nothing to do or you do not stimulate them sufficiently when you are with them, they can become bored. Stress is a common response to this issue which can result in various symptom in dogs, including eating cat poop.
- Call for attention or play: sometimes dogs learn to perform specific behaviors to get our attention and thus initiate an interaction with us. Even if they are unpleasant for us, they become learned behaviors. If your dog eats poop and knows they will get a response from you, even if it is negative, they may do it again. This occurs when we don't interact with our dog sufficiently or when you fail to establish proper communication.
- Hunger or nutritional deficiency: if your dog is hungry or their diet is lacking certain nutritional properties, they will try to find the nutrients they need where they can. Although cat feces contains digested material, it can provide some sustenance. We need to assess the dog's particular nutritional needs and provide the most appropriate diet for them.
- Palatable taste: although it is difficult for us to understand, a very common reason why dogs eat cat poop is simply because they enjoy it. They may find its intense smell attractive and enjoy the process of eating it.
- Pathology: there are some diseases and health conditions which can cause a dog to eat cat poop, although it is a relatively uncommon symptom. These conditions are usually metabolic disorders such as Cushing's disease, Addison's disease or hyperthyroidism in dogs as they can affect their eating habits.
Coprophagia does not always correspond to a single underlying cause. When the cause of the problem is multifaceted, we often require the help of an ethologist or canine educator who can identify each trigger of the behavior and provide practical methods of how to stop the dog eating cat poop.
If the behavior appears suddenly or becomes pervasive, it will be necessary to visit a veterinarian. They can determine if the problem is pathological and provide any specific treatment which is required.
Dangers of my dog eating cat poop
Eating cat poop in an isolated incident should not pose any significant problem to your dog's health, especially if they have an appropriate deworming schedule. Pathological coprophagia that manifests itself frequently can entail certain risks.
These are the main dangers of dog's eating cat poop, especially if they do so regularly:
- Gastrointestinal ailments: if your dog ingests large amounts of cat feces, it is very likely they will upset their digestive system. This can result in stomach pain, listlessness, vomiting and diarrhea, among other symptoms. In most cases, dogs improve after a short time, but sometimes it is necessary to go to the vet and follow medical treatment for recovery.
- Risk of parasitosis: cat stool may contain parasites capable of making the dog that ingests them sick. This is especially so with puppies which have not yet built a strong immune system or otherwise immunocompromised dogs. This risk increases markedly when the dog consumes poop from stray cats, as properly vaccinated and dewormed cats are less likely to carry harmful parasites. Learn more with our article on the common intestinal parasites of dogs.
- Intestinal adhesion and obstruction: if your dog eats the poop directly from a cat's litter box, not only are they ingesting the feces, but they will likely eat some of the litter in doing so. When this occurs regularly, the dog won't be able to properly digest the litter which can result in intestinal obstruction. They can require surgery to resolve.
In the face of any sign of discomfort or pain, it is best that you go to your veterinarian. They can run the appropriate tests to diagnose the problem and provide prompt administration of treatment.
What to do if my dog eats cat poop
The best way to ensure your dog is safe when eating cat poop is to prevent them doing it in the first place. Here are some practical ways you can do just that:
- Place the litter box in an inaccessible place for the dog: by placing your cat's litter box in an elevated place or in a room that only the feline can access, you prevent your dog from accessing the excrement. Another option is to use a closed or covered litter box, as long as your cat finds it comfortable.
- Clean the litter box frequently: cats are very hygienic animals that appreciate when their litter box is always kept clean. Removing feces on a daily basis reduces the chances of your dog consuming it. The use of clumping litter will make cleaning easier, since you will not have to throw out all the litter and change it each time you clean it.
- Offer your dog environmental and social stimulation: to avoid boredom, make sure you do fun activities with your dog. If the coprophagia is due to boredom, stress or lack of attention, you may find giving them what they need will stop the poop-eating behavior. You should also provide toys and intelligence games for when you are not at home to avoid separation anxiety in dogs.
- Offer quality food: your veterinarian can identify if your dog has any nutritional deficiency that could be leading them to ingest feces. A complete quality diet is essential to keep your dog in good health and prevent behaviors such as coprophagia.
- Contact a canine ethologist or educator: it is not always easy to find the root cause of coprophagia in dogs. By contacting a professional ethologist or canine educator, you have a better chance of understanding their specific needs. These professionals will also be able to provide practical guidance to prevent eating cat poop which is tailored to these needs.
Never use physical punishment or harmful tools (such as shock or spike collars) to teach your dog not to eat cat poop. Punishment-based education generates many problems in the animal, especially on an emotional level. This can both exacerbate the behavioral problem and lead to the development of others.
If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Eats Cat Poop - Why and What to Do, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.