Frankie just came in from the back yard with a satisfied look on his face — and a little piece of dog poop caught in the fur around his mouth. This made me very unhappy for a variety of reasons, but not for the most obvious one: the fact that he was feasting on his own feces.

He’s done it before. And if I’m not careful he’ll surely do it again. But in the general scheme of canine health concerns, it’s no big deal.

As it happens, I discussed the topic with my vet a few days ago because we were trying to figure out what might have caused Frankie’s recent bout of intestinal distress. Frankie doesn’t graze on potentially dangerous stuff out on the trail — I would know, because I’m always with him — and the only thing he’d be likely to come across in my enclosed back yard, where he is allowed to venture unaccompanied, is his own poop. I didn’t think that was an issue; I hadn’t noticed Frankie with stink breath or with little shit snacks — yes, for a brief period he used to bring the “treats” into my living room to enjoy — in a very long time. And, anyway, my vet opined, “That wouldn’t have caused his stomach problems.” Which I knew.

It’s a fact that’s hard to accept. Many dogs — even cute little ones like Frankie — eat poop. Their own. That of other creatures. They would no doubt eat yours if they managed to get hold of it. There’s even a name for this taste for waste: coprophagia. It’s gross to us — but then again so is a dog’s habit of rolling around in dead stuff.

No one is entirely sure why some dogs do it and why some don’t. Perhaps it’s as simple as some humans having a taste for lobster, and some being disgusted by it. And it’s not always clear why some dogs like Frankie do it for a while and then lose interest. But, hey, I used to eat tuna fish sandwiches every day when I was in sixth grade. Now I can’t look at them.

What concerns most people about poop eating is how to prevent it.

I’ve heard solutions to the problem ranging from putting meat tenderizer in your dog’s food — apparently it makes the poop less yummy — or, on the same principle but post-digestion, sprinkling Bitter Apple on the turds.

This seems to ignore the obvious cure: cleaning up after your dog immediately.

I know, poop production can’t always be supervised and some dogs like to recycle their waste immediately. One friend admitted, shamefacedly, that one of her dogs used to stand with his face near her other dog’s butt, waiting for him to eliminate so as to get a steaming fresh feast. But the fact that my friend was around to observe this suggested to me that what was required was vigilance — and separate potty times for her pups.

Which brings me back to my distress over Frankie’s snack. He’s still on a semi-restricted diet, one that’s clearly not entirely satisfying. I know I’ll need to call my vet again to discuss introducing more or different food.  And that in doing so I’ll have to admit to him that I haven’t been very scrupulous about keeping my back yard feces free.

9 thoughts on “The scoop on poop eating”

  1. My understanding has always been that it is an enzyme deficiency. Whether one steadfastly cleans up after their dog or not they should consider that their dog may be trying to recoup something they don’t have enough of. I have always recommended Prozyme and found it to be helpful…the meat tenderizer trick often works too, I just have reservations about giving a dog meat tenderizer.

    1. Interesting. I hadn’t heard that and, in this particular case, I’m wondering if it applies: My dog has been taking double doses of probiotics (which may be different from enzymes?) I agree, meat tenderizer doesn’t seem like anything I’d want to give a dog.

  2. I don’t think it is always related to a lack of something in the diet or a health issue. In my case, Jasper (my Sheltie puppy) spent 7 of his first 9 months in a small cage in a pet store with his sister. Somehow in that time, he picked up the habit of eating his sister’s fresh poop. When his sister was adopted, he transferred this habit to my dog Daisy.
    Not to gross you out, but he literally eats it as she is pooping. I have to constantly be aware of when and where she is going so I can stop him before he gets there first. It completely grosses me out (as you can imagine).
    The funny thing is he has no interest in poopsicles (frozen poop) or poop that was pooped hours ago. Only fresh poop and only Daisy’s. So I think poop-eating can also be psychological too.

    1. Yeah, I think lots of people have theories involving eating weird stuff — not only feces but also rocks and dirt — but nothing that’s definitive or verifiable. What you describe about the fresh poop is precisely what happened with my friend who’s mentioned in this post: one dog waiting at the other’s rear end. Frankie has a certain interest in a nonstale product — he chose the newer piece of two in my yard, I believe — but was not insistent on absolute freshness.

  3. Back in the beginning of Archie’s life with me he developed worms. Ick. An allegedly knowledgeable dog person told me that worms resulted from dogs eating feces. Happily my vet disabused me of the idea: worms come from ingesting fleas. Not a wonderful thing, but another indication that eating feces does not necessarily cause any dire disease.

  4. Lily, at almost 12, has always enjoyed what I call — the poop buffet.

    When I first got her at a little over 2 years old, I caught her eating it and went nuts. My vet said, “relax, it’s normal.” He also suggested the meat tenderizer but only for 3 days and then said putting pineapple in her food would give off an unpleasant odor. I tried that and it didn’t work.

    I don’t always pick up the yard poop in a timely manner so she still snacks on her poopsicles.

    One day I was watching her and she would run to her bed under the ramada and then disappear for a few minutes and then run to her bed under the ramada and then disappear again. She did this five times. I decided to investigate and realized she was lining up a poop buffet. There were little pieces of dried poop all in a row.

    I guess when she grew bored or had brought all the poop, she would consume it like a buffet. Too her amazement, I scooped them all and put in the garbage.

    Now I think she goes in stealth mode for her poop diet plan.

  5. Miss Jasmine’s poop of choice is cat poo – she uses the kitty litter tray as a smorgasbord if I do not clean it out in a timely enough manner, and like Frankie she particularly enjoys bringing it into the middle of the living room to consume it in comfort, ugh!

    It is a two way street of sorts – the cats go bananas over Jasmine’s fur. When I brush her the cats take huge delight in rolling around in, smelling rapturously, and even eating the discarded fur! I have tried her fur on my friend’s cats, wondering if I had discovered an alternative to catnip, but they showed no interest in it whatsoever. It appears to be yet another quirk of my dysfunctional menagerie, I’m sure a pet psychologist would have a field day…or maybe I am simply buying pet food deficient in cat poop and dog fur…

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