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Today I’m going to discuss a totally disgusting topic, coprophagia.

Coprophagia is a pleasant term for stool eating.

Although the idea of this activity is totally gross, there is actually one stage in a pet’s life when coprophagia is expected.

When mother dogs and cats have litters, they deliberately consume the feces of their puppies or kittens to hide their scent while the litter is vulnerable and sheltered in the den.

Wendt Worth Corgis Jr Low Riders

Wendt Worth Corgis Jr Low Riders

Beyond that, stool eating — although a very common complaint among pet and especially dog owners – is just plain gross.

Reasons Behind Coprophagic Behavior

Pets eat poop for a variety of reasons. Medical problems are a common cause, including pancreatic insufficiency or enzyme deficiency. Intestinal malabsorption and GI parasites are also common medical reasons that can prompt a dog to eat his own poop.

This is why I recommend dogs have their stools checked by the vet’s office every six months to make sure they’re parasite-free. Healthy dogs can acquire intestinal parasites from eating feces, so twice-yearly stool analysis is a great idea for all dogs.

The pancreas of dogs does secrete some digestive enzymes to aid in the processing of food, but many dogs don’t secrete enough of these enzymes and wind up enzyme deficient. Since the feces of other animals are a source of digestive enzymes, dogs with a deficiency will ‘recycle’ by eating the enzyme rich poop. Gross, I know, but true.

Rabbit poop is one of the richest sources not only of digestive enzymes, but also B vitamins. Many dogs, if they stumble upon rabbit droppings, will scarf them right up to take advantage of those nutrients.

And dogs on entirely processed, dry food diets, who eat no living foods at all, will intentionally seek out other sources of digestive enzymes to make up for their own lifelong enzyme deficiency.

Cats with enzyme deficiencies, malabsorption, or who are fed poor-quality diets can provide litter box temptations for dogs in the family. Many cheap dry foods contain ingredients that are not bioavailable, so ingredients are passed out in the stool undigested, providing scavenging dogs with the opportunity to “recycle.”

Feeding your pet a diet containing human-grade protein, probiotics and supplemental digestive enzymes can sometimes curb the urge to find gross sources of free enzymes around the yard or in the litter box.

Coprophagia Can Also Be a Behavioral Problem

Another cause for coprophagia in dogs is behavioral.

Some dogs, especially those in kennel situations, may eat feces because they are anxious and stressed.

Research also suggests dogs who are punished by their owners for inappropriate elimination develop the idea that pooping itself is bad. So they try to eliminate the evidence by consuming their feces.

Another theory that seems to hold some weight is that coprophagia is a trait noted in all canines – wolves, coyotes and domesticated dogs – and arises when food is in short supply.

Sadly, I see this most often in puppy mill dogs. Puppies who go hungry, are weaned too young, have to fight for a place at a communal food dish, or are forced to sit for weeks in a tiny crate with nothing to do, are at high risk of developing habitual stool-eating behavior that becomes impossible to extinguish.

Coprophagic behavior can also be a learned behavior. Older dogs with the repulsive habit can teach it to younger dogs in the household.

Like a dysfunctional game of ‘monkey see, monkey do,’ one dog can teach the rest of the pack that this is what you do while wandering around the backyard.

Wendt Worth Corgis Low Rider

Wendt Worth Corgis Low Rider

When Poop Eating is Compulsive

Some scientists believe dogs eat poop simply because it tastes good to them.

I disagree with this.

Some dogs have weirdly strange ‘standards’ about the poop they eat. It’s strange to think any standard is applied to poop as a food group, but for example, some dogs eat only frozen poop (we affectionately refer to these as poopsicles at my practice).

Others consume only the poop of a specific animal. Still others only eat poop at certain times of the year.

So some dogs who stumble upon feces occasionally decide to sample it, while others become completely obsessed with eating certain specific poop.

Tips for Curbing Your Dog’s Revolting Habit

What we do know for sure is dogs don’t eat poop because they have a poop deficiency!

Fortunately, there are some common sense ways to reduce your dog’s coprophagia habit.

  • First on the agenda is to pick up your dog’s poop immediately, as soon after he eliminates as possible. Don’t give him the opportunity to stumble across old feces in his potty spot.
  • Next, if you have cats, get a self-cleaning litter box or place the box in a location in your home where you dog can’t get to it.
  • I also recommend you improve your pet’s diet as much as possible, and add digestive enzymes and probiotics at meal time.
  • Offer toys to your dog that challenge his brain and ease boredom.
  • Sufficient exercise is also crucial in keeping your dog’s body and mind stimulated. Bored dogs tend to develop far stranger, disturbing habits and behaviors than dogs that get plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.
  • Lastly, consider trying one (or more than one) of the many over-the-counter coprophagia deterrent products. These are powders you either sprinkle on the stool itself or feed with meals to create an unpalatable stool. But keep in mind these powders contain MSG, including most of the remedies you can buy online.

    Also, you may have heard you can add a meat tenderizer to your dog’s food or stool to discourage poop eating, but most meat tenderizing products also contain MSG.

    I recommend you look for a non-toxic deterrent than doesn’t contain MSG.

If your pet’s coprophagic behavior seems to be going from bad to worse, make sure to talk to your vet about your concerns. You definitely want to rule out any underlying medical reason for this very gross, yet very common behavior problem.

 

Dr. Becker is the resident proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian of HealthyPets.Mercola.com. You can learn holistic ways of preventing illness in your pets by subscribing to MercolaHealthyPets.com, an online resource for animal lovers. For more pet care tips, subscribe for FREE to Mercola Healthy Pet Newsletter.
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A new study suggests that college students may handle stressful situations better if they have a pet.

Research has already shown that pets can improve the quality of life for people who are aging or those who are chronically ill. But researchers at Ohio State University recently found that many college students may also benefit from owning a cat or a dog.

A survey of students at a large university and other adults in the area found that nearly a quarter of college students surveyed believed their pets helped them get through difficult times in life. Students who chose to live with at least one dog, one cat, or a combination of the two were less likely to report feeling lonely and depressed; something they directly attributed to their beloved pet.

These findings highlight how even younger, healthier young adults can benefit from living with our four-legged friends, said Sara Staats, lead author of the study and professor emeritus of psychology at Ohio State’s Newark Campus.

“We might not think of college students as being lonely, but a lot of freshman and sophomores are in an early transition from living at home to living in dorms or off-campus. College is a very stressful environment for them and sometimes they can feel isolated or overwhelmed with the change,” she said.

“We found that a lot of young adults are choosing to have an animal companion for important reasons. Many feel their pets will help get them through these difficult and stressful situations, and many more say that without their pet, they would feel lonely.”

The study was based on survey responses from nearly 350 college students at a Midwestern commuter campus and nearby community members. Only those people who currently or previously owned a cat, a dog, or a combination of the two were included in the present study. People who were 18 to 87 years of age were all surveyed to study the differences between adults and students.

Participants were asked to indicate their current level of health, the type of pet(s) owned, and whether they believed a pet affected their overall health. They were then asked to identify their top reasons for owning a pet in both multiple-choice and open-ended surveys. The results were recently published in the journal Society and Animals.

The results showed that most adults and college students chose to own a pet for similar reasons. Although the results were based on self-reports, many of those surveyed believed their pet contributed to their overall health in a number of ways.

Nearly a quarter of all college students and adults reported that their pet was useful in keeping them active. This answer was more common for those who owned dogs, but those who had feline friends also reported their cat helped keep them active.

Likewise, 18 percent of college students and 13 percent of adults said their pet was important to helping them cope during difficult times. This belief was far more likely among those who were single rather than married, but it was listed by both groups in both open-ended and multiple choice questions.

But the results showed that avoiding loneliness was the top reason given by both students and adults. Nearly identical percentages of married and single persons gave this response, but students and those over 50 years of age were far more likely to list this as their top reason.

While previous work has demonstrated that the elderly benefit from animal companionship, this study is the one of the first to suggest that animal companions help those younger than 30 years of age, Staats said.

“Most of the studies on pet ownership focus directly on those adults and older generations who have heart problems or special needs. But there hasn’t been much recognition of that fact that young, healthy college students also derive benefits from pet ownership such as hedge against loneliness and improved ability to cope,” she said.

While the reasons for keeping a pet may be similar among adults and college students, the lifestyles differences between the two may provide clues as to why students rely on their pets more often, Staats said.

Many people in their late twenties to mid-forties have established circles of friends. Adults usually live in areas with friends, colleagues, and family nearby, making their lives more stable than those beginning to build their lives. Many more adults are married or have started raising a family, and have years of experience learning how to cope with difficult situations.
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