Why in the world
would a Dog eat
Cat Litter & Feces?
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How to Stop your Dog from eating Cat Litter
By: Tippy and Alfred
Dogs eating feces - a habit that humans find disgusting and
that isn't necessarily good for your dog either. Keep in
mind that no matter how lovable and cute your dog is, dogs
are still animals and they will do what comes naturally to
them by instinct.
Wolves will kill and eat an animal's digestive tract and
everything else right down to the hooves. And yes, there are
feces still in the digestive tract when they eat it. This
serves to help wolves get essential nutrients from plants
that they can't get any other way.
The feces of animals that eat plants for food (herbivores)
contain many of the B vitamins and are eaten by many
animals. Wolves and coyotes often eat feces if food is hard
to find. Some researchers suggest that wolves and some dogs
may eat feces to replenish their vitamin supply.
The diet of a pet dog should have all the essential
ingredients it needs to survive rather comfortably provided
in the dog food, but the instinct for coprophagy is still
there. So it's not that your dog is just trying to gross you
out or that eating feces means it is missing something in
its diet, it is simply instinct kicking in and telling it to
Some dogs do eat feces as a way to get nutrients, but this
is in extreme cases when their pancreas is having trouble or
the dog has a massive parasite infection that is consuming
the food it eats, or if it is starving to death.
It has also been documented that dogs in kennels sometimes
eat their own feces because they are stressed or anxious.
Some research suggests that when dogs are strongly punished
for defecating at the wrong time or place, the dog may
believe that any defecation is considered to be wrong and
try to eliminate the evidence.
In some instances, coprophagy (eating of feces) may be a
behavior learned from watching other animals. It may also
become a habit in the course of play when puppies try out
the taste of everything.
There is a stage of a dog's life in which coprophagy is
common and expected. Can you think of what it is? Female
dogs with pups normally eat the feces of their offspring.
This is presumed to occur in order to help to hide the
presence of the litter from predators.
Finally, some dogs may eat feces just because they taste
good (to them).
How can you prevent coprophagia?
The best way to prevent the problem is to keep yards and
kennels free of feces.
Some owners find success in using something to make the
feces taste bad. Your local pet store, feed store or
veterinarian's office will have products like "For-bid" for
cats or dogs or "Drs. Foster and Smith Dis-Taste" for dogs
that you can add to the food of the animal whose feces are
being eaten. It could be that you will need to add the
product to the food of the dog itself if it eats its own
stool, or to the cat's food, if the dog eats the cat's
feces. The animal's digestive system processes the product
and in result the ensuing feces has a very bad taste.
Some suggest that you sprinkle Tabasco sauce or cayenne
pepper onto the feces (not the food!). Unfortunately, you
may not find the feces quickly enough to doctor it before
your dog eats it, and some dogs have acquired quite a taste
for Tabasco. All of these methods work best if the behavior
has just started. Once coprophagy has become a habit, it is
very difficult to break.
Dogs should be on a leash when walking, so when a pile of
feces is found along the way, you can correct the dog and
prevent the bad habit. Sometimes, the only way to stop
coprophagy is to fit the dog with a wire muzzle when you
take it out of your controlled area so that it can't eat any
feces it may find. After a period of time with no
coprophagy, you may test whether the bad habit is broken by
walking the dog without the muzzle, but with the leash so
you can do an immediate correction if needed.
Adding toys and other diversions to the dog's environment
may be helpful. You need to find something that is more fun
for the dog than eating feces. For example, your dog may
believe that a Kong toy filled with peanut butter or a large
doggie snack hidden under a box is a tasty alternative. Be
sure the dogs gets plenty of exercise - and plenty of
exercise for your dog is much more than you probably think.
Adequate exercise is amazingly good by itself in changing
some doggie bad habits. (And it and its owner will be
In situations in which the behavior may be linked to stress,
the cause of the stress should be eliminated or at least
reduced. In cases of extreme anxiety or neurosis, medication
and/or the help of a professional trainer may be necessary
to try to break the attachment.
Some dogs will improve if they are fed more often, so you
may want to increase the number of meals (but keep the total
daily intake about the same). One researcher recommends that
you check the dog's diet and make sure it is getting enough
B vitamins and is not getting an excess of carbohydrates.
There have also been anecdotal reports that adding Prozyme
to the diet may help.
For dogs attracted to litter boxes, you may need to be quite
creative. First, try using a self-cleaning and/or covered
litter box and face the opening toward a wall. Some people
put the litter box up high, on top of the washing machine,
for example. Others put the litter box in a closet and
secure the closet door so that the opening is big enough for
the cat but will not allow the dog to enter. But keep in
mind that if the litter box is too difficult to access, the
cat may not go to it either.
Above all, do not punish the dog for eating feces, this may
reinforce the behavior. General work on obedience is
sometimes helpful. If the dog knows what is expected of him
and looks to you for cues, he may be less anxious and less
likely to start or continue coprophagy.
What are the health risks of coprophagy?
Feces can contain and transmit many parasites. Generally,
herbivores have parasites that are specific to them and
won't infest carnivores, but dogs that eat the feces of
other dogs or cats can be repeatedly infected with parasites
such as coccidia, giardia, and if the feces have been around
for 2-3 weeks or more, roundworms and whipworms. Dogs with
copophragy should have regular fecal examinations and
treatment as needed for parasites.
We are not completely sure why dogs eat their own feces or
the feces of other animals. But we do know that if a dog
starts this behavior, the sooner we implement prevention
measures, the better the chance of success.
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