Coping with Copraphagia

This is about various methods which have been used with varying degrees of success to discourage dogs from eating canine feces. Not a pretty topic, and most of the "cures" don't work very well.



by Pam Green (copyright 1994)

This is not anybody's favorite topic. Even those dog people who love to talk for hours about stool volume, consistency, etc, etc, don't really want to talk about stool eating. Nonetheless, some dogs do eat their own stool or that of other dogs, and the owners of such dogs unanimously wish they would not.

(I am limiting the discussion to dogs which eat their own feces or those of other dogs, which is an aberrant though not unusual behavior ; most of the dog behaviorists don't even consider this to be an abnormal behavior and certainly not a pathological one. I am not going to discuss dogs which eat cat feces , nor horse , sheep , and cattle droppings, nor human (especially baby) feces --- which virtually all dogs will gulp down when given opportunity. )

As a Bouvier Rescuer, I have been seeking a solution for this problem in a dog that I have been trying to place. Yeah, this little habit does NOT appeal to prospective adopters, who find it disagreeable, disgusting, or revolting. I would certainly appreciate hearing from anyone who has found any other cure !!!


For some dogs, stool eating probably begins as a desperate survival mechanism. The dog who is attempting to stave off starvation will try to scavenge the nourishment that remains in his stool. Thus the dog who is receiving too little food quantitatively , the dog who is receiving substandard food qualitatively (food which is indigestible or lacking essential nutrients), and the dog whose digestive mechanism is inadequate (eg lacking adequate production of digestive enzymes) may resort to copraphagia.

For other dogs, who knows ? Who cares ?

A great many learned canine behaviorists consider that copraphagia is well within the normal repetoire of canine behavior, rather than being an "aberrant", "abnormal", or "pathological". Quite a few othewise totally normal dogs do it occasionally or oftener. Moreover generally it is not harmful, beyond perhaps involving ingestion of intestinal parisites from another dog (or another species), and that can be controlled by normal good worming practice (the monthly heartworm prevention medicines also prevent almost all other intestinal parisites except tapeworm and tapeworm comes from eating an infested flea, not from eating feces).

Although the canine behaviorist might well tell us that the copraphagic dog does not have a "problem" and , rather, that it is we, the humans, who have the problem of finding copraphagia "disgusting" , still the fact remains that most of us would go to some degree of trouble to cure our dogs of this little habit.

HOW CAN WE (try to) CURE IT ?

A product called "Forbid" is advertised as a means of abolishing copraphagia. Supposedly mixing this product into the dog's food imparts such a vile taste to the resulting feces that the dog soon quits. Unfortunately those whom I know who have tried it report that it doesn't work very well. In fact no one has reported success. You can order Forbid from your vet or , less expensively, from various dog catalogs, especially veterinary supply catalogs. One such catalog says that 12 packets should cure most dogs. If that does not do it, then give up on this method for this dog.

Forbid is supposed to be made of vegetable protein, and I seem to recall reading somewhere that it is made from alfalfa. If so, then perhaps some ordinary alfalfa pellets or cubed alfalfa from the livestock feed store might be helpful. I've known dogs who really seemed to enjoy gnawing on alfalfa cubes, eating some of the alfalfa; and most dogs enjoy snacking on horse poop and cow poop, which contains a great deal of partly digested alfalfa. I would be a little concerned about alfalfa cubes as something a dog might choke on (or you could soak the cube and then squash it into fragments) ; but alfalfa pellets should be safe and harmless and possibly valuable as substituting for the normal contents of the herbivorous prey animal's stomach and intestines, which would normally be eaten by a canine predator.

For the dog whose underlying problem is an insufficiency of digestive enzymes, supplementation with such enzymes mixed with the dog's food should be very helpful. Even if the copraphagia does not stop, the dog's overall health should benefit from better nutritional absorption. Mixtures of cellulase, lipase, protease, and amylase are sold under various names, such as Prozyme, Trenzyme. Several users have reported good success with Trenzyme. I have had partial success with an enzyme mixture sold under the name "Dr Goodpet" : 1 teaspoon per meal greatly improved his previously dull and brittle coat, eliminated his previously frequent spells of appallingly stenchy flatulence, and substantially reduced but did not completely eliminate the frequency of his copraphagia. I am just starting to try Trenzyme (2 tabs per meal) on this dog ; it is too soon to tell whether this will yield better results than Dr Goodpet. These mixtures can be obtained from your vet or from various catalogs at various prices.

An alternative digestive enzyme approach would be to try one of the "natural digestive enzyme supplements" made from papaya that are sold for human use in health food stores and pharmacies. I have not tried this, but it should be harmless and might be helpful. Likewise some have reported success by giving the dog canned crushed pineapple, which is very rich in the digestive enzyme bromaline


Supplementation with biotin, one of the B vitamins, has been reported to cure copraphagia in some dogs. Normally biotin is made in the dog's intestine, so perhaps those dogs cured by supplementation are ones whose own internal manufacture is deficient. Biotin can be bought at any health food store or the vitamin section at the pharmacy. Biotin is also one of the ingredients in a product called Itch-X, sold as therapy for various skin and hair disorders. Itch-X contains 6 mg of biotin per teaspoon (plus other vitamins and minerals), and the recommended dose for large dogs is 1/2 teaspoon per day, ie 3 gm of biotin per day. Biotin can be obtained at any store selling vitamins; Itch-X may be ordered through catalogs.

A canine nutritionist recommends switching the dog to a diet of maximum digestibility without dyes and artificial preservatives. Thus she recommended that I switch from Nature's Recipe to Sensible Choice or to Nutro Green, thus remaining on a lamb & rice formula, but eliminating wheat and ethoxyquin. She said it would take a month or more to tell if there was an improvement. This seems like it might be worth a try. Again, at worst it would do no harm.


Most of the methods described in the preceding section are aimed at truly curing the behavior by eliminating the underlying need which prompts the behavior. Since the underlying causes described are detrimental health problems, such a cure would also improve the dog's overall health. Thus a trial and error approach to attempt a success or partial success is recommended in the interests of the dog's welfare.

However if the underlying cause and cure cannot be identified, or if the success is only partial, the owner will doubtless still wish to eliminate the behavior by eliminating the dog's opportunities to indulge in it. This can be done in a very simple and obvious manner : rather than allowing the dog to defecate at a time and place of his own choosing and free from human supervision, his opportunities to relieve himself should be limited to regular walks, on or off lead, accompanied by a human. As soon as the dog defecates, the handler should either march the dog away or should scoop and dispose of the feces or do both. For apartment dwellers, this is the normal mode of life ; so those of us blessed with house and fenced yard have only to deactivate our dog doors and pretend we live in an apartment.

For those unable to control (eliminate) their dog's access to his own feces any other way, an anti-copraphagia muzzle could be a last resort. I recall seeing this in a British book (Woodhouse?) but have never seen them for sale in USA. However you can make one by cutting out plastic pieces from curved portions of plastic milk jug or water jug and attaching same to an ordinary wire basket style muzzle. Be sure muzzle is large enough to allow full open-mouth panting, easy vomiting, and water drinking. (Frankly I cannot justify making a dog live in a muzzle merely to control copraphagia, though I have used one to permit a sporadically dog-aggressive dog to remain as a house-dog rather than exile him to a kennel run. )


Finally of course you can give up and learn to live with the problem. It is , after all, essentially harmless to the dog and to those people around him. It's merely disgusting to you. Yes, it imposes a certain reserve to your welcoming of your dog's greeting kiss, but you will get used to automatically applying the sniff test.

You can even do as I have done, applying a sense of humor by writing a song about it. Mine goes to the tune of West Side Story's "I Feel Pretty." Those of you who are currently coping with a copraphagic dog may have a copy by sending a SASE; the rest will have to use your imagination.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 1994 revised 8/09/03
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