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Eating Bowel Movements (Coprophagia) in Dogs

Understanding Your Pet's Medical Diagnosis

What is coprophagia?

Coprophagia is defined as eating any type of bowel movement (feces). Coprophagia is considered a natural evolutionary behavior used by wild dogs to sustain themselves during times when food was unavailable. Mother dogs (breeding bitches) commonly eat the feces of their puppies in order to keep the nesting area clean. This usually occurs until the puppies have reached 3 weeks of age and physically are able to pass their stool away from the nest. Dogs also may eat bowel movements from cats living in their household or from farm animals.

What causes coprophagia?

Coprophagia may be a behavioral problem or secondary to a medical problem. Coprophagia may be a type of behavioral coping mechanism for an animal that is caught in a stressful situation, such as a sudden environmental change. It can be a tactic to avoid punishment for having a bowel movement in an inappropriate area. Coprophagia can be taught to a puppy during housebreaking; if the puppy is scolded or he sees the pet guardian "cleaning up" the bowel movement in the house, the puppy may learn to "hide" the bowel movement by eating it. Internal parasites or diseases that affect major organ systems (such as the pancreas or thyroid gland) may cause an animal to exhibit coprophagia. Internal parasites and some diseases can prevent the absorption of dietary nutrients; therefore, the animal may remain hungry even after consuming a meal and it may turn to eating bowel movement. Coprophagia may be a sign of an underlying medical problem.

What are the signs of coprophagia?

Coprophagia is a sign. Some common clinical signs associated with coprophagia include bad breath, vomiting, diarrhea, frequent urination (polyuria), and increased drinking (polydipsia).

How is coprophagia diagnosed?

While coprophagia often is diagnosed on the basis of the pet guardian's complaint, a thorough history regarding the animal's environment, diet, and handling must be taken. It is important to determine whether the coprophagia is of behavioral or medical origin. Therefore, an evaluation of the pet's diet, physical examination, blood and urine tests, and analysis of specific organ function may be required to diagnose coprophagia.

How is coprophagia treated?

The treatment of coprophagia depends on whether it is a purely behavioral problem or whether it is a sign of an underlying medical disease. Behavioral coprophagia can be prevented by eliminating access to bowel movement (feces), distracting the animal with food rewards, and using behavioral modification techniques. In some cases, the bowel movement can be made less appealing through the application of specific products recommended by your veterinarian. These products make the bowel movement taste bad (unpalatable) to discourage coprophagia. Coprophagia caused by an underlying medical disease usually resolves if the disease can be treated successfully.

What is the prognosis for animals with coprophagia?

The prognosis for an animal exhibiting behavioral coprophagia is excellent, if the pet guardian is able to follow the recommendations provided by the veterinarian consistently. The prognosis for coprophagia caused by a medical problem varies, depending upon the severity of the underlying disease and the response to treatment.

Larry Tilley's Recommended Info site (www.VetMedCenter.com)