PICA in dogs

Why do dogs eat faeces? It’s also called ‘COPROPHAGY’ or ‘PICA’ and most dog owners have had to suffer this habit at some point of ownership. Understanding why a dog might choose to do this is a start to understanding how we stop it, so let’s look at possible reasons.

Maybe your dog is in a small yard, or only running on a chain with a kennel. This could lead to boredom and lack of stimulation therefore he chooses faeces eating as some sort of relief to his lack of exercise.

  • Do you regularly play with your dog, walk him, take notice of him – or is the only attention he receives a telling off? Well, this is better than nothing, so he may eat in order to be told off.

  • A nursing bitch will clean up after pups and occasionally herself. This keeps her nest clean. She will stimulate the pup by licking it to aid with its motions. This is all natural, and stems from when a dog was a wild pack animal. Natural instincts run deep in our domestic dogs, and sometimes the behaviour generalises to other situations.

  • Coprophagy has also been associated with a lack of vitamins, especially B and K. It is thought that the dog is re-using any undigested foods left in its faeces. A balanced diet is obviously essential so as to provide your dog with all he needs, but some medical conditions prevent a dog making the most of the nutrients you provide. Vets can test for deficiencies if you feel this is the cause in your dog’s case.

Having looked briefly at reasons, what about cures? Assuming you have ruled out medical causes, the following may help;

  • – If your dog is bored, he may respond better to two or three short walks and/or play
    sessions a day than one long one.
    – Feed him little and often, preferably just before going for a walk. Keeping his
    stomach full of food removes the need to fill it up with other things.
    – A meat diet is said to result in faeces which are more tempting to the dog
    than those produced by a cereal based food. Swap to a good complete food which
    meets your dog’s energy requirements, i.e. active dogs need higher protein
    contents, as do puppies.
    – An iron tablet or a small amount of an acidic fruit like pineapple added to your
    dog’s dinner for a few days also changes the taste of the faeces (so we’re told!)
    and may help to put him off.
    – Clear up after your dog immediately so as to leave no temptation. Even if your dog
    is caught in the act, don’t resort to violence!  A calm voice command of “NO” and
    leading him away should be enough.
    – Watch your dog carefully and try to catch him before he starts to eat. Call him away.
    If he responds by coming to you and leaving it reward him either with words or a tidbit.
    A dog soon learns that a reward is better than being told off. Don’t expect to cure
    within a couple of attempts. This method takes time but it will be worth it.

  • Of course, there is the method of sprinkling nasty tasting foods over the offending items, but what’s nasty to us could be quite tasty to your dog and he’ll just eat it with more relish.

  • And of course, don’t forget to use very strict hygiene rules if your dog has this problem. Worm regularly. Don’t let the dog lick your face. And above all, avoid the dog’s breath!!

Finally, the problem of coprophagy is simple yet so extensive. No two dogs will do it for the same reason and no two dogs will be cured the same way. So, if none of this helps, our advice service may have more ideas you can try.

Tracey Thumwood