The Animal Doctor

Poop-Eating Pooches

DEAR DR. FOX: My wife and I have three Westies. One is 11 years old, the other two are puppies, at 7 months old. The two puppies go out every morning at 7:30 to pee before coming in to eat breakfast. Breakfast is canned food (vet-recommended brand) followed by going outside again to play and poop. If we don't watch them closely, they roam the yard, then go back and eat poop. They have dry food they eat any time during the day, so we don't think it is a dietary issue.

Can you enlighten us about this strange behavior of eating poop? We control it some, by doing "poopie patrol" one or two times a day to remove temptation. -- K.B., Tulsa, Oklahoma

DEAR K.B.: Dogs engage in this behavior, called coprophagia, for various reasons.

This is normal behavior for some species such as rabbits and infant koalas, who eat the partially digested feces of their mothers. Mother dogs will ingest the excrement of their pups especially during the nursing phase, which in the wild would help keep the den clean. Wolves and other wild canids may consume cubs' feces around the den until they learn to evacuate farther away.

With these thoughts in mind, I interpret coprophagia as first a cleaning-up behavior. People have told me that their dogs started eating their poop in the yard when the dogs saw their owners picking up the poop! I therefore advise people to clean up their yards with their dogs kept indoors.

But the most common reason for coprophagia is related to what the dogs are being given to eat. This opinion is based on many years responding to this issue in my column and learning what works to prevent such behavior, which does have aspects of a "vice" or "depraved appetite." Manufactured dog foods have many dietary deficiencies, and dogs on a biologically complete and balanced, whole-food, human-grade ingredient-certified content diet rarely engage in compensatory coprophagia or geophagia, or dirt-eating. Eating grass and vomiting on occasion is a perfectly normal cleansing/purging activity.

When dogs have a clear craving to eat their own or others' feces, they may be lacking essential nutrients in their diets. Many species engage in geophagia, including dogs and humans. When such a source of minerals, beneficial bacteria (probiotics) and possible enzymes and other micronutrients are not available (some kinds of soil being more attractive to animals than others), coprophagia may become the substitute. Dogs eating the feces of other species may well obtain probiotics and micronutrients lacking in their regular diets.

Manufactured pet foods are heat-processed, destroying beneficial bacteria and various essential nutrients and enzymes. Transition your dogs onto my home-prepared dog food recipe (posted at www.DrFoxOneHealth.com) or a raw (frozen or freeze-dried) organic dog food, with a little of their regular foods on the side in decreasing amounts. Add probiotics (human-grade and same daily suggested amount as for people) and a teaspoon of crushed, unsweetened pineapple, a natural source of digestive enzymes. For minerals, I would give a sprinkling of pyrophyllite clay from www.vitalityherbsandclay.com or give one human one-a-day multimineral capsule to a 50-pound dog.

I would not put out dry food for them to eat whenever they want to -- obesity may result! Keep me posted on your dogs' progress.

APHIS UPDATES PET TRAVEL WEBSITE FOR VETERINARIANS AND OWNERS

The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service recently updated its Pet Travel website, which contains information regarding rules for pet travel abroad.

The site contains general information for pet owners and veterinarians, including country-specific rules and guidance; required examinations, tests and certifications; and steps for electronic submissions of required documentation through APHIS' online Veterinary Export Health Certification System. -- JAVMA News (2/27)

GENE VARIANT MIGHT CLOAK SOME PEOPLE FROM SEARCH AND RESCUE DOGS' NOSES

Some people have a variant of the serotonin transporter gene SLC6A4 that may cause their odor to change when they are under stress, possibly explaining why police dogs sometimes can't detect missing people, according to a study presented at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences' annual meeting.

Researchers found that the odor of people with a short version of the gene likely changed when they felt fear, and dogs couldn't identify those people based on their original scent. -- Science News (2/27)

This certainly supports the belief that dogs can probably smell when a person is fearful of them.

(Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)

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