DEAR DR. FOX: My German shepherds think going outside is a time to dine on bunny and deer droppings and any other disgusting thing they find. In the yard, on walks ... it doesn't matter. I give them yogurt in the hope it will counteract some of the germs.
Any suggestions other than buying a muzzle? -- K.E., Rockville, Md.
DEAR K.E.: This is one of the most frequent questions that I receive, and it is indicative that many dogs are trying to compensate for some dietary deficiency or digestive impairment (dysbiosis). Poop eating (coprophagia) in moderation is normal -- it's not some kind of depraved canine behavior. It is a natural instinct to obtain various trace nutrients from the bacterial action in the digested food excreted by herbivores. Rabbits and other species routinely eat their own feces as part of this nutrient-cycling process. Cultures of healthy human fecal bacteria are now being used to help improve the health of human patients, notably those suffering from obesity.
But when coprophagic behavior is obsessive, it could indicate a nutrient deficiency. Many dogs stop their coprophagia when put on a highly digestible dog food and when given a vitamin B-complex supplement, brewer's yeast or a daily dose of probiotics or "live" organic yogurt or kefir in their food. (Pasteurized yogurt is useless because the beneficial bacteria have been destroyed.)
Some dogs may engage in this behavior as a cleaning activity. More than one dog owner has told me that when they stopped allowing their dogs to see them picking up the poop around their property, the dogs stopped engaging in coprophagia.
AMERICA'S DOG AND CAT HEALTH ISSUES MIRROR HUMANS'
In a review of current major health problems in dogs and cats seen by a nationwide veterinary clinic business, 40 percent of dogs with arthritis and more than one in three arthritic cats (37 percent) are also overweight. Almost half of diabetic dogs (42 percent) and diabetic cats (40 percent) are overweight. Some 40 percent of dogs with high blood pressure and 60 percent of dogs with hypothyroidism are also overweight.
According to this 2012 Banfield Pet Hospital report, obesity affects one in five dogs and cats. The rise in overweight and obese pets mimics the increase in humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overweight and obesity in humans is also on the rise; the CDC reports that it has increased in humans to one in three (35.7 percent) U.S. adults.
While the rise in chronic diseases is a concern, so is the gap in medical care of cats. Despite the fact that there are more cats than dogs in the U.S., Banfield treated 1.5 million more dogs than cats in 2011. Cats, however, are just as susceptible to serious chronic diseases as dogs. One of the most significant diseases highlighted in this report is chronic kidney disease, a common cause of death in cats. This disease increased by 15 percent since 2007, and it is nearly seven times more common in cats than in dogs. Clearly, people with cats need to go for veterinary health checkups more frequently, or get vets to perform house calls, which is less stressful for most cats.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 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 www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.)