They got him as a puppy last August. My dad, never much of a cuddler with us kids, now carries Petey around the house speaking a type of man-baby talk that I don’t remember ever hearing come out of his mouth before. He and Petey even take naps together every afternoon.
But on a recent visit, I discovered Petey’s fatal flaw. His most favorite snack is…(pause for dramatic effect)…his own poo.
“Right on,” I thought. “I never did that!” I may still win this popularity contest.
You really have to keep an eye on the guy when you take him out for walks. He’s smart. He’ll run to a spot where you can’t see him, do his business, and then munch away on it directly. If I’m making you a little sick with my description, I’m sorry, but imagine my pain in having to witness this little horror scene every day of my two-week visit.
The technical term is “autocoprophagy,” eating one’s own feces. There are a number of animals that do this and generally the purpose seems to be to gain additional nutrients. For example, rabbits have poor digestive systems, so they send their food through twice, but never eat their waste the second time.
Autocoprophagy and coprophagy (that is, the eating of other animals’ feces) by dogs is not well-studied and therefore not well-understood. Veterinarian Erik Hofmeister and colleagues at Washington State University list several theories as to why dogs may do this:
1) Dietary deficiency.
2) The dog is fed too frequently or too infrequently.
3) Medical problems such as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, pancreatitis, intestinal infections, malabsorptive syndromes.
4) Attention-seeking behavior: the dog gets attention from its owner by being reprimanded for eating feces.
5) Mimicry: the dog observes the owner picking up feces or sees other dogs eating it and mimics them.
6) Keeping the living space clean: this may arise if owners fail to clean up feces frequently enough.
7) Dominance behavior: some submissive dogs will consume the feces of dominant dogs in the household.
8) It simply tastes good.
While this behavior is disgusting for the owner to observe, the good news is that it does not harm the dog.
Hofmeister recommends bringing the dog to a veterinarian in order to rule out any medical reasons for the behavior. If there is no underlying medical cause, the only recommendations are to make sure that the dog’s living space is clean and to use positive reinforcement to train the dog not to eat feces.
In other words, train the dog to eat the type of biscuits that come in a box, not from its own personal conveyor belt. If Petey takes to his training and stops this gross habit, my brother and I will be forever in second place in the eyes of my dad. But it’s hard to see Petey’s cute little face and be too upset about it.