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Top ten reasons dogs eat poop (and what the heck to do about it anyway)

Posted Feb 15 2010 10:00pm

Yesit’s disgusting. Yesit’s potentially unhealthy. Yes it seems strange. Why an animal would choose to eat another’s stool is so non-human a concept as to thoroughly disgust almost any self-respecting pet owner (except perhaps Mr. Dalíwhose notorious preference for the scatological almost makes me hope he never kept any pets). 

Then there are those who happily snack on their own stoolapparently with the same relish they initially consumed its ingredients. Yeswe think that’s sooooo nasty. Which is why we’ll never wholly appreciate this behavior in our dogsmuch though there may be logical reasons for the practice we call coprophagia. 

Consider that rabbits do it several times a day. Here’s a great explanation from a self-described hare-obsessed University of Miami researcherDr. Dana Krempels:

“Unlike most other mammalslagomorphs (including domestic rabbits) produce two types of droppingsfecal pellets (the rounddry ones you usually see in the litterbox) and cecotropes. The latter are produced in a region of the rabbit's digestive tract called the cecuma blind-end pouch located at the junction of the small and large intestines. The cecum contains a natural community of bacteria and fungi that provide essential nutrients and may even protect the rabbit from potentially harmful pathogens.

How does the rabbit get those essential nutrients? She eats the cecotropes as they exit the anus. The rabbits blissful expression when she's engaging in cecotrophy (the ingestion of cecotropes) will tell you that she finds this anything but disgusting. In factrabbits deprived of their cecotropes will eventually succumb to malnutrition. Cecotropes are not feces. They are nutrient-packed dietary items essential to your companion rabbit's good health.

A rabbit may produce cecotropes at various times during the dayand this periodicity may vary from rabbit to rabbit. Some produce cecotropes in the late morningsome in the late afternoonand some at night. In any casethey usually do this when you're not watching (quite polite of them). This might be why some people refer to cecotropes as ‘night droppings,’ though cecotropes are not always produced at night. A human face is apparently an excellent and refreshing palate-cleanseras a favorite activity immediately post-cecotrophy often seems to be ‘kiss the caregiver.’ Mmmmmm.”

But even a profound understanding of the biology does nothing to ease our disgust or assuage our sensibilities in this regard. I meandogs are not rabbits. They don’t need to eat stool. Or do they? 

Just as for eating grass (see last week’s post on this)an understanding of the whys of poop eating is on the top five list of things Internet-using dog owners wish they understood..because maybe then they could make it go away for good. To that endhere are my top ten reasons for why dogs might engage in this disgusting behavior:

1-Because it tastes good.

2-Because they’re hungry...and it tastes good.

3-Because they’re missing key nutrients in their diet...and it tastes good.

4-Because they like to clean up their territory...and it tastes good.

5-Because they have fun playing with it (especially mouthy dogs)...and it tastes good.

6-Because they’re bored...and it tastes good.

7-Because dispatching the evidence means no punishment...and it tastes good.

8-Because dispatching the evidence means fewer predators...and it tastes good.

9-Because intestinal malabsorption may mean poop is potentially nutritious.

10-And because it smells goodtoo.

Andyesit's always possible we just don't yet completely understand why healthynormal dogs may benefit from routine coprophagia.

OK so that was the easy part. The hard part is getting your dog to stop eating stool. For thatI’ll enlist you to help me along.

But firstI’ll offer a simple question: Is it really all that horriblethis fecal material consumption? And the answer: You knownot so much. As long as the animals' feces are fresh and parasite-free it’s not really as health-threatening as you might suppose. Thank God for small favorsright?

Now it’s your turn...


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