Coprophagia, the consuming of fecal matter, is a frequent complaint by dog owners. Consequences include gastrointestinal (GI) upset,1 intestinal parasitic infection,2 transmission of infectious disease, medication toxicity,3,4 and owner disgust.
Generally, coprophagia is a normal behavior in nursing bitches in order to keep the den clean5 and briefly in puppies, presumably to help establish gut flora.6 Coprophagia has also been associated with attention-seeking behavior,7 lack of stimulation/enrichment, learned behavior from other dogs in the household, self-reinforcing behavior (presumed attractive smell/taste),7 hunger, play,7 environmental stress,5 and anxiety. Dogs acquired from pet stores are more likely to exhibit this behavior as compared with puppies from breeders.8 Although experimentally induced thiamine deficiency has been linked to coprophagia,9 dogs being fed commercial dog foods are typically on a well-balanced diet, making dietary deficiency low on the list of differentials.
At a minimum, physical and fecal examinations should be performed on dogs presenting with coprophagia.7,10 Because chronic pancreatic insufficiency,2,7 malabsorption,11 and starvation have been linked to coprophagia,12 pancreatic and GI function tests should be performed when GI involvement is suspected.
A thorough history should include diet,1 acquisition (eg, pet store, breeder), progression, frequency, owner presence during the behavior, source of animal feces being consumed (eg, wild animal, another dog in the household), health of other animals in the household,1 and location of consumption (eg, backyard, on walks). General information regarding other pets in the environment should also be obtained because in some cases, the feces being consumed may be from a particular pet. It is hypothesized that there is a greater attraction toward the feces of dogs that have decreased GI transit time, likely due to undigested food in their feces.12