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My puppy is eating poop! Help! what do I do?

As a breeder of French Bulldogs, I often notice that many new pet parents want to give away their pup because their cute frenchie pup has ‘poop breath’ caused by puppies eating poop or animal droppings. They often cannot manage or tolerate to hug their cute french bulldog puppy after they have seen him or her repeatedly eating poop or fecal matter. In most case, french bulldog pups outgrow this nasty poop eating tendency if they have it at all in the first place. This happens much before they are handed over to their new pet parent mommy or pet parent daddy. There are however always a few exceptions. So what do you do if your frenchie puppy is eating poop?

When you google this there are many articles all over the internet giving confident information about the reasons for poop eating and also the methods for curing your dog or puppy from eating poop. This nasty habit is scientifically called coprophagia. Coprophagia is a dog’s tendency to eat poop whether it’s their own poop or the poop or droppings of other dogs or even droppings or poop of other animals. In fact, many pet stores carry commercial products including pills to give your dog or food additives for their meals which claim to cure this poop eating habit should it arise in your dog or puppy.

Surprisingly, each online article I read has different viewpoints although all agreed that this is a nasty habit forming problem. I realized each canine expert, each pet parent, each vet even has different opinions, reasons, and cures for poop eating. These reasons or opinions include reasons like dietary problems, a lack of nutrients (given that the modern dog’s commercial pet food diet lacks animal protein and includes more carbohydrates and plant protein), a canine penchant for the taste of foods eaten by other animals, greedy doggy eaters, careless pet parents who don’t give enough food to their pets, pet parents who don’t clean their dog’s living area, attention seeking doggy tactics (looking for even negative attention from their pet parents), under stimulated pets who suffer from boredom, doggy gastrointestinal issues, poor doggy digestive systems, excessive hunger due to worms. The list is endless.

The most interesting opinion and research I came across was that of Dr. Benjamin Hart, a veterinarian who directs the Center for Animal Behaviour at the University of California Davis. Dr. Hart along with some of his colleagues have investigated this poop eating or coprophagic tendency of dogs. Hart has published his research findings in the veterinary medicine and science journal detailing his theories and findings after an extensive research study conducted on why dogs eat poop or fecal matter. His theory delves into the basis for poop eating and hopes to shed light on the reasons for it and so indirectly looks at the efficiency of the multitude of commercial products and behavior modification methods for resolving the poop eating problems in dogs. If you read his research article in the journal you realize this problem arises from an age-old animal instinct and curing it may be a case of trying to cure a problem which could simply be age-old genetic instinct.

Animal behaviorist Steven R Lindsay in his ‘ Handbook of Applied Dog Behaviour and Training ‘ refers also to dietary motivations as being a plausible cause for coprophagy in dogs.

However, Hart states that there is no data specific research as yet that points to poop eating as being clinically connected to gastrointestinal disorders, specific nutritional deficiencies, the age of a dog, the number of dogs in a household, diet, compulsive behavior problems amongst other reasons he cites. Although traditionally many vets, breeders and pet parents do believe some or all of these factors contribute to the poop eating problem in dogs and are to be taken into account while finding a cure for the poop eating problem dog or pup.

I have always believed experienced opinions count for something. So as I read Hart’s research paper I had a doubt. It seemed to make sense and maybe there is a better approach to solving the problem! Is the age-old tradition of putting peppermint, tabasco sauce, chamomile, pepper spray is all wrong in its approach?

Hart’s theory is that dogs eat animal poop instinctively as a tendency inherited from the time of their wolf ancestors. Hart says coprophagic dogs do this to ensure their den environment is free of fecal-borne intestinal parasites that may be present in the dog’s living or resting area. Also, he points out coprophagic dogs eat fresh poop and do not eat fecal matter older than 2 days since that is the time it takes for the parasites in animal droppings to grow into infectious viruses or bacteria. So dogs eat fresh poop much before it becomes parasitic it harmful to them. While the modern-day domestic dog’s poop is relatively parasite free (more so as they rarely have a raw meat diet nowadays) animal instinct nevertheless remains deeply embedded in a dog’s psyche.

Hart’s analysis speculates that if his animal instinct theory were true it would mean that all the poop eating-related behavior modification methods and the many commercial pills and products in the commercial pet care market nowadays would not be able to cure the problem. Is there a pill to cure an animal instinct? More importantly, do we really want to breed animals instincts out of our pet animals? Is that really being fair to their species? Hart also discusses that if poop eating does indeed arise from nutrient or dietary deficiencies or from compulsive behavior disorders then behavior modification methods and the commercial anti poop eating products may be a viable solution or cure.

Of course, Hart’s paper relates mostly to coprophagic adult dogs and normal adult dogs who show signs of coprophagy and not to poop eating puppies.

I believe however that Hart’s theory of the instinctive need of pack animals to eat poop to protect vulnerable pack members may indeed hold the basis for poop eating habits in some cases. I believe this is nowhere more evident than in a french bulldog mother dog’s instinctive protection of her frenchie pups by eating poop to keep their environment clean. This holds true for all mommy dogs irrespective of whether pedigreed or stray or the breed they belong to.

It is normal behavior for mommy frenchie to clean up after her pups as any breeder who has seen litters will tell you. Cleaning up means, in the first three to four weeks of her puppies life, mommy dog will eat poop off the ground or even lick puppies clean after elimination of poop. She does this to keep the den clean and protect her pups by making sure no…

  • Parasites
  • Toxins
  • Viruses

…that may be present in the poop remain in their living area or resting area. Some puppies watching their mother or a mommy dog eating poop like this may mimic her actions. All puppies don’t but some may. Pups eat poop while observing her and also out of curiosity and this includes french bulldog puppies. All puppies are in the process of learning how to be dogs and french bulldog puppies are no exception to this rule. During this learning process, their role models are either their own French Bulldog mother or other adult french bulldogs around them and all puppies often learn by copying these other adult dogs or their own frenchie mother dog.

So if puppies eat poop as part of copying or mimicking for puppies this is, of course, normal behavior. Even more so as in the case of puppies almost everything pretty much goes into the french bulldog puppy’s mouth first as they are eager to experience the new world around them. When pups eat their own poop it is called autocoprophagia. Eating the poop of other animals is called allocoprophagia. Some puppies when they try eating poop once or twice, they are repulsed and that’s enough to stop them. Others may do it again and then gradually grow out of it. Eating their own poop is harmless for pups but it may not be if they eat other animal droppings since these may contain parasites, toxins, and viruses that are harmful to the pup.

Frenchie puppies if they do develop a taste for poop eating usually grow out of it when they are still young. In some cases, it may linger till nine months of age and then disappear by the time frenchie pups are one year of age. Rarely will puppies or dogs eat loose stools or diarrhea or turds older than 2 days.

However keeping normal behavioral, psychological and physiological reasons aside once their age for poop eating has passed if puppies continue to eat turds then it is a problem. If not dealt with appropriately this problem may develop into a nasty habit as the pup grows into adulthood.

So the next natural question is what to do to solve the problem if it develops? There are two parts of this one. What to do to stop poop eating in a small pup and what to do to stop poop eating in an older puppy or dog who should have stopped eating turds long back?

Well as a breeder of french bulldogs I think it’s important to keep in mind what Hart says about animal pack instincts. At the same time, we must also pay attention to a mother dogs ways of keeping her pups in a safe protected environment. Eating the fecal matter of her pups is one of these ways. Once we accept these natural behaviors as a part of our growing pups life it will be easier for us to wait it out or if too repulsive to find a solution which is not harmful to our frenchie puppy. Any emotional overreaction to poop eating will almost always produce a repeated incident of poop eating simply for attention even from the most pampered puppies. If the problem persists well past the pups the first year then you can consult a vet and eliminate any other possible issues that may or may not be causing or enhancing this problem.

A consultation with your vet will also rule out any underlying medical conditions like worms, intestinal parasites, nutrient deficiency, effects of drugs e.g. steroids, appetite increase caused by Cushings syndrome, thyroid, diabetes or malabsorption issues if any.

Next comes a visit to a frenchie behavior expert or animal behaviorist, a canine trainer or a dog care professional to rule out behavioral and psychological conditions and possible causes for such continued poop eating.

A psychological cause for your puppy to eat poop? Well it is very possible and the reasons for this could be attention seeking tactics by your french bulldog ( although this is unusual for a frenchie whose cuteness anyway gets them much human attention); stress or anxiety; keeping the puppies in isolation or restrictive confinement. In case of Frenchies, the last two points developing into behavior issues would indicate severe isolation or restrictive confinement.

There is today a multitude of commercial products available in pet stores and supermarkets to stop or restrict poop eating or coprophagy such as…

  • 21st-century Deterrence
  • Coproban
  • For- Bid
  • Dis-Taste
  • Potty Mouth
  • Stop Stool Eating
  • NaturVetDeterrant

…amongst many others. Do check with your vet and breeder if any of these would suit your puppy better or is it wiser to wait it out and watch.

Traditionally vets and breeders also prescribe vitamin supplements in the puppies food, enzyme supplements, meat tenderizers. Some breeders also use taste aversion sprays and foods e.g. yucca, peppermint, parsley, msg, a pepper plant, chamomile and so on.

Several trainers and dog care professionals try training puppies not to eat poop as well as recommend some hygiene management techniques for pet parents whose puppies may be having this problem. These include cleaning regularly the puppy’s living environment, rewarding the french bulldog puppy not to eat poo, keeping other animal litters/droppings out of the pup’s reach and a careful supervision during dog walks and in dog parks. It may even help to keep your frenchie puppy on a leash during this time when going for walks.