As unappetizing as it may sound, coprophagia, the act of consuming feces, is common with dogs. In most cases, this act is behavioral, though medical conditions, such as malnutrition can contribute. In addition to being a highly undesirable behavior, your dog's coprophagia can increase his risk of exposure to various parasites and infections. While some dogs choose to eat their own feces, the greatest risk occurs when eating feces from other dogs or other animals.
Animal feces, regardless of species, host a variety of different parasites. Roundworms, hookworms and whipworms spread through exposure to fecal matter, as do giardia and coccidian. If you also have a feline companion, the litter box may offer a buffet for your dog. Unfortunately, cat feces can carry the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which causes toxoplasmosis. Symptoms vary based on the parasite involved but can include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and weight loss. If left untreated, parasitic infestation can be fatal.
Canine hepatitis, caused by adenovirus type 1, is a highly contagious viral disease. While commonly transmitted through contact with contaminate urine, hepatitis can spread through the ingestion of infected feces. Symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, pain while eating, yellowing of the eyes and gums, seizures and increased thirst and urination. Because vaccines are available for canine hepatitis, those at greatest risk include puppies and unvaccinated dogs.
Canine parvovirus, or CPV, is a highly contagious viral infection that spreads through direct and indirect contact with an infected dog. Parvovirus sheds in the feces of infected animals and can survive in the stool and surrounding soil for up to a year. Ingesting the feces will spread the virus, though simply sniffing infected feces is enough to cause infection. Symptoms of parvovirus include severe and bloody diarrhea, vomiting, anorexia, lethargy and fever. Because vaccinations against parvovirus are available, puppies and unvaccinated dogs are at the greatest risk.
While coprophagia is typically a behavioral issue, it is best to rule out any underlying causes of the behavior, such as poor nutrition. Talk with your veterinarian to ensure you are feeding your dog an appropriate diet and he is getting the necessary nutrients. Adding enzyme supplements may be necessary to improve digestion or absorption, but don't do it without a vet consultation. Clean your dog’s living area of all feces on a regular basis. If your yard is open to other dogs, check the yard for feces and dispose of it before allowing your dog to go outside. When taking your dog to local parks or a walk around the neighborhood, keep him away from other animal feces. Keep your cats' litter boxes out of his reach.