A study conducted by veterinary researchers at the University of California has revealed the reasons why some dogs tend to eat their own or others faeces.
Nearly 3000 dogs were studied in two separate tests; the first analysed 1552 dogs, made up of canines which were prone to canine conspecific coprophagy – the tendency to eat faeces – and those who weren’t.
The second test analysed 1475 dogs, all of which displayed canine conspecific coprophagy.
The findings revealed that 16% of dogs sampled engaged in frequent conspecific coprophagy – defined as having been seen eating stools at least six times. Of the respondents with frequent stool eaters, 79.6% reported seeing their dogs eating faeces more than 10 times.
No evidence was found relating the coprophagy to diet or the dog’s age.
Coprophagic dogs were more likely to be reported as ‘greedy eaters’ than non-coprophagic dogs. The coprophagy was overwhelmingly directed at fresh stools, defined as being no more than two days old.
In this survey, 82% of coprophagic dogs were described as consuming stools that were no more than two days old.
It was theorised that this was inherited from a dog’s wolf ancestors who would eat faeces to keep the den area free of faecal-borne intestinal parasites. Faeces newer than two days are not immediately infective so wolves would do this to reduce the likelihood of illness in the den.
Researchers concluded that while the answers were not definitive, the tendency was “medically harmless”.