Dogs are known for their indiscriminate eating habits and will eat some unusual things. Some dogs have even been seen ingesting fecal material (their own or from other animals). The medical term for this act is coprophagia, and its underlying causes are numerous. In this article we will focus on coprophagia due to deficiencies in digestive enzymes.
Reasons for Coprophagia
For some dogs, eating feces is a behavior learned from the littermates and/or mother. Watching other animals pick up feces and ingest it becomes a curiosity that can turn into an ingrained behavior.
However, dogs that are fed a low-quality food (or an insufficient amount of food) may also resort to eating feces in an instinctual attempt to balance out a dietary deficiency. This may be further exacerbated if your dog has a digestive enzyme deficiency, because it prevents any of the food’s nutrients to be properly absorbed by the body. Basically, your dog is attempting to eat feces in the hopes to forgo starving to death.
Diagnosing Enzyme Deficiency
Your veterinarian will need to take blood samples to make a diagnosis of digestive enzyme deficiency (called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, or EPI). Along with a history of loose, foul-smelling stools and weight loss, EPI in dogs can be diagnosed with relatively simple tests.
The underlying reason why an animal’s body stops producing adequate digestive enzymes may not always be discovered, but depending on the situation, your veterinarian may prescribe certain supplemental digestive enzymes and/or medications, such as antibiotics, as well as a dietary change.
Treating with Dietary Supplements
Dogs diagnosed with EPI require digestive enzyme supplements along with their food for the rest of their lives. These supplements break down the food so that the animal’s body can properly digest it, which in turn promotes weight gain and eventually an overall improvement in health.
As long as the act of eating feces has not become a habit, coprophagia should diminish as well. In the meantime, any feces should be cleaned up quickly and removed from the environment to prevent future incidences. Supplemental digestive enzymes and a highly digestible diet will also help make the stool seem less desirable to your dog.