Dogs will eat just about anything, including their own feces or that of other animals. As disgusting as this sounds, it's common enough to get a fancy medical name: coprophagy, from the Greek kopros (dung) and phagos (one who eats).
Yes, it's an unpleasant topic. But you have to realize sometimes coprophagy is a natural and normal act. Newborn puppies haven't yet learned to eliminate on their own, so the mother dog licks them to stimulate urination and defecation, and then licks them again to clean them up. In other circumstances, nature will prevent all that waste from...well, going to waste. For instance, cats need a higher percentage of fat in their diets than dogs, which means a higher level of waste fat in their stool. Anyone who has dogs and cats knows the pooch will have his nose in the litter box, searching out the leftover nutrient in "kitty chocolates."
When adult dogs eat their own stool, though, it's a different story. Usually, it's a sign of loneliness or boredom, although on occasion, miscues in housebreaking will result in the dog eating stool because he's learned the presence of stool sometimes gets him punished. Actually, coprophagy doesn't present any problem for dogs, with the possible exception of eating stool containing parasite eggs. It is a major aesthetic problem for the owner, however, who must witness it and whose face the dog then tries to lick. You can try to break the habit by relieving the dog's boredom or loneliness: Give him more attention and exercise, rotate his toys so he doesn't have to play with the same old thing all the time, and feed him more than once a day so he has something to look forward to.
Prevention is the only sure cure. Pick up after your dog right away, or muzzle a coprophagic dog when walking in public areas. Set up cat litter boxes where Rex can't get his nose into them -- or simply keep them clean of stool by scooping several times a day, especially before and after feline mealtimes.
When to Call the Vet
As soon as you notice this behavior, make a trip to the vet -- there may be a physical cause for a dog's coprophagy. A belly full of worms or other parasites could rob Rex's body of vital nutrients, and he might be eating whatever he can find to try and make up for it. There might also be a nutritional deficiency in his diet. Adding brewer's yeast to his food will boost his intake of B-vitamins. Pumpkin or raw carrot will add fiber to his diet and help him feel full. In some cases, solving the problem is as simple as switching Rex over to a food with more fat, fiber, or protein. Your vet can recommend a brand better suited to Rex's dietary needs.
A dog who constantly digs can be just as irritating and destructive as a dog who obsessively chews. In the next section, you will learn how to stop your dog from digging excessively.