JD Allinder

A Post About Poop

In Posts on August 31, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Coprophagia is the ingestion of one’s own feces or the feces of another animal. There are several theories about why canines (and other animals) engage in this inconvenient behavior. It has been suggested that coprophagia is a consequence of curiosity  in young animals where they use their mouths to explore the environment. Another theory suggests that the behavior helps the animal establish specific intestinal flora in the gut, and some scientists believe that eating feces compensates for some nutritional deficiency by utilizing the deoxycholic acid present in the waste. I don’t know if my opinion on the subject is original or unconsciously informed by an amalgamation of all the reading I’ve done on canines over the past decade or so, but I’ve come to believe coprophagia, at least in canines, is used for survival. While canines don’t hibernate, much of their prey do, and the winter months can be especially brutal. With minimal vegetation and fierce competition from birds of prey, canines are able to obtain enough nutrients from the scat of others – deer droppings, for example – to see them through ’til spring.

It’s really an amazing adaptation method, and canines are specially designed from head to tail (literally) to accommodate it. The ability to safely ingest scat begins in the dog’s mouth where the presence of large amounts of lysozyme, which destroys pathogenic bacteria, are in the saliva. (Human lysozymes are found in tears, saliva, mucus, and breast milk. Interestingly, children raised on formula have three times the rate of diarrheal disease since lysozymes provide protection from pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli, and pseudomonas.) The dog’s digestive tract is much shorter than ours: 20-80 cm compared to our long and winding road  of 1.5 m. The dog’s food, including ingested poop, passes within 24-48 hours. (Humans can take up to 72 hours.) Additionally, the dog’s stomach acid is highly corrosive. With a pH of 1-2, as compared to humans’ 4-5, the dog’s stomach acid kills most of the bacteria ingested and explains why he can safely eat raw meat, bones, carrion, and, yes, poop.

Jane eats poop. I know all of the above information, because when my dog exhibits a particular behavior, like copraphagia, I turn to science for answers and, hopefully, comfort. Unfortunately, no amount of science buffers my disgust of eating poop. I know it’s natural, and necessary in certain contexts, but it’s gross! I went through this with Georgia, and she eventually outgrew the habit or so feared my response to poop eating that she figured it wasn’t worth it. Jane’s not there yet. Her response when I see her mouth chomping on cat scat, duck doo doo, or deer droppings, and take off running toward her screaming “No! Stop! Eww! Gross!” is to chomp faster, to delight in as much of the delicacy as possible before I reach her. In other words, in her mind, whatever punishment I dole out – and she knows it’ll never be anything more than me screaming and stomping (and gagging) – is worth it.

She doesn’t eat her own poop, thank goodness. (I’ve heard of very few dogs who do this, and I suspect it’s indicative of an untreated neurosis.) She also doesn’t eat dog poop, though she’s of course got a healthy interest in sniffing it, which is normal – that’s how dogs learn about each other. Last winter she exhibited a fancy for coyote caca, but I was successful in breaking her of that. (We ran into coyote scat just this morning near St. Joe’s hospital. Jane sniffed it and moved on.) Like most dogs, Jane hates cats but wants to eat their poop. I’ve been pretty successful in curbing this craving, though, too. Same with deer scat: she’s into it, but I can call her off of it pretty easily. The big problem, though, the Holy Grail in her mind, is goose poop. I don’t know what’s in it, but she will risk life and limb for goose poop. It’s doggie pate. Georgia loved it, too. (I got her off it as a youngster, but she returned to it in her old age.) Jane’s lust for the stuff shows no sign of abating, and, where we live, it’s in abundance year round, especially in grassy areas along the river. The problem is somewhat easier to manage in the winter – goose poop is easier for me to spot on snow and ice than it is on grass – but Jane’s hankering for the stuff is only magnified with the falling of the mercury: Goose poop pops are a special, winter-only delicacy. They’re the truffles of the dog world.

Jane ran into the neighbors’ yard this morning and downed a mouthful of cat scat. Yesterday she got into a pile of doo doo of unknown origin in the brush alongside the dirt road where we were enjoying a lazy Sunday stroll. Tomorrow it’ll probably be something else – another day, another dookie. I will keep screaming, pulling out my hair, gnashing my teeth, and keeping my fingers crossed that, in time, Jane’ll develop a more discriminate palate and realize that the B.A.R.F. I lovingly feed her at home beats (paws down) the poop she purloins in the park.

Jane the Coprophag

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  1. Argh!!! Mark Jr has Jude’s ears covered!!! Goose poop popsicles!!! How very true! The worst is when our dogs come at us with lips green with goose poop and want a kiss!!! Flee!!!

  2. Very entertaining… in a disgusting sort of way. (yuk.. but also a yukyukgiggle here and there)

  3. I hate to take this one step further but, unfortunately, my pooch goes for poop of the human variety. Living in a city (and having a back alley) makes this stuff occassionally available and man, oh, man…talk about jumping and screaming! Strangely enough she also loves to eat discarded mint gum although I’ve never had the good luck of those two events happening on the same day!

  4. Yeah, I wasn’t going to go there, but you’re right. Dogs love human poop, too. I live in a city as well, and we have our share of homeless people, junkies, and drifters. We’ve also got lots of alleys where they relieve themselves. Jane’s hasn’t got into human poop yet, but my last dog, Georgia, did a time or two. I can think of few things (actually none) more vile.

  5. Ohmygoodness,
    Clark is just as bad as Jane. The only comfort in this situation is knowing that it’s not unusual and that he’s not going to die from it (after reading your article). I know all about the screaming. I do believe that he got tape worms a couple of times in the past because of this nasty habit.

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