{byline}{&by1}By Gail Fisher{/byline}

IN MY LAST COLUMN, I wrote about dogs ingesting nonfood items, which is known as pica. Pica is different from coprophagia, which is eating feces — an unpleasant topic, but more common that you might think. The reasons for coprophagia are not always clear, but there are a number of possible, even probable, causes.

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Some dogs eat only their own (autocoprophagia), while some eat only other dogs’ feces (intraspecies coprophagia). Many dogs are attracted to the feces of other animals (interspecies) such as rabbit, horse or cat feces. As for interspecies coprophagia, as abhorrent as this to us, I think we can pretty much surmise that cat feces simply tastes good to dogs.

Certainly one of the most offensive and distressing things our dogs do, coprophagia’s possible causes include age-related, medical, nutritional and behavioral. Here’s a rundown of some of the theories:

• Age-related. Often puppies will eat feces, likely as part of their exploratory behavior, when virtually everything goes into their mouths. This is the one type of coprophagia that is often outgrown as the puppy matures.

• Nutritional. One theory is that coprophagia is related to something missing in the diet, or improper digestion. It might also be hunger-related.

Feed your dog twice a day, and try a diet change to a high-quality natural dry dog food or a home-cooked diet. Speak to your veterinarian who may suggest additives. Papaya enzyme is sometimes helpful, as well as adding fiber to your dog’s diet with pumpkin puree (not pie filling) mixed into his food (a teaspoon to a cup depending on your dog’s size). If your dog has been on antibiotics, it’s helpful to mix in some yogurt or probiotics available from a health food store.

• Medical/physical. A veterinary check-up should include ruling out intestinal parasites, especially critical if a dog eats feces other than its own.

Other medical conditions can contribute to coprophagia. One of our Doggy Daycare dogs was practically ravenous to eat stools. Working closely with the owner, we tried everything we could think of, but it wasn’t until the vet ran blood tests that it was discovered the dog had a thyroid problem. Once on medication, the coprophagia reduced to a level we could deal with through supervision and training.

• Behavioral. Coprophagia, like pica, might result from boredom or lack of exercise. The solution: exercise and finding an outlet for your dog’s energies in a day care, through training, through a dog sport activity such as agility or scent work, and the like.

It might also be a learned behavior either from watching another dog, or even from accompanying you as you clean up your yard. Stool eating can also be an attention-getting behavior — after all, it certainly does get your attention.

Solutions to behavioral coprophagia are all about management and training. Management means preventing your dog from getting to the stool by cleaning it up. If you can’t supervise and clean up, accustom your dog to a muzzle and don’t let her out without it. Train your dog to come when you call, and call your dog before she heads for the feces. Train your dog to “leave it” — move away from something — on cue. Break the cycle, and eventually you should be able to relax your supervision.

Gail Fisher, author of “The Thinking Dog” and a dog behavior consultant, runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a topic for this column, which appears every other Sunday, email gail@alldogsgym.com or write c/o All Dogs Gym, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. Past columns are on her website.

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