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Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?

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For a species that tends to be portrayed as noble, intelligent, and discriminating, some dogs sure do love to eat poop. Their fecal snacking extends to foreign excrement, litter boxes, and even their own waste. Some have been known to contort their bodies and devour a number two as it exits, refusing to let the waste go to waste.

Why do some dogs become fecal vacuums while other turn their nose at it? There’s no one definitive answer, but there are a few pretty reasonable suggestions.

Benjamin Hunt, Ph.D., a veterinary behaviorist and professor at the University of California, Davis, published a study in 2012 that surveyed 3000 pet owners. His research discovered that 16 percent of the sampled dogs had practiced coprophagia—eating poop—at least five times. Of those, nearly all had devoured another dog’s deposits. Interestingly, over half of the guilty parties were identified as “greedy eaters” who would snatch food from tables. Hunt also learned multi-dog households were more likely to encounter the behavior, possibly because their backyard doubles as a fecal buffet.

These poop munchers likely all have one thing in common: mommy issues. “Puppies don’t have the reflexes at birth to initiate urination or defecation on their own, and they require their mother to stimulate them,” says Nick Dodman, a professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Mom licks their behinds, eats whatever they produce, and also cleans the “nest” of larger deposits the only way she can. “Puppies are greeted by their mum eating feces. To them, that’s what the world does.”

While some outgrow the behavior, other dogs keep eating, typically preferring fresh stool over stale offerings. (In Hunt’s study, most turd tasting was done less than 24 hours after elimination.) Dodman theorizes diets that are low in residue tend to produce softer, tastier movements, and that switching to a high-fiber menu may prompt an aversion to poop. “The texture is completely different. Instead of a tasty toothpaste, it’s something more like cardboard.”  

Of course, that won’t stop your pet from gobbling someone else’s leftovers. “It’s sort of like trying to give up cigarettes,” Dodman says.

If a dietary change doesn’t work, it’s best to pick up waste often so they’re not tempted—or get a poodle. Of all the animals in Hunt’s sample, the breed had no documented habit of scatological snacking. 

Additional Sources:
“Canine Conspecific Coprophagia; Who, When and Why Dogs Eat Stools [PDF]”    

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Sophie Gamand
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Art
This Photographer Is Changing People's Perceptions of Pit Bulls, One Flower Crown at a Time
Sophie Gamand
Sophie Gamand

Like many people, Sophie Gamand wasn’t always the biggest fan of pit bulls. As a volunteer photographer for animal shelters, she used to tense up any time she saw one.

And then something changed. In 2014, the New York-based photographer decided to confront her fear and take on a project that would force her to interact with pit bulls, My Modern Met reports. Initially, she wanted to see for herself if pit bulls were really as dangerous as people claim they are, and what she learned surprised her.

She “discovered the sweet and gentle nature of pit bulls, and how obedient and eager to please they are,” Gamand tells Mental Floss. “They are goofy, loving, and very attached to people.”

Equipped with her new mindset, she decided to photograph the dogs individually with colorful flower crowns adorning their heads in hopes of challenging the public's perception of pit bulls. And it worked.

A pit bull with a flower crown
Sophie Gamand

Gamand says animal shelter staff often tell her that her photos, which she posts on social media with a brief description of each dog's personality, have saved countless dogs from being euthanized and have helped many others find forever homes. “They have helped dogs get adopted who had had zero interest for months or even years,” she says.

Over the last few years, she has photographed over 400 pit bulls, and her images will be published in a forthcoming coffee table book titled Pit Bull Flower Power: The Book. It will be released in October for Pit Bull Awareness Month.

She says the stereotype of pit bulls being overly aggressive is “completely unfounded,” adding that genetics have little to no influence on a dog’s personality. What makes the difference, though, is proper care and training, which is why she’s dedicating her life’s work to helping the dogs find loving homes.

Plus, the dogs love the photo shoots. "These are all shelter dogs who spend most of their time in a cage," Gamand says. "They are so happy for all the attention, treats, and love they get on the shoot. They love nothing more than to be good boys and girls—learning tricks, sitting to get a cookie. It’s their special moment. Each shoot is a team effort between the handler, the dog, and myself."

Her photos have spread far and wide via social media, and she now receives requests to visit animal shelters all over the world, from India to Kuwait to China. Prior to Pit Bull Flower Power, Gamand’s first book, Wet Dog—which features, you guessed it, adorable dripping dogs—was published in 2015.

Keep scrolling to see more of Gamand's Flower Power series, and check out this project and others on her Instagram page and website.

A pit bull with a flower crown
Sophie Gamand

A pit bull with a flower crown
Sophie Gamand

A pit bull with a flower crown
Sophie Gamand

A pit bull with a flower crown
Sophie Gamand

[h/t My Modern Met]

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Canine Flu is On the Rise: Here's What You Should Know
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It's been eight years since the World Health Organization announced the end of the swine flu pandemic, and now the condition is back in the news for infecting a different type of host. As Live Science reports, the H1N1 virus is mixing with canine flu to create new strains that could potentially spread to people.

Dog flu has been around for a couple of decades, but the two main canine strains, H3N8 and H3N2, have never been contracted by humans. According to a new study published in mBio, some dogs in the Guangxi region of China were found carrying H1N1, the flu strain at the root of the swine flu outbreak. Researchers also discovered three entirely new flu strains that were a combination of H1N1 and regular dog flu viruses.

The unrecognized flu strains are the most troubling discovery. As the flu travels between species, it mingles with viruses that are already there, creating a level of genetic diversity that leaves our immune systems, which are best equipped to fight strains they've already been exposed to, vulnerable. The swine flu epidemic of 2009 started in a similar way, when H1N1 jumped from birds to pigs, and eventually to people.

But the new report isn't a reason to banish your pet to the doghouse next time she seems under the weather. The virus samples were collected from dogs in China between 2013 and 2015, and in the years since, zero humans have caught influenza from dogs (though dog flu has started spreading to cats). If the virus continues mutating to the point where it can infect humans, both the CDC and U.S. Department of Agriculture will take action. But for now, the CDC states that canine flu viruses "pose a low threat to people."

Canine flu may not be dangerous to humans yet, but it can still be stressful for dog owners if their pet comes down with a case. Ask your vet about getting your dog vaccinated, and if you see your dog coughing, sneezing, and acting less energetic than usual, make an appointment to get him checked out as soon as possible. If he does have the flu, he can be treated with plenty of rest and hydration.

[h/t Live Science]

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