CLOSE
IStock
IStock

Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?

IStock
IStock

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]”    

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
This Just In
What Pet Owners Need to Know About the Latest Dog Food Recall
iStock
iStock

A major food brand has announced a voluntary recall that concerns anyone feeding commercial pet food to their dog. As CBS News reports, dog meal and snack varieties from four brands have been tainted with pentobarbital, a chemical used in euthanasia drugs.

The compromised brands, all owned by the food company J.M. Smucker, include Kibbles 'N Bits, Gravy Train, Ol' Roy, and Skippy. Smucker has narrowed down the pentobarbital contamination to a single ingredient from a single supplier used at one of their manufacturing plants.

The pentobarbital was found in very low amounts where present and is "unlikely to pose a health risk to pets," the FDA said in a statement (any level of pentobarbital found in pet food, no matter how small, is enough to get a product pulled from shelves). Though the FDA notes that the risk to pets is low, it does warn of a few symptoms to look out for, including "drowsiness, dizziness, excitement, loss of balance, nausea, nystagmus (eyes moving back and forth in a jerky manner) and inability to stand." The agency says that pet owners who think their animal may be sick from eating the tainted food should head to the vet.

After making sure your dog is well, toss any of the recalled pet food you still have at home so it doesn't end up in a dog bowl by mistake. Here's the full list of products to look out for.

  • Gravy Train with T-Bone Flavor Chunks, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910052541
  • Gravy Train with Beef Strips, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 791052542
  • Gravy Train with Lamb & Rice Chunks, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910052543
  • Gravy Train with Chicken Chunks, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910034418
  • Gravy Train with Beef Chunks, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910034417
  • Gravy Train with Chicken Chunks, 22-ounce can, UPC 7910051645
  • Gravy Train with Beef Chunks, 22-ounce can, UPC 7910051647
  • Gravy Train Chunks in Gravy with Beef Chunks, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910034417
  • Kibbles ‘N Bits 12-can Variety Pack – Chef’s Choice American Grill Burger Dinner with Real Bacon & Cheese Bits in
  • Gravy, Chef’s Choice Bistro Tender Cuts with Real Turkey Bacon & Vegetables in Gravy, 12 pack of 13.2-ounce cans, UPC 7910010377, 7910010378
  • Kibbles ‘N Bits 12-Can Variety Pack – Chef’s Choice Bistro Hearty Cuts with Real Beef, Chicken & Vegetables in Gravy, Chef’s Choice Homestyle Meatballs & Pasta Dinner with Real Beef in Tomato Sauce, 12 pack of 13.2-ounce cans, UPC 7910010382, 7910048367, 7910010378
  • Kibbles ‘N Bits 12-Can Variety Pack – Chef’s Choice Homestyle Tender Slices with Real Beef, Chicken & Vegetables in Gravy, Chef’s Choice American Grill Burger Dinner with Real Bacon & Cheese Bits in Gravy, Chef’s Choice Bistro Tender Cuts with Real Beef & Vegetables in Gravy, 12 pack of 13.2-ounce cans, UPC 7910010380, 7910010377, 7910010375
  • Kibbles ‘N Bits Chef’s Choice Bistro Tender Cuts with Real Beef & Vegetables in Gravy, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910010375
  • Kibbles ‘N Bits Chef’s Choice Bistro Tender Cuts with Real Turkey, Bacon & Vegetables in Gravy, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910010378
  • Kibbles ‘N Bits Chef’s Choice Homestyle Tender Slices with Real Beef, Chicken & Vegetables in Gravy, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910010380
  • Ol’ Roy Strips Turkey Bacon, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 8113117570
  • Skippy Premium Chunks in Gravy Chunky Stew, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 79100502469
  • Skippy Premium Chunks in Gravy with Beef, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910050250
  • Skippy Premium Strips in Gravy with Beef, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910050245

[h/t CBS News]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
arrow
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios