Living With Animals: Dogs and Litterboxes

By Hope Bidegainberry on May 11, 2018

On the topic of doggy bad breath (and routine dental care) a few weeks ago, I mentioned one cause may be what some dogs choose as “snacks”: to put it less delicately, the sad fact that some dogs who live with cats may be fond of “cleaning” those litterboxes. As nice as it may be not to have to do that chore ourselves, this is not a great idea. And while some researchers believe there may be certain chemicals in feces which are helpful to a young wild canid’s development, a dog’s healthy diet obviously eliminates any actual need to eat poop (technically coprophagia).

Most puppies attempt to chew everything smaller than their own heads, and so a lot of poop eating in young dogs is simple exploratory behavior. Some eat poop out of boredom, some in an attempt to attract attention (negative attention being better than no attention), or out of generalized anxiety. And for some, litterboxes might just offer a tempting “hot meal.” I know, gross!

Poop eating can lead to worse things than poopy smelling breath (such as internal parasites) but for the most part this is an aesthetic and behavioral issue rather than a medical one. One of my dogs cured himself of the habit when the covered litterbox lid got stuck on his head: I have to admit I was so busy laughing as he raced through the house with the lid “attacking” him that I might not have come to his rescue as quickly as he wished. I’ve convinced other dogs to stop this noxious habit by dosing fresh cat turds with Tabasco, leaving them to discover that extra spice.

Keep the litterbox clean, and know a well exercised dog who feels part of the family life is less likely to pick up bad habits, coprophagia among them. As always, positive reinforcement for good behavior (playing with toys, obeying commands, other appropriate activities) is always best: screaming at Fido with a mouthful of you-know-what, understandable as it is, may only cause him to hide the “evidence” by swallowing more quickly.

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