A penchant for poop is no quirk of the modern dog. Dogs who ate human poop, for instance, likely date back millennia. Their wolfish ancestors acclimated to humans by snacking on garbage, the prevailing theory goes, including our feces.
Having worked for decades as a vet, Machum is no stranger to canine poop consumption. In a 1985 letter in the Canadian Veterinary Journal, she and her colleagues at the University of Guelph offered several hypotheses for what brings a hound to chew on crap:
- Illness, starvation and nutritional deficiencies, though the authors noted such severe issues were rarely to blame
- Food additives that, even on the other end, made poop more appetizing
- Environmental stress
- Acting out to provoke a response from his or her owner
Because dogs can become sick from stool infected with parvo or parasitic worm eggs, for instance, owners should discourage dogs from compulsively eating poop.
The best way to stop the behavior is to consistently call the dog over or otherwise distract him after he's done his business, Machum said. Then, quickly remove the offending morsel out of mouth's reach. Yelling and chasing, on the other hand, is apt to backfire if a dog enjoys the attention and turns poop-eating into a game.
Dietary changes don't make much of a difference, according to Machum. In her more than 20 years of practice, she's seen "dogs on high protein diets, low protein diets, homemade diets all eating poop." To avoid the temptation of a poopsicle, especially in colder climes, the most effective trick is to simply keep yards "really clean."