DEAR DIDI: My husky is just a year old and the light of my life. He only has one fault and it is truly gross. He gets into the kitty litter and actually eats what he finds in there. I am scared to death this will affect his health. It certainly affects his breath! What can be done about this? -Grossed Out in Lathrop
DEAR GROSSED OUT: This issue is called coprophagia. By definition, coprophagia is ‘the consumption of feces.’ It comes from the Greek words ‘copros’ meaning ‘feces’ and ‘phagein’ meaning ‘to eat.’ The word coprophagy covers many kinds of feces-eating, including eating the feces of other species.
We don’t really know why some dogs seek out poop to eat. Some veterinarians speculate that the dog is missing a nutrient in his diet that is found in cat feces. Others believe that cat food is so rich that it comes out the other end still smelling savory to dogs. Some behaviorists believe that it could be an obsessive compulsive behavior to clean up the area in the only way they know how.
Whatever the reason, it isn’t terribly unhealthy for your dog. Obviously if your cat has any intestinal parasites they could be passed to your dog, but that is about the extent of it.
The truly disgusting part of this habit, as you mentioned, is the dog’s breath. Phew! Brushing their teeth does not even put a dent in it because the smell is coming from the throat and rising up from the stomach. Hopefully your Husky doesn’t also like to lick you.
Putting the brakes on this sort of behavior is all about management. No amount of training, yelling, punishing or other aversive actions will stop the poo eating. Luckily you have a large dog compared to the cat, so there is an easy fix.
Go to a second hand furniture store or garage sale. Find a sofa end table that is enclosed with cupboard doors. Make sure the interior is a size that will fit your cat litter box. When I found the one I wanted, it wasn’t in very good condition, so I sanded and painted it. Then I cut a hole in the side just the right size for my cat to fit through. I positioned the end table so that the side with the hole in it is about ten inches away from a wall in my home. Cats don’t mind tight spaces but large dogs do. The added benefit here is that the litter and smell stays more contained as the cat digs around. Just open the cupboard doors to pull the litter box out for servicing. Voila!
For those of you that have dogs smaller or the same size as your cat you have to find a place to put the litter that is up out of the reach of the dog. Cats are agile and will easily jump to use their litter but it is now out of reach for the dog.
Some people tell me they have this issue while on walks with their dogs. Your dog is on a leash at that time so you should, with proper training, be able to put a halt to poo eating instantly. If you can’t stop him or her from dragging you to someone’s garden to eat cat poop, it is time to sign up for obedience classes.
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. To ask your dog behavior question, email www.CaliforniaCanineUnleashed.com.