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Eating Feces

My Yorkie Eats Feces -
Solving the Issue of Coprophagia


The behaviors and personality quirks that the Yorkshire Terrier breed displays are quite amazing. This is an animated, intelligent and curious dog. Though, out of all the things our little Yorkies can do, there is not much more baffling and frustrating to deal with than when a Yorkie eats feces; either his own or that of another animal (most often dogs or cats.)

Due to the large number of Yorkie owners who reach out to us to ask about this issue, we are taking this on full steam. There is a lot of conflicting information out there and many general overviews that don’t seem to lead to actual results. 

For this reason, if your Yorkshire Terrier eats poop, this section will give you all the info you need to know, with solid recommendations for at-home treatments and cures to stop this behavior. 

We will go over:
  • Why dogs do this – Sorting unsupported theories from fact
  • The types of illness and health concerns if a Yorkie eats feces
  • Health conditions with coprophagia as one of the symptoms
  • Great tips for actually fixing this problem
Yorkie on oriental carpet
Princess, 2 and 1/2 years old
Photo courtesy of Rebi Laudick
What is Coprophagia

Coprophagia is the consumption of feces. It does not include behaviors such as playing with or simply licking at bowel movements. It is a behavior in which feces are ingested. 

Why a Yorkie (or other breed) Eats Feces

There are several possible reasons why this happens. It is here that owners should begin, as some of these triggers can be adjusted or eliminated, which can solve the issue without further intervention. 

In general, the causes fall into 3 categories: Nutrition, Behavioral and Medical. 

Let’s take a look at this one at a time to help sort this out:

1) Nutrition.

When a Yorkie is continually seeking out and ingesting feces, naturally one cause may be that essentially, the puppy or dog is ingesting the poop as a food source. There are two main reasons why this happens and both can happen if the Yorkshire Terrier’s main diet is a low quality brand of dog food:
1. Undigested or poorly digested food is commonly found in low grade dog food. A good portion of the food goes thorough the dog’s digestive system, and while it leaves the body looking like feces, nutritionally speaking it is very similar to the food that the dog ate. Therefore, in these cases, a Yorkie is recognizing his bowel movement as being comparable to what is in his bowl, thus leading to coprophagia.

2. Fillers – In order to save money, many 1, 2 and 3 star dog food brands add fillers to the kibble. These are ingredients with little to no nutritional value. Common fillers are ingredients that end with 'meal' such as fish meal or pork meal. Some have innocent sounding names such as corn bran or beef tallow. There are many others as well.

While a Yorkie may eat a good amount of ‘food’, only a portion of it is real, digestible food that offers the body nutrients. Therefore, canine instinct kicks in and the puppy or dog ingests feces; though it is, of course, done in vain. 

In both of these cases of a Yorkie eating poop due to his own diet lacking, it should be noted that he may not only eat his own, but will be more drawn to eating feces of other dogs (particularly those that are fed a high quality diet) or eat cat feces out of the litter box. 

If you suspect that this is the reason that your Yorkie is eating feces, ahead, we will discuss some tips for choosing a better food that may prevent coprophagia.
2) Behavioral.

The next possible reason for ingesting poop falls under the category of behavioral. There are many theories regarding this, so we will go over which ones are more likely than others. 

Unlikely Reasons:

1. Hiding evidence of an accident. While dogs are clever and most have the intelligence level of a 2-year-old human toddler, it is unlikely that a dog resorts to ingesting feces simply to cover up the fact that he had a bowel movement. In rare cases of severe abuse in which an owner physically punished or was emotionally abusive to a dog for having accidents, a dog may do this, however in a typical loving home a dog would not have a reason nor the cognitive thinking abilities to resort to eating stool simply to cover up a deed.

2. Continuation of newborn behavior – When newborns are very young (1 to 4 weeks old) and with the dam, she may display coprophagia, eating up their feces as it is expelled. There are some theories that an older puppy may eat his poop as a result of copying the behavior of his mother. 
Yorkie on a chair
Nacho, snuggling in the for evening
Photo courtesy of Pat Fratangelo
This is highly unlikely as newborns have very limited cognitive abilities and memory span is short. A 2 month old puppy will not remember what happened when he was 1 month old, nor would he even had been aware of it. And of course, the idea of this holds no weight in regard to an adult Yorkshire Terrier displaying coprophagia.

Likely Reasons:

1. Boredom. If a dog is alone without any stimulation, boredom can set in quickly. If you think about it, a dog has very few options when he is home alone. What can he do? Eat, sleep, play with toys, pace, bark and if objects are in reach, rip or chew at things (destructive behavior). If a Yorkie is awake and has barked himself out, his toys hold little to no interest and the area is safe (i.e. there is nothing for the dog to rip apart), the only thing left for him to do, is to inspect his feces. This can then lead to ingesting it. 

Luckily, the cure for this one is doable and we’ll discuss that ahead. 

2. Stress. Many Yorkshire Terries suffer from separation anxiety, which is an overwhelming feeling of stress when left home alone. The type of behaviors displayed during this time may include: incessant barking, pacing, trying to escape, whining, destructive behavior and for some dogs, coprophagia. 

With some careful planning, a dog can be helped with this and you’ll find advice ahead. 

3. Unintentional training. Canines are remarkably smart and pick up on all sorts of verbal and non-verbal cues from their owners. Just from your muttered words and actions, your Yorkie has learned all sorts of things. And inevitably, an owner may have mistakenly ‘taught’ a dog to believe that he should mouth his feces. 

How does this happen? Imagine this scenario: Owner and dog are home together. The dog is roaming free in the house and has a bowel movement in the middle of the living room. The owner jumps up, yells out and rushes to grab paper towels. She dashes to the stool, swipes it up and hurries over to the toilet or trash can. She gets rid of the feces and still quite a bit upset, finally sits down to catch her breath. But… what did the dog see? The owner got very excited! Something important just happened! His human whisked the feces away; it must be something special. Not only did the human take it and run as if it were a treasured toy, she also hid it away! 

So the next time this happens, the dog takes it upon himself to grab the stool and in some cases, ingest it. 
Yorkie puppy, female, white black and tan
Miss Pixie Lady, 14 weeks old
Photo courtesy of Penny and Michael Young
3) Medical

While there are quite a few illnesses that have coprophagia as a symptom, it is important to note that with most of these, there will be other, much more pronounced symptoms that let you know that your Yorkie is ill.  

Here is a list of health conditions in which coprophagia may be present:
  • Anemia 
  • Diabetes 
  • Inflammatory bowel disease 
  • Intestinal parasites 
  • Thyroid disease 
Summary of Reasons:

With an otherwise healthy Yorkie, coprophagia will be due to a diet lacking proper nutrients (cheap food) or a behavioral issue (most commonly boredom or stress when home alone). 
Can a Yorkie Get Sick from Eating Feces?

The quick answer is ‘yes’. Depending on whether a dog eats his own or that from another animal, there are many health concerns.
Eating his own poop:  

1. Though stool that is eliminated after eating cheap food may contain lots of undigested food, it is still a foul thing to eat. Continual coprophagia issues may lead to upset stomach and intestinal upset and pain. Some Yorkies may eat feces and then vomit afterward. If the cause if a low quality food, long term malnutrition can lead to a weaker immune system, dry skin and poor coat, weak bones and teeth and/or gas issues.  

2. For any Yorkie that is being treated for worms, during the shedding process, eating feces means eating worms and eggs, thus the dog will re-infect himself. It is important to note that most puppies are born with roundworms (and sometimes hookworms). This is because these often lay dormant in the dam’s tissue and thus are immune to de-worming meds – the worms are then transmitted to the newborn. This is why all puppies must be de-wormed and those that have coprophagia, may struggle with being free of the parasites.

Additionally, a Yorkie of any age can contract worms, which often happens from contact with the feces of another dog or from contaminated soil. Dogs can contract tapeworms from fleas. For this reason, all dogs should have twice-per-year screenings for parasites and care must be taken if coprophagia is involved, as this can make the treatment tricky.
Eating Poop from Other Dogs:

This is quite risky as well. There are many parasites and disease that can be spread if a Yorkshire Terrier eats another dog’s feces. Top concerns include:

  • Roundworms
  • Whipworms
  • Tapeworms
  • Hookworms
  • Campylobacteriosis
  • Corona
  • Cryptosporidiosis
  • Giardiasis
  • Parvo
  • Salmonellosis 
Eating cat poop:

Many people wonder if a dog can catch worms from a cat. And the answer is yes, many parasites are transferred from animal to animal. If a cat has worms or is shedding worms and eggs, the Yorkie can then become infected. Additionally, the 3 diseases that can most commonly be contracted with this sort of coprophagia issues are: Clostridia, Salmonella and Campylobacter.
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Exactly How to Stop a Yorkie from Eating Feces

There are 4 main things that you’ll need to do to stop a Yorkie from eating feces. With some time and effort, most cases of coprophagia can be reduced or stopped completely. 

1. Make Sure all Food is of High Quality

No loving owner purposefully feeds their dog bad food. However, several elements can lead to this:

1. Convenience – An owner may pick up their dog’s food while they are doing their own shopping at the supermarket. Unfortunately, the majority of the choices there are limited to 1, 2 or 3 star brands.

2. Name recognition- It’s not uncommon to hear a name so often on TV and see it so much in stores, that a person starts to think that if it’s so darn popular, and so many owners are feeding it to their dogs, that it must be good. Sadly, some very well-known brands are poor choices. 

3. Budgeting- It’s smart to make a budget and stick to it, and when money is short, an owner may purchase an inexpensive brand. While you do get what you pay for, some 4 and 5 star foods are not that much more than 2 and 3 stars. Owners are encouraged to budget to allow for their Yorkie to eat wholesome foods. This can also greatly reduce issues with allergies, since low-quality brands are often packed with chemicals (artificial coloring, flavoring and preservatives) which can cause a slew of issues ranging from upset stomach to itching to thinning coat. 
What to do:

Keep away from cheap, unhealthy foods:

1 stars include: Beneful, Everpet, Gravy Train, Hungry Hound, Kibbles n' Bits, Natural Balance, Ol' Roy, Pedigree, Purina, 

2 stars include: Eukanuba, Evolution, Hill's Science, Iams, Royal Canin,

And opt for a wholesome and healthy food: 

This includes top rated (5 star): Whole Earth Farms and Orijen. 

Be choosy with your Yorkie’s snacks as well. Some of the best treats are wholesome foods such as fruits (blueberries, raspberries, banana, strawberries, mango) and veggies (baby carrots, peas, green beans). When choosing a manufactured treat, look for those that do not have additives, are all natural, do not have fillers and are made in the US. 

Just ensuring that your Yorkshire Terrier is on a well -balanced diet can stop coprophagia.
Young Yorkie puppy sleeping, 2 months old
Hanni, 2 months old
Photo courtesy of Lisa H. 
2. Limit the dog’s ability to eat feces:

There are several things you can do, both for when you are home with your Yorkie and when he’s on his own:

In your yard: While you may have a doggie door or an enclosed yard, it’s never a good idea to let a Yorkie outside without your supervision. Many things can go wrong: Obviously, this allows a Yorkie to eat his own poop if this is a problem for him, but he can also ingest toxic weeks, swallow pebbles, hurt himself or even try to escape under a fence. 

Do take the time to clean the yard of old feces. Weather permitting, you can use a hose to spray down the feces, however do keep in mind that if it contains worms this can contaminate the soil. 

Always make sure that your Yorkie in on leash (and we recommend a harness as opposed to a collar). This way, you can direct your puppy or dog away from his stool before he has a chance to eat it. 

Work on teaching your Yorkie the ‘leave it’ command. This can really come in handy in any situation in which your puppy or dog mouths something that he should not. Training for this is relatively easy…. You start with a toy (not his favorite one), as he approaches the toy, give the command for him to ‘Leave it’. He will take pause and look at you simply because you have gained his attention. Reward that immediately with praise and a treat. He may then go for the toy, you will again give the command and reward. As your Yorkie catches on, do this with other objects. In time, he’ll be listening like a pro. 
Yorkshire Terrier with very short hair
Brandy, at 2 years old
Photo courtesy of Raffaella - from Romania 
When home alone: This is when most Yorkies eat their own feces, when home by themselves and no one is there to intervene. If your puppy or dog does not have a bowel movement before you leave the house, you will want to give him more time to do so (adding on 10 to 15 minutes at the designated bathroom area) and/or adjust his dinner time (from the previous night) so that his body is ready to eliminate stools when you take him out in the morning. Each dog has a rhythm, so keeping track of how many hours pass between eating and having a bowel movement, can allow you to adjust meal time so that bowel movements happen when you are there. 

You'll want to reassess your Yorkie's toy collection. Throw out what he ignores. Invest in some quality toys that are bright, interactive and offer lots of fun.   

In addition to this, using a supplement or food addition may help and don't give up after trying just one (more ahead on this). 

Finally, if your Yorkie seems to be under duress when alone, some changes may need to be made to reduce separation anxiety

Outside, with other dogs: With this issue, training your Yorkie to fully understand and obey the ‘Leave it’ command will be very helpful, as is of course, keeping a close eye on him.

Remember that when your Yorkie in on leash and harness, you are in charge. 
The harness (and not a collar) will allow you to safely pull him away if he goes near the stool of any other dog. Since even the soil around the poop can contain worms, it is recommended to not even let your Yorkie sniff at dog poop. 

Inside, eating cat feces: Though a cat may be the same size as a Yorkie or even larger and this prevents you from doing some of the tricks that can be done with medium or large sized breeds, one thing remains: a feline can climb in a way that a dog never can. Therefore, your best bet is to move the location of the cat litter box to a height that your Yorkie cannot reach. Many people find that the top of the washing machine is a good place.

3. If your Yorkie grabs feces and runs away with it:

You’ll want to change how you react. Never chase a dog that has mouthed something, since he can think it’s a game of ‘chase’. It’s better to entice him to come to you. Also, if he has accidents in the house, remain calm when you clean it up, so that he does not believe it is anything ‘exciting’ or of interest. 

4. Use a safe supplement or additive: 

So many people are looking for at-home cures and remedies to stop canine coprophagia, that there is a slew of possible options. Some do not work at all. Others do work. However, it must be noted that while the good remedies work, they do not all work for all dogs across the board. One Yorkie will respond well to one and another Yorkie will have no change, but will respond to another.

In addition, a tolerance can be built up. What works great now may lose its effectiveness 6 months later. So, you may need to change methods over time. 

Therefore, let’s go over what to not waste your time with… And which ones are worth trying:
Do not waste your time with:

Hot sauce – The idea of this is to inconspicuously dribble this over a dog’s stools so that as he later comes across it and tries to eat it, the hot sauce will burn his mouth and repel him. There are several things wrong with this: This method does not fix the underlying issue of why a dog eats his feces. It does not help if a Yorkie eats his poo when home alone. And finally, the hot sauce can cause burns to the mouth, upset stomach and startle a dog, making this unethical. 

Forbid or Deter - While some deterrent products do work (more ahead) some not only are ineffective for coprophagia; they contain MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) which can cause minor to severe reactions. Among the troubling adverse reactions seen in both humans and pets include: flushing (feel overly hot), sweating, facial pressure (skin feels tight), numbness (face, neck or any other part of the body), chest pain, increased or abnormal heartbeat, nausea and/or weakness. 

Both Forbid and Deter contain MSG and for this reason, these are not recommended. 

Many meat tenderizers – 90% of meat tenderizers contain MSG (see above) because Monosodium Glutamate tenderizes meat. For this reason, most should be avoided. There is one that is recommended (see below). 
Yorkshire Terrier whispy bangs
Rusty at 2 years old
Photo courtesy of Melissa Varnakulasingham
What may work (rated by us in order of effectiveness):

★★Pineapple- There are lots of fruits that are safe for canine consumption and pineapple is one of them. Pineapple can work in a number of ways. It contains bromelain, which is an enzyme that aids in both the absorption of protein and it helps with digestion. Therefore, with a little boost of protein being better absorbed and with digestion working a bit better, this in itself may stop a Yorkie from eating feces. 

Some claim that pineapple works as a deterrent, as it causes stools to taste foul. It should be noted that this is an assumption and has not been proven to be so. 

If you try pineapple, you can obtain either the canned chunks or crushed pieces. Puppies can have 2 chunks per meal (or 2 teaspoons) and adults can have 3 (or 3 teaspoons). 

★★Pumpkin – Pumpkin is a great food to keep on hand, since it often helps with intestinal issues, such as when a Yorkie has constipation or diarrhea. Since it can help with digestion, it may then in turn help with coprophagia. Do note that it’s easy to confuse canned pumpkin with canned pumpkin pie filling and the filling should NOT be given. Only use real pumpkin. 

★★ Adolph's Meat tenderizer – This is one of the very few meat tenderizers that does not contain MSG (see above), but does contain papin which can help stop a Yorkshire Terrier from eating poop. What is papin? It is a protein digesting enzyme that comes from the papaya fruit. It aids the body in digesting food which allows more nutrients to be absorbed and therefore, fewer instances of coprophagia.

In addition, there is anecdotal evidence that this can cause stools to taste bad, thus acting as a repellent. 

★★★ Potty Mouth – This is a supplement that is taste just fine, but makes bowel movements taste terrible to about 40% of dogs. Therefore, this may be worth trying if other options have not worked. Serving size is just 1 piece per 10 pounds, so most Yorkies only need 1/2 piece and that means that a bag will last for 120 days (4 months). There is no MSG and ingredients are:  Brewers Yeast, Cayenne, Biotin, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6 Niaciamide, Iron and Copper. 

★★★★ Prozyme powder – Prozyme powder is a supplement that is often used to help puppies and dogs that have trouble absorbing nutrients (and may have struggle to maintain weight). It can also help with issues such as loose stools. Additionally it has been proven to be effective to treat coprophagia with about 50% of dogs. Choose a quality brand such as Trophy, that can be trusted. 

★★★★ NaturVet Coprophagia Deterrent Soft Chews – Out of all chews and supplements, this is one that is effective for about 50% of dogs, making it even with prozyme powder in terms of success. The active ingredients are Yucca Schidigera (a flowering desert plant, used in many holistic remedies), parsley leaf, an enzyme blend and chamomile.  

There is a variety of NaturVet that also doubles as a breath freshener.  

It can be very disturbing if a Yorkie seems determined to eat feces, however do not give up in regard to stopping this behavior. It is dangerous for a dog to do this and in many cases, it is a red flag that some changes should be made to the dog’s diet. If you notice any signs of illness, do be sure to have your Yorkie checked by the vet. Keeping your puppy or dog supervised, teaching the “Leave it” command, adjusting feeding times, taking steps to cure separation anxiety and trying some of the deterrents will all be part of a plan to stop coprophagia.
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