Eating Inappropriate Items

Eating Feces (Coprophagia)

Definition: Coprophagia is the ingestion of feces. It is normal for a mother cat or dog to ingest her newborn offspring’s’ waste products. This prevents disease and keeps the den odor free, thus preventing discovery by predators. Puppies occasionally begin eating feces when their mother ceases to perform this task, and they may continue this behavior until they are weaned. Some persist beyond weaning and separation from their littermates and mother.

If stool is available, a puppy prone to Coprophagia may be tempted. Some dogs appear to enjoy this activity, which makes it all the more repugnant to their owners. This behavior does not occur in kittens or cats, perhaps because of their instinct to cover or bury waste and their more selective eating habits.


A number of solutions have been proposed to discourage Coprophagia in dogs.

  • Intentionally baiting fecal material with foul-tasting substances may render the experience unpleasant, but this method is not always successful
  • The best way to correct Coprophagia is to prevent access to fecal material. If your dog is in the habit of eliminating in your yard, routinely remove deposits. Supervise yard access to monitor progress. Diligently leash walk your pet, moving quickly away from the sample as soon as possible.
  • You may wish to reward your pet for good behavior with a tasty treat. In extreme cases, it maybe necessary to place a “basket” muzzle on a very determined dog. This type of muzzle forms a cage around the dog’s muzzle so that it can pant and vocalize but is unable to put anything in its mouth.
  • Provide a wide variety of appropriate objects for your dog to chew and increase the time you spend playing with or exercising your pet.
  • Some dogs learn the Coprophagia is a way to get your attention, even though the attention often consists of scolding. As difficult as it may be, ignore your pet if you catch it “in the act” and concentrate instead on preventing future episodes.

Expanding Taste

Some dogs develop a taste for the stool of other pets, such as cat feces. The same approach applies to these variations of Coprophagia.

  • Prevent access to the feces of other animals by being vigilant during leash walks.
  • Make your cat’s litter box, placing the box on an elevated surface, installing a cat door, or opening the room door just enough to allow the cat in or out.

Eating Grass and Other Plants

Ingestion of inappropriate items (pica) is seen in diseased and apparently healthy individuals. Plants may be an occasional and normal part of a pet’s diet. Pets may be attracted to both indoor and outdoor plants.

Oral investigation (tasting, chewing, and possibly swallowing) is common in young cats and dogs. Although, it usually subsides in mature animals, taste preferences may persist. Cats are primarily carnivores (meat eaters) but occasionally eat plants, even in the wild. A pet may also eat plant material if it feels nauseated. This is not specific sign of intestinal parasitism. Though a pet with internal parasites may feel ill enough to eat lawn grass, pets with worms do not necessarily eat grass or anything strange. Similarly, pets with other unrelated medical problems may eat grass.

Although eating lawn grass is not usually harmful, report this to your veterinarian if it becomes excessive or is accompanied by other changes in your pet. If the grass has been treated with chemicals, such as organophosphate or carbamate pesticides, poisoning is possible. Ingestion of nontoxic plants, such as grass, can produce mild gastrointestinal upset by mechanical irritation of the digestive tract. The fact that vomiting follows ingestion does not mean the plant is poisonous. Contact your veterinarian to be sure of your pet’s safety.

House pets can destroy ornamental plants, often creating quite a mess in the process. Carefully remove plants to an elevated surface or to another location to prevent access. For example, hang plants out of reach, keep branches well trimmed, or replace houseplants with cacti. If cats seem particularly attracted to specific plants or foliage types, replace these plants with others that are less tempting. You may also decide to leave nontoxic plant as an intentional lure away from your favorite foliage. You might plant a small box of catnip with seeds available from most pet stores.

Many plants are poisonous to both cats and dogs. Household and outdoor plants and trees may cause signs ranging from mild gastrointestinal upset to respiratory arrest and death. Some vegetation is so toxic that even small quantities may be very dangerous.

A partial listing of nontoxic ornamental houseplant is included for your convenience. Contact your veterinarian for details.

African violet Jade plant
Baby’s breath Mother-in-law tongue
Begonia Norfolk Island pine
Boston fern Palms (all indoor varieties)
Christmas cactus; Peperomia
Dahila Purple passion
Ferns (all indoor varieties) Rubber plant
Ficus Sanseveria
Geranium Spider plant
Grape ivy Swedish ivy
Hibiscus Wandering Jew

Stone Chewing

Stone chewing by dogs is probably a form of play, but it can be harmful to a pet’s health. Teeth may be broken or worn, exposing the sensitive pulp and leading to pain or infection.

Stones may be accidentally eaten. Small stones may pass through the length of the bowel without consequence. Larger stones may lacerate the intestinal wall or obstruct passage of food, resulting in severe illness, the need for abdominal surgery, and possibly death.

Although your dog may enjoy this activity, it is wise to discourage it by redirecting attention to safer toys (balls, rawhide chew toys). Keep the dog on a leash or closely supervise it in rocky areas.

What's Next

  • 1

    Call us or schedule an appointment online.

  • 2

    Meet with a doctor for an initial exam.

  • 3

    Put a plan together for your pet.