Dogs sometimes seem driven to put the grossest, most odd things in their mouths and swallow them down before you have a chance to intervene. Curious dogs can compulsively snap up cigarette butts, traps, and diapers, to name a few random morsels. One common disgusting snack that some dogs return to over and over again is rabbit poop. Technically known as coprophagia, a number of factors can trigger it. This behavior is fairly common and seldom causes problems, but the potential still exists. But why is your dog eating rabbit poop, should you stop this habit, and how should you do so?
How Common is the Canine Habit of Eating Rabbit Droppings?
If your dog seeks out and snacks on rabbit poop, you will find many other dog owners in the same boat. In fact, more than one in ten dogs has coprophagia for one reason or another. A University of California researcher published a study in 2012 that found a full 16% of canines look for poop to eat. Because medical, as well as behavioral problems, can be at the heart of the matter, a formal diagnosis to rule out problems may be indicated.
Identifying Rabbit Droppings
If you are not a seasoned tracker of wildlife or a rabbit owner, the type of poop that draws your pooch may be a mystery to you. It is easy to learn to identify rabbit poop, however. Rabbits have two kinds of droppings: the proper feces that are known as pellets, and the lumpy masses of droppings called cecotropes. Cecotropes are partially digested and are eaten by the rabbit. The pellets are the type that typically draws dogs. They are about the size of a pea and roughly round, brownish in hue with the potential for hay, grass, or other plant scraps mixed into them.
What Dogs Find Irresistible in Rabbit Droppings
Pellets are roughly the size and shape of kibble, but dogs, with their keen senses of smell, are scarcely likely to confuse the two. They certainly do not taste the same. Rabbit poop is conveniently located for your dog to find. Rabbits are everywhere, and as animals that graze, they steadily eat and poop as they move about. The poop is generally largely made up of undigested grass, low in odor, and extremely high in fiber, digestive enzymes, and B vitamins. Dogs may be drawn to rabbit poop because of a dietary lack, an enjoyable taste, and simple excitement at encountering a treat, as well as medical and behavioral reasons.
Medical Reasons Why Dogs Eat Rabbit Poop
A dog eager for rabbit poop as a dietary supplement may be underfed or regularly consuming a diet that is hard for it to digest. Dogs that eat rabbit poop may also suffer from digestive enzyme deficiencies. Parasites can lead dogs to look for these handy snacks, as can malnutrition and deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. Certain health conditions can cause the drive; these include Cushing’s disease, thyroid disease, and diabetes. Finally, medications can lie at the root of the urge if they contain steroids.
Behavioral Reasons Why Dogs Eat Rabbit Poop
There are a few behavioral causes for dogs to eat rabbit droppings. It could simply be an innate behavior. Dogs may merely copy the actions of other dogs who enjoy munching on rabbit leavings. Another potential cause is a core curiosity and a sense of playfulness. Finally, a dearth of training can result in this behavior.
A Matter of Taste: Why a Dog Eats Rabbit Poop
Rabbits like to dine on grass, clover, vegetables, wildflowers, and weeds. Dogs tend to try out each of these things. When combined and compressed into a neat package that smells interesting, it is a recipe made to intrigue dogs. The smell and texture are interesting to dogs, as well. Dogs have roughly 300 million scent receptors in their noses, compared to your six million or so. What to you is a mildly unpleasant smell of droppings is highly appealing to the sensitive nose of your canine.
Dogs tend to possess instincts leftover from their wolfish heritage. One theory behind the devouring of rabbit poop is that dogs do it to protect the pack as a whole and the younger members in particular. Wolves keep the areas surrounding their dens clean of poop. This is because of intestinal parasites potentially found in the feces. Eating fresh feces means that parasite ova do not have a chance to become larvae that would infect the youngsters consuming it.
Investigation and Scavenging When Dogs Eat Rabbit Poop
Young dogs and puppies learn the world through their noses and mouths. Like human infants, everything they encounter gets popped into the mouth to explore its nature. This investigative nature leads to eating rabbit poop, among many other questionable items. Puppies may also show an instinct for scavenging. This can be due to a worry about the source and timing of the next meal. For fear of hunger, the rabbit pellets are consumed as an early mealtime supplement.
When a dog lacks certain nutrients or enzymes, rabbit droppings and manure can become tempting dietary aids. Rabbits eat food rich in enzymes and the proteins in their inefficient digestive systems come out partially digested. Not all dogs receive sufficient amounts of these elements, so they have the urge to find them elsewhere.
Dogs may eat rabbit poop as a means of medicating themselves. They may hope to feel better by doing so. When a dog with a parasite turns to poop consumption, it is because parasites leach the dog’s nutrients. In response, the dog tries to replace those nutrients by means of eating rabbit poop.
Appearances Are Deceiving
Most dogs are driven by food to some extent. Dried, separated rabbit pellets resemble dog snacks and smell appealing. It is difficult to convince dogs that these little rabbit-strewn snacks are not a good, healthy treat.
Risks of Dogs Eating Rabbit Droppings
Generally, rabbit poop is not dangerous to dogs. However, you should not let your pup feast on the feces, if for no other reason than that poop can play host to bacteria and microscopic pathogens that can result in your dog getting sick. Another sound reason is that your dog is likely to get slobber on you and all of your possessions throughout the course of an average day.
Worms and Rabbit Poop
A common myth states that dogs can get tapeworm from choosing to eat rabbit poop; on the contrary, your dog must eat a rabbit, not its poop, to face that risk. Prevent your dog from eating rabbits. Dogs do not get worms from deciding to eat rabbit poop. They can, however, pick up parasites.
Parasites and Rabbit Poop
Parasites are common inhabitants of rabbit droppings. When your dog eats infected pellets, those parasites can be passed on. Coccidia is one such parasite. This causes intestinal tract infections, but rabbit forms of the infection do not harm dogs. Giardia is another. This tiny parasite is the culprit responsible for giardiasis, a diarrheal illness. Your dog will be quite obvious if it has this parasite: the result is diarrhea that is frothy, foul-smelling, and greasy. Mucus may also be present. Another is Leptospira, which causes leptospirosis. This is more commonly transmitted through urine than through poop. It can be cured using antibiotics but if left untreated, can result in damage to the liver or kidneys. Symptoms include fever, shivering, tenderness in the muscles, increased thirst, changes in urination, and stiffness.
Be Alert to Risks
Other risks include the theoretical possibility of salmonella in rabbit poop, as well as campylobacter. Be aware of holes in and flies around the poop. These can be more visible signs of lurking parasites that can cause bacterial infections. Fortunately, there are not many risks for a dog that eats rabbit poop, unless the change in diet causes stomach upset.
Stopping the Habit— Keeping A Dog From Eating Rabbit Poop
The habit may be a tough one to break. Dogs see rabbit poop as nature’s little snacks that are freely distributed around walking areas and in yards. There are several tactics to help your dog leave the fecal tidbits alone, however.
A dog with a deficiency of nutrients often finds a way to indicate this lack. This can take the form of eating those things that might contain the missing nutrients, such as rabbit poop. It is important to feed your dog a nutrient-rich diet. Find the best dog food for your companion or ask your vet. Different dog breeds and sizes of dogs will have different requirements or preferences in food. A dog’s age also comes into play when selecting the appropriate meal components. Your veterinarian may advise supplemental digestive enzymes, human-grade protein, or dog probiotics.
Taste Aversion Methods
Sometimes you can teach a dog that rabbit poop is equivalent to an unpleasant taste by putting something atop the poop to alter its taste. Tabasco sauce is one such solution. Pet stores also sell drops and sprays that are unpleasant to a dog. Once a dog eating rabbit poop has associated that substance with a new and unpleasant taste, the habit will be kicked.
Teach the Command “Leave It”
The command “leave it” is one of those basics that every dog should learn. Not only can it keep your dog away from rabbit poop, but it can apply to dangerous materials encountered on the ground on walks. Start teaching this command in a room devoid of distractions. Have a treat in your hand and show it to the dog. Close your hand over the treat but permit the dog to smell it. Then say “leave it”. When the dog stops smelling and turns aside, offer praise. Continue this pattern until it is learned, then try with an open hand. Again, praise and congratulate the dog on every success. You can continue to use this new command around the house on various objects. Slowly try using it around distractions and when out on walks. Your dog should pick up the pattern quickly.
Occupy Your Dog’s Attention
You can also keep your dog from seeking out rabbit poop by being more engaging than the poop is enticing. Dogs love your companionship. They need regular stimulation for the mind and body. Most people lack the requisite time to spend hours outside with their dogs, but there are other means of occupying a dog’s mind. Enriching toys are a good option. Try non-plastic chew toys such as hooves and bones, makeshift toys such as knotted socks or a knotted rope, or let your pup select a toy at a pet store. Tired, well-exercised dogs are also less likely to become bored and pay attention to nearby rabbit poop.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is rabbit poop toxic to dogs?
No, rabbit poop is not toxic to dogs. It can carry bacteria and parasites but seldom makes dogs sick. As is always the case, if a dog is suffering fever, severe diarrhea, or other serious symptoms, contact your veterinarian.
Can dogs get giardia from eating rabbit poop?
Yes, it is possible for dogs to eat rabbit poop that is infected with giardia.
Can dogs get sick from eating dog poop?
While dogs can become sick from eating rabbit poop, the American Kennel Club states that dogs suffer no harm from eating their own poop. Eating the stool of other dogs may be problematic, however, if it is contaminated with parasites or viruses. Most puppies lose this urge at about the age of nine months.