There are a number of reasons why your dog eating cat poop is frowned upon. Aside from the bad breath there are a few health concerns you ought to be aware of. The fancy name for eating poop is ‘coprophagia’ and although pretty disgusting, it is a form of (natural) scavenging behaviour and many dogs do it.
However, cat poop contains bacteria and parasites that can be passed to your dog when eaten; some of these are classed as ‘zoonotic’ meaning that they can infect humans too. The most obvious internal parasites are tapeworms, hookworms and types of roundworms which can affect cats and also your dog. Another is Toxocara which is often mentioned in relation to horror stories surrounding (rare!) blindness in children.
Common bacteria found in both dog and cat poop are salmonella and campylobacter (among others), often once eaten you’ll see no symptoms of these infections in healthy dogs or cats but in those with reduced immunity (such as old or very young pets) the risk of an infection causing symptoms is much higher. These bacteria can also be passed to humans and cause illness which again is particularly dangerous in people who are immunosuppressed, old or young.
Eating poop increases the bacterial load in the mouth which will cause bad breath but can also affect dental health. Bacteria will coat the teeth to form a ‘biofilm’ – a slimy coating which is the starting point for plaque and tartar build up which then progresses to gum disease and even tooth loss.
What will happen to the dog? Can problems be treated?
In many cases you may not notice anything – perhaps bad breath, tell-tale signs of kitty litter around your dog’s mouth or just the mysterious disappearance of cat litter tray contents.
After eating cat poop some dogs may develop gastrointestinal signs (tummy upsets) such as vomiting or diarrhea. This will often be self-limiting and can be treated with a bland diet such as chicken, rice or scrambled egg. It should resolve within 24-48 hours, if it doesn’t or if your pet is particularly quiet or repeatedly vomiting then you should seek veterinary treatment. In some severe cases dogs can require hospitalisation for fluids (a drip) and medications in order to recover. In older or younger pets the risk of dehydration is higher and you must make sure they are drinking enough.
You may not always see parasites in the dog or cat’s poop but their eggs can be there still and passed on when eaten. The main concern is the damage that these parasites can cause internally to your pet such as lasting organ damage (or worse!).
What about the cat litter?
Eating cat litter is a risky business in itself – most litters are designed to clump together and almost all of them will swell when they come into contact with moisture (to soak up urine!). Cat litter isn’t designed to be eaten and it won’t be digested: if you dog eats cat litter along with the poop there is a chance it can swell up and/or clump together in their stomach or intestines causing a physical blockage. In cases where dogs do get blockages they can require hospitalisation, major abdominal surgery and on occasion this can result in death of the dog. It is best to try and prevent this happening in the first place.
Should we be worried about dental disease?
Dental disease is an often under appreciated but serious problem in our pet dogs. The bacteria from the mouth is swallowed which can then circulate the body in the blood stream causing damage to the heart and other internal organs. Treatment often involves a general anaesthetic to clean the teeth, remove those that are diseased and polish those that remain. This is a fairly routine procedure but carries risk which increases with the age of the animal; prevention is definitely better than cure.
What can we do to reduce the risk?
Although there are many reasons to stop your dog from eating cat poop, it is not toxic and it is unlikely to be very serious if simple precautions are taken.
1. Reduce the risk of parasites
If you have cats and dogs at home, make sure they are all up to date with veterinary strength (i.e. prescription) parasite treatment.To reduce the risk of parasites affecting individual pets but also transmission between them.If your dog picks up ‘snacks’ on walks or in the garden from unknown cats there is little you can do about any parasites in the cat, but you can make sure you’re protecting your own dog by treating them for any that they pick up.
2. Stop your dog from accessing litter trays
Either by choosing a more secure tray or by placing them in a location that your dog can’t reach such as a room they can’t go in to or by lifting them onto a higher surface.
Child safety gates are a great way of blocking off a room but allowing cats access into the area (providing they can fit through the bars!). Uncovered trays may be easier for your dog to pick cat-poop out of than covered trays, but small dogs have still been known to climb inside these and help themselves anyway. If your dog is finding poop elsewhere, such as on walks or in the garden and this can be more difficult to control.
3. Brush your dogs teeth once daily
If your dog eats things they shouldn’t (and even if they don’t!) the best way to help prevent dental disease is to brush your dog’s teeth once daily.If this is not possible then speak to your vet about enzymatic toothpastes, powders or other options.
We have mentioned zoonotic infections that can pass from cat or dog to human, these can be avoided via good hygiene – use gloves to handle dog/cat poop and always wash or sanitise your hands thoroughly afterwards.
If you have any concerns at all about your dog eating cat poop, particularly if they are unwell as a result please speak to your vet for advice. Remember – prevention is always much better and safer than cure.
Featured image credit: StockSnap, Pixabay
- Should we be worried?
- What will happen to the dog? Can problems be treated?
- What about the cat litter?
- Should we be worried about dental disease?
- What can we do to reduce the risk?
- In Conclusion