Is Your Shih Tzu Eating Poop? – It’s Not That Uncommon!
So, you’ve seen your shih tzu eating poop, perhaps several times. The sight of it turns your stomach and you want to put a stop to it but how do you go about it? Well, there is no one solution that will act as a miracle cure for all dogs or, even, all shih tzu. To formulate a solution for your shih tzu it helps to know the reason or reasons why your shih tzu is eating the poop in the first place.
First of all, let me reassure you that you are not alone with this problem. Many shih tzu, other small breed dogs and the puppies of some larger dogs will at some stage indulge in poop-eating, or coprophagia, to give the practice its scientific name. There is, perhaps due to a maternal instinct that we will come to later, a slightly higher percentage of females that eat poop than males and more neutered males indulge than intact males.
Some dogs eat their own poop, some that of other dogs or animals and some will eat anything! Some shih tzu will eat the poop in full view of their owners, while others will either find a hiding place or indulge while alone in the house.
It is not necessarily harmful. A healthy shih tzu eating his own droppings will probably not succumb to any illness as a result. Only if the shih tzu already suffers from internal parasites will he make his condition worse by re-infesting himself. Of course, if he eats the droppings of other dogs and other animals, he risks coming down with the same parasitic, viral or bacterial complaint that the other dog or animal passes on. In rare cases, he may also feel the effects of any medication from the other dog or animal that may be present in the stools.
So, why would your shih tzu want to eat poop in the first place?
Reasons Why A Shih Tzu May Eat Poop
There is only a very small possibility that your shih tzu will be eating poop due to a health reason but I’ve put it first because if it was that, it would be the cause in most urgent need of a remedy. A visit to the vets for a check-up is advised just to ensure that your shih tzu is in good condition and health issues can be eliminated from the list of possible causes.
Any intestinal diseases will result in the shih tzu losing weight through lack of nutrients caused by vomiting or diarrhea. He may try to make up the deficit by eating his stools. Similarly, if he has internal parasites, particularly worms, that are stealing his nutrients he may eat his stools in an effort to recoup his losses, which only goes to make his infestation worse.
There are some diseases that may have a shih tzu eating poop due to one of the side effects of the illness being a big increase in appetite. Such ailments include Cushing’s disease, diabetes, thyroid disease plus anything where the treatment includes steroids. Steroids can increase appetite.
See “Shih Tzu Common Health Problems” for more on health issues.
Problems With Diet
After making sure that it is definitely not a health issue behind your shih tzu’s bad habit, the next thing to cross off of the list of possible causes is whether he is receiving adequate nourishment and nutrition from his diet. This could be the case if the dog is not eating enough or the food he is eating is not of sufficient quality.
Commercially produced dog foods manufactured by the big corporations and generally available at grocery outlets are not usually of a high enough quality to satisfy a shih tzu’s needs. These large companies are more concerned with providing a dividend for their shareholders than they are for the well-being of your dog.
Consequently, to cut costs they often use inferior ingredients. Dog food manufacturers are obliged to meet certain standards with the type and quantity of vitamins contained within the ingredients. The big corporations that are using inferior ingredients make up for the lack of naturally occurring vitamins by adding synthetic vitamins. Synthetic vitamins aren’t as easily absorbed by a dog’s digestive system as the natural ones are. Eating poop may be a way that a shih tzu will try and make up for any resultant vitamin deficiency.
Further savings are made by bulking out the food with “fillers”. These fillers are usually made up from the waste products of cereal crops that are unfit for human consumption. These fillers typically have no nutritional value or, at the very best, very little. Yet this food will still make your dog feel full up after eating it. The problem is, that for one bowl of food he eats, he is only getting half a bowl of nourishment. Then, not only is the lack of nourishment that the shih tzu is suffering from liable to be a driver towards coprophagia, but also the fact that the undigested fillers come out pretty much the same as they went in, making the stools almost indistinguishable from the original meal.
Puppies need more vitamins than adults for their growing skeletons and muscle tissue, so they should be eating food formulated for their age or they are going to be looking elsewhere for the missing nutrients, and we know where! Similarly, the body of a senior dog may need some help with processing vitamins and nutrients; Dog food especially formulated for senior dogs can help with this.
For more detailed information concerning diet, take a look at:
“Best Dog Food For A Shih Tzu? – Find Out Here”.
It is most likely that your shih tzu is eating poop because of some form of behavioral issue which could be either instinctive or learned, or bought on by boredom or stress. If you rule out the less likely health and diet issues first, then you know that it is definitely down to behavior.
Instinctive or learned behavior
As I hinted at previously, puppies can adopt a poop-eating culture from their mothers. When a puppy is newly born it cannot defecate for itself and, until it can, the mother has to lick the puppy’s anus to clean it and to encourage the puppy to do it himself.
Also, and this is where the instinct comes in, the mother may keep the litter area clean by eating up the poop from all of her puppies. In the wild, this action was also to take away any odors that would attract any predators.
The other puppies in the litter learn to join in the cleaning up habit. Most puppies will outgrow this but some, unless shown otherwise, may continue eating poop after being weaned, thinking that this is normal behavior.
The longer this habit goes on, the more difficult it becomes to persuade the dog not to do it. So, the earlier it can be stopped, the better.
A shih tzu is a dog that needs a lot of companionship, attention and interaction. One that is left apart from the company of his owner or other dogs for long periods of time will, in all likelihood, suffer spells of boredom.
A bored shih tzu will investigate its environment, sniffing around and mouthing objects. If one of those objects he is sniffing and mouthing around happens to be his feces, he may just decide to eat it.
Apart from boredom, being alone in the house for long periods can also cause high levels of stress to a shih tzu, otherwise known as separation anxiety. High levels of shih tzu stress can also occur in households that are very busy and noisy.
Separation anxiety goes way past eating feces. I go into detail on this important subject here:
Whatever the cause of the stress, the shih tzu may resort to eating his own feces as a way of coping with the situation and calming down. This is frequently true of dogs kept on their own for too long in kennels, crates or other confined spaces. Even more so those that are fed in the same area of confinement. The food and the feces are so close together that they may confuse the two.
Ways To Stop Your Shih Tzu Eating Poop
Due to circumstances, I know that for many of you it’s not going to be this simple, but the best way to stop your shih tzu eating poop is to keep him away from it. I’ll be going into this in more detail in due course, but for now I will go through the remedies in the same order I discussed the causes.
If It’s A Health Issue
As I say, it’s unlikely, but if you have taken your shih tzu to the vet and it does turn out to be a health issue that is causing your dog to ingest his feces, then I suggest you follow your vet’s recommendations.
Make sure you give your shih tzu any medication prescribed and have him follow any specially formulated diet that your vet may have suggested.
If You Believe Diet To Be The Reason
If you are regularly giving your shih tzu the generic, big brand grocery store dog food, consider changing to the new generation wholesome dog food made from natural ingredients and containing naturally occurring vitamins. These are available in veterinary surgeries and pet stores, plus they are now becoming more and more available in grocery stores. If you opt for grain free, a greater proportion of the nutrients will be digested by your dog, meaning there will be less nutrients in the feces making them a less tempting snack.
You may also consider giving your shih tzu home cooked food such as meat, fish and certain vegetables. If you do this, bear in mind that manufactured food has to meet certain vitamin requirements and you will probably need to add some vitamins to bring your home cooked food up to standard.
To find out exactly which vitamins are required for your particular dog will need to be discussed with your vet. To get over this I give my two boys a mixed diet of home cooked food and good quality kibble, namely Royal Canin Shih Tzu, to ensure they are getting all of their vitamins.
Don’t make the mistake of neglecting the treats. Treats can make up to 30% of a typical dog’s diet, especially if you are using them as training aids, so it is important that your shih tzu’s treats are up to the same quality standards as his main meals.
Those of you reading this that have a shih tzu puppy on a diet of puppy-formulated food, I suggest moving him onto adult food at the age of 8 months despite what age may be recommended on the package. This is because at 8 months the food will probably contain more vitamins and nutrients than your puppy’s system can process. The excess is discharged from the body through the feces, making the poop a tasty proposition.
Does your shih tzu bolt down his food? If so, some of his food may be passing through his body undigested which, again, will leave the feces full of nutrients and a potential doggy snack. There are ways that you can slow him down.
For instance, you may like to try presenting his food packed into a treat release toy. Not only will this slow down his eating habits, it will also stimulate his mind as he works out how to get at treats.
Or, if you prefer, there are special bowls available designed to slow down the speed at which a dog eats. These bowls have raised surfaces inside to prevent your shih tzu gobbling up all of the food in one go.
Another way that your dog’s diet can be leading to eat his poop is this. He may have all the nutrients and vitamins in his food that he needs but his digestive enzymes may not be processing them efficiently. If half-digested food comes out with his feces, he may be tempted to eat it again in order to satisfy his hunger.
If you or your vet suspects that this may be what is happening with your shih tzu, adding a commercially available digestive enzyme to the food bowl could help. A popular choice, ProZyme, includes four separate digestive enzymes that assist with the breaking down of protein, starch, plant fibers and omega fatty acids respectively into smaller molecules for easy absorption by the dog’s system.
What To Do If You Think Boredom Or Stress Is The Trigger
I’ve put these two possible causes of coprophagia together as the solution is the same for both.
First, section off a part of the living area that your shih tzu can make his “den”, his own piece of the home, his own “safe” place where he can go at times of stress. This is especially important if you are leaving him home alone for some time or to provide a quiet, relaxing area if you have a busy, chaotic household.
For this den you can simply rearrange the furniture, buy a pet playpen or use his crate if you are crate training your puppy.
Inside the den, have a bed or some bedding for your shih tzu to rest and sleep. Place some toys inside too, somewhere where they are not going to roll away. The toys need to be ones that provide some entertainment or comfort and give the dog something to think about.
Toys such as treat-release toys where your dog has to work to get at the food, talking toys, interactive toys and companion toys that mimic a live creature, complete with simulated heartbeat, are ideal to keep your shih tzu’s mind off of eating poop.
Also in the den, make sure there is an adequate supply of fresh water and, if you are going to be away for some time, some food. The food in the treat toy may be enough for this.
Depending on what stage you are at with housebreaking, you may need to include a puppy pad inside the den. If you do include this, place it in the opposite corner to the water and food to minimize the chances of food and feces being confused.
If you are walking and exercising your shih tzu enough, the puppy pad shouldn’t be necessary. Walk your shih tzu twice a day for a minimum of 20 minutes each session. Try to also provide at least 20 minutes of exercise each day where your shih tzu runs around a little, for example, chasing a ball. A shih tzu doesn’t need much exercise but he does need some.
Boost your shih tzu’s self-esteem and at the same time improve his behavior by teaching him some basic commands such as “sit”, “stay” and “come”. If you can teach him the “leave it” command it may even help you stop him picking up feces, or at least delay him until you can. Spend about 20 to 30 minutes a day training if you can. Any longer will be too much for the dog to take in.
My friends at TrainPetDog have some free training advice specifically designed for the shih tzu breed.
If It’s A Behavior Thing
Actually, whatever the cause is, the best way to stop your shih tzu eating poop is to pick it up before he gets a chance to get near it. Before you let him out in your backyard, make sure it is clear of feces. When he goes through his “poop dance”, be ready to bag up the stools straight away and dispose of them. If you clear up like this consistently he will eventually lose the habit and forget about it.
Now I know you’re not going to want to pick up the feces of other dogs and animals, so if this is what your shih tzu is eating make sure he is always on the leash when you are out so that you can gently, without yanking, pull him away, saying “leave it” in a firm but calm voice as you do so.
I know too, that there are those of you that cannot keep an eye on your dog all day and he is eating his own poop in your absence. In this situation, some people have tried adding certain ingredients to the dog’s food in an attempt to make the stools unattractive to him.
These additives work with some dogs but not with others. Try one of a little pineapple, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage or pumpkin mixed in with the normal food. If one doesn’t work, try another, you may eventually find one that will deter your shih tzu from eating his feces.
There are also products available that strive to have the same effect but again, they may work with some dogs and not with others. Try products such as “Deter” or “For-BID” or even a little meat tenderizer mixed in with the food. Alternatively, something like the Naturvet Coprophagia Deterrent may act as a stand-alone remedy.
Some people try sprinkling such things as hot pepper sauce, crushed or ground pepper or a product called Bitter Apple directly onto the feces to shock their dogs into not eating the poop. Not only is this liable to stress the dog out even more, if you have the time to do this, why not just pick up the poop in the first place?
If you also have a cat in the house and your shih tzu is eating poop from the litter tray, then the easy solution is to place the litter tray higher up, say, on the washing machine or tumble dryer. Your cat will easily climb up to the new location, whereas your shih tzu will not be able to reach the new heights.
No More Poop Eating
Most shih tzu and most dogs that eat poop will grow out of it naturally by the time they reach adulthood. For the few that don’t, it’s a case of identifying exactly what is causing the dog to eat poop and acting accordingly.
Notice that I have not advised punishing your shih tzu for his poop eating antics. The worst thing you can do is to fuel more anxiety by shouting angrily at him, hitting him, rubbing his nose in the feces or other violent act. Not only will this stress him out more, it will also drive his poop eating activities undercover. Better to reward him with praise and a treat when he obeys your “leave it” command and walks away from the poop. After all, a tasty snack is more appealing than poop, even to a shih tzu!
I hope that you have found this article useful and helps you end your shih tzu’s poop eating problems. If you have any relevant comments or questions about this subject, about this website or about shih tzu in general, please do use the comments box below. Alternatively, you can send a message using the contact us form.
Bye for now,
Shih Tzu Steve.