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Eating Poop

Shih Tzu Coprophagia (Eating Feces) 

Overview

Coprophagia means the ingestion of feces, and it is not an uncommon behavior with Shih Tzu or with canines in general. It can be both puzzling and troubling, and leave owners wondering why their puppy or dog is doing this, and how in the world to make it stop.

There are several reasons why a Shih Tzu may be eating poop, either their own or that of another dog. In most cases, coprophagia is a red flag that something else needs to be addressed. And fortunately, there are several steps you can take to stop this from happening. 

This section will discuss:
  • What you need to know about coprophagia
  • The 5 exact steps to stop this for good
So, let’s dive into this topic so that if your Shih Tzu has this habit, it can be reversed as soon as possible. 

About Coprophagia

white Shih Tzu with black ears, male
Rocky, at 3 years old,
photo courtesy of Don VanGelderen
A big part of stopping something is understanding what it is and the reasons behind it. 

Coprophagia refers to the act of ingesting feces. This may be a dog’s own or that of another animal, such as other dogs or cats. 

A Shih Tzu may do this under his owner’s watch, or only when at home alone. 

Most dogs that eat their own poop are being fed enough, so it may seem that this cannot be due to hunger. 

This sort of behavior can be seen with dogs of all ages, from young pups to seniors. In most cases, this will be a chronic, on-going problem until the owner makes appropriate changes. 

You may be wondering if a Shih Tzu can get sick from eating feces. In some cases, the answer is yes. 
If a dog is being treated for worms, if the worms that are being shed from the body are ingested, this can cause a re-infestation. 

If a Shih Tzu ate feces belonging to another dog, worms and certain diseases can be transmitted including campylobacteriosis, corona, cryptosporidiosis, giardiasis, parvo, and salmonellosis. 

If a Shih Tzu is eating cat poop, any worms present can be transmitted, as well as diseases including clostridia, campylobacteriosis, and salmonella.

And for all Shih Tzu, one of the leading causes of coprophagia points to issues with the diet, which in itself can lead to poor health. 

Reasons Why a Shih Tzu Will Eat Poop

1. A diet that is lacking certain nutrients or has a high filler/grain count. Unfortunately, both of these issues are seen with quite a few dog foods. 

In regard to nutrients - While all dog foods are regulated to contain certain vitamins and minerals, all are not created equally. Inferior kibbles often add synthetic vitamins as opposed to adding in wholesome foods that contain natural vitamins. The body handles synthetic vitamins differently, so a Shih Tzu may not be absorbing what he needs, despite that fact that the ingredient list is showing these. 
In regard to fillers – Fillers are essential cheap ingredients that provide little to no nutritional value. 
They are added to foods to ‘plump’ them up, taking the place of ‘real’ food seen with better brands.

This includes but is not limited to corn, soy, brans, hulls, and cereal by-products.

A Shih Tzu will eat his food, and seem full. The problem is that the fillers pass right through the body, offering no nutrition. When you think that your dog ate a 1/2 cup of food, he really only received perhaps 1/4 cup of actual food that his body can use. 

The body, lacking what it needs, will cause a Shih Tzu to seek out other food sources; and many times, this will be feces. 

Since certain fillers pass through the body partially or completely undigested, the stools contain these food ingredients, which makes eating the poop all that more tempting. 

With this, or alternatively to this, though the Shih Tzu ate his whole meal, only some of the food was used for fuel. Soon afterward, the dog is hungry again... and if feces are there to eat, they may be ingested due to hunger. 
cute black Shih Tzu puppy
Benedict Cumberbatch aka Benny, at 11 weeks old,
Photo courtesy of The Stetson Family
2. Stress. Paired with diet issues, but also seen on its own, high levels of stress can drive a Shih Tzu to ingest feces. This is a self-coping behavior seen with dogs, and is common with those left home alone or in chaotic households.
3. Boredom. Some dogs are okay with just ‘being’, but for the Shih Tzu, which is a high-energy, curious breed, there often needs to be some sort of stimulation or else the dog gets restless and bored. 

When left with nothing to do, a Shih Tzu may take to investigating his surroundings, sniffing around and mouthing things. And this may inevitably lead to mouthing and eating poop. 

4. Health issue/Age issue. Far less common, but a possibility for why a Shih Tzu may eat poop is an underlying health issue that is interfering with the dog’s ability to absorb nutrients. 

This includes but is not limited to:
  • Inflammatory bowel disease. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, gas, and/or abdominal pain. 
  • Intestinal tumors or cancer. Signs include diarrhea, vomiting of blood or feces, abdominal swelling, black or tarry stools, and/or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) which causes confusion, trouble walking, and/or weakness. 
  • Intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Symptoms include larger or more frequent stools in comparison to food intake, vomiting, gas, weight loss, abdominal pain, and/or increased appetite. 
  • Parasitic infection. Includes worms and some fungal infections. Signs of worms are very varied depending on the type, but include vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, low energy, swollen abdomen, changes in appetite (increase or decrease), weight loss, poor coat texture, skin irritations, and worms that can be seen in the dog’s stools. 
  • Short bowel syndrome. Signs include watery diarrhea and weight loss. 
  • Lymphangiectasia (intestinal tract disease). Signs include weight loss, diarrhea, abdominal pain, swelling in the limbs, vomiting, and/or cough. 
  • * Age related (young or old) – Without any precise health issues, very young puppies or older, senior adult dogs may simply have troubles absorbing nutrients. While all conditions should be ruled out, often these Shih Tzu just need a bit of a nudge in the right direction, paired with the other methods to prevent eating feces. 

The 5 Steps to Stopping Coprophagia with Shih Tzu

Now that you understand the possible reasons why your Shih Tzu is eating poop, it’ll be easier to resolve this.
#1 Take action in regard to nutrient absorption issues.
two Shih Tzu hugging
Stewie (7 months) and Ella (1 and 1/2 years),
photo courtesy of Victoria Visser
For health issues - If your Shih Tzu is showing any of the signs as listed above for conditions that may interfere with how the body is absorbing nutrients, this warrants a veterinarian visit as soon as possible.  

If all health issues have been ruled out, there’s no food changes to be made, and this is a matter of a Shih Tzu needing an extra boost with absorbing the nutrients he is eating, a prozyme supplement can help with this. 

Prozyme is plant-based, and contains 4 digestive enzymes that help a dog’s digestive system absorb carbs, fatty acids, and protein.  

Two of them, alpha-amylase and protease, work by breaking down proteins and starches into smaller molecules that are easier to absorb. Cellulase works by breaking down plant fibers (vegetables), and lipase works by breaking down fatty acids (omegas). 
In this way, if you are giving your Shih Tzu a top-quality food, your dog will be getting the most out of it. 

Other benefits you may see once you starting giving this to your Shih Tzu include better coat text, improvement with dry skin issues, less flatulence, healthier weight (for pups struggling to gain, and adults having trouble maintaining), and increased energy levels. 

A very good one to try is Trophy Prozyme All-Natural Enzyme Powder. It improves nutritional benefits up to 70% and is made (not just distributed) in the USA. This is a powder that is added to a meal (once per day), be sure to mix it in well. Results can be seen as soon as 1 week, with optimal results in 2 months.

Since this is very safe, and all natural, you can continue to give this indefinitely; but growing pups may not need this once they’ve matured. 
# 2 Reassess meals and snacks. 

Unless you are 100% confident in what your Shih Tzu is eating for meals and for snacks, it’ll be time to take a closer look and see if changes should be made.
For meals –Since Shih Tzu do not eat all that much, so every bite counts. You’ll want to avoid kibble that has high grain content or any sort of fillers.

Just some of the 1 (very bad) through 3 (just ‘okay’) starred brands as graded by Dog Food Advisor include: 

Alpo, Back to Basics (grain free dry), Ben's Best, Beneful, Blue Buffalo Basics, Caliber, Country Acres, Defender, Everpet, Evolution Diet, Good Sense, Heartland Reserve, Gravy Train, Hi-Point, Hill's (some of the Ideal Balance and some of the Science Diet formulas),... yes, the list is still going...and, this is just a partial list...

Iams, Jake's Choice, Kal Kan, Kibbles 'n Bits, Natural Balance (original), Ol' Roy, Old Glory, Old Yeller, Pedigree, Purina, Racheal Ray (Nutrish dry and some others), Royal Canin (Lifestyle Health and some others), Simply Right, Sonny's Pride, and Trader Joe's (dry).
Shih Tzu with Colored band on stomach
Bandi, at 9 months old,
photo courtesy of Marci
What to do: Feed your Shih Tzu puppy or dog a high-quality food to help prevent coprophagia that is due to food with inferior nutritional value.

One great choice is Wellness Complete Health for Small Breed Dogs. Note that there is one for toy breeds too that is a great kibble as well; but this one is for dogs under 25 lbs., and we like this formula best. 

This is 100% all natural, with no artificial additives. The base of this is turkey and oatmeal which is easy on the stomach for most dogs. It also has peas (great source of fiber), spinach, sweet potato, apples, and blueberries. Via flaxseed and salmon oil, it has good levels of omega 3. And, it has probiotics, which is also great for digestive health. Wellness is made in the USA.
If you are looking for a high-quality alternative to poultry, a great one is Merrick Lil Plates Grain-Free for Small Breeds. This is a zero-grain kibble, that comes in some great formulas; there is Texas Beef, Salmon, and Lamb options, and all are paired with sweet potato (also see below).

For snacks – With most Shih Tzu, snacks comprise 10 to 30% of their daily intake, so treats should be held to the same standards as main meals.

You can't go wrong with Wellness Bites (below you'll see the one for puppies) or Fruitables, both of these are 100% all natural, are sized nicely, and are made in the USA.
Below are the recommended foods and snacks that we covered. If you do not see the images, try a refresh. And, on mobile you may need to turn your screen horizontal to see all 4.

And next, we’ll cover steps #3 through #5. 
#3. Limit Access

This may seem like a ‘given’, but you may be surprised to what extent you can actually make changes in this regard.

1. If this is an issue regarding a Shih Tzu eating cat poop, keep the litter box out of reach. Since cats can climb and dogs cannot, on top of the washing machine or other similarly raised area works well. 
Shih Tzu liver colored
Gizmo, at 4 and 1/2 months old,
photo courtesy of Wendy Walthers
2. Keep the yard cleaned up by picking up poop as soon as it’s deposited. 

3. Do not allow your Shih Tzu to go outside. This is never a good idea for several reasons including not being able to reward good housebreaking habits and the risk of outdoor dangers. And of course, you can’t stop your Shih Tzu from eating feces from the yard if you are not there supervising him. 

4. When you are outside with your Shih Tzu, keep your dog on a harness (not a collar) and a short leash (6 foot or retractable). Watch your Shih Tzu. If your dog starts going towards any feces or starts nosing at poop, pull him away. If you have him on a harness, this will not cause any neck injury, since the neck is free. Bring him to another area that is poop-free. 

5. When your inside with your Shih Tzu, keep him supervised. 
For dogs that are not yet house trained, and eating poop from indoor accidents, you’ll want to ramp up your housebreaking methods for quick success. 

6. When your Shih Tzu is home alone, this is a bit trickier. The other advice here (food changes, reducing boredom, supplements, etc.) will help. 
#4 Resolve Stress or Boredom Levels

Stress and boredom often go hand in hand. A bored dog at not at peace, and a stressed dog can feel better if kept distracted. Once your Shih Tzu is more relaxed and is kept busy throughout the day, this can greatly cut back on coprophagia. 

Here are some helpful tips:

1. Keep your Shih Tzu moving. This breed should be exercised twice per day, with brisk walks lasting at least 20 minutes each. It's good for the body, good for the heart, and great for the mind.

2. Incorporate playtime. While you no doubt have busy days, an important part of pet ownership is carving out time for interaction. Fit in at least a 20-minute game or fetch or other activity, ideally once per day. 

3. Start teaching commands, even just the basic ones of sit, come, fetch, and down. The training process and learning how to successful obey commands can increase a dog’s self-esteem, and the time you take to work with your Shih Tzu is another activity to keep him occupied. 
4. Take a look at the overall vibe of the household to see if it’s too chaotic. Is there too much foot traffic? Too much noise? Or young children that an older Shih Tzu is having a hard time tolerating?
If so, giving your dog a quiet area to retreat to when desired can help. 

See the next tips for setting up an area. 

5. Give your Shih Tzu toys that will engage and entertain. Since these types of toys are so vital for when a dog is home alone, we cover more details about this right below. 

6. Take steps to sooth separation anxiety issues.
Ways to help reduce anxiety when home alone include:

1) Creating a den. It is canine instinct to seek a ‘den’ when stressed, it offers a feeling of safety and security. It also helps in keeping all of a dog’s necessities right near him, where they can’t roll away, get lost, or end up across the room where a Shih Tzu won’t notice them. 

One of the best methods for this is to have a canine playpen. 
Shih Tzu on back of motorcycle
Kodi, at 1 and 1/2 years old,
photo courtesy of Karla Harrington (Alaska)
Below are some of our top recommended playpens. These come in different sizes (24” is good for puppies, you may want a 36” for an adult) and with or without a door. If you do not see the images, try a refresh. And, on mobile you may need to turn your screen horizontal to see all 4.
2) Having the right items within the den. Toys that really engage a dog to encourage self-play are great for both stress and boredom. If a Shih Tzu is busy interacting with toys that actually hold his interest, he won’t be bored and messing around with his poop. 

Those that talk are super-engaging; the Babble Balls and Look Who’s Talking toys are awesome.

A companion toy that mimics a living creature is a fantastic way to keep a dog happy and busy. And, finally, for those with some room in the budget, a pet-cam that has 2-way audio, and the ability for you to send out a treat at the tap of your phone is an incredible method of ending feelings of isolation. Just don’t let your boss catch you playing with this all day. 
Below are the toys we just discussed. If you do not see the images, try a refresh. And, on mobile you may need to turn your screen horizontal to see all 4.
adorable Shih Tzu puppy
Lolly Pop, 
photo courtesy of Sandy McDonald
#5 Make Feces Less Tempting 

Once all other steps have been tried, you may also want to try a coprophagia deterrent. Do keep in mind that you’ll want any and all underlying triggers to be resolved first. 

Using a deterrent involves offering a supplement that is meant make a dog’s poop taste especially horrid.  

Home remedy, do not use:

Hot sauce. This is a home remedy purported to stop a dog from eating feces, it is meant to be poured over stools that have been deposited. But all it really does is cause a burning sensation that scares a dog of his own poop, and could be considered unethical. 

Not to mention that feces should be picked up right away, and if that is being done there is no poop there to douse with hot sauce. 

Home remedy, may work to some extent:
Both pineapple and pumpkin are said to perhaps help with coprophagia; however, there is only anecdotal proof. Both are safe for dogs to eat in reasonable amounts. 

Pumpkin does work to help a dog with digestive issues including diarrhea and constipation. But, it will not do much for nutrient absorption nor will it really affect the taste of feces. 
Supplements, what may work:

This method is a coin toss; it works very well for some dogs, but not so much for others. If you’ve followed every tip on this page to a tee, and are still looking for something to work, it may be worth trying Naturvet Coprophagia Deterrent Soft Chew, which has about a 50% success rate. 

To Summarize

It’s a disturbing habit when a dog eats his own poop, but even more than that it is often a wake-up call that there is something that needs to be addressed.

Ruling out health issues, addressing a problem with nutrient absorption, switching to a superior food, limiting access, working to resolve stress and boredom levels, and using a deterrent are all methods that will work together to finally stop coprophagia issues that a Shih Tzu may be having. 
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Top Shih Tzu Care Tips - If you're doing all 14 of these things, you are right on track.
Grooming a Shih Tzu - Overview of all grooming aspects, which leads to more details regarding baths, shampoos, brushing, and more. 
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