Q. When we’re out hiking, my dog will eat cow pies. Is this dangerous?

A. It's not exactly something I’d recommend, but on our Almost Heaven Ranch here in Idaho, I have to admit that eating what fell out of the south end of a north-moving anything — horses, deer, elk — is practically a hobby for the Becker dogs.

Dogs Will Be Dogs

Eating waste is normal and natural to dogs, even though the very thought of it makes us gag. While not that many dogs have access to piles of cow or horse manure regularly — it’s more of a country dog thing than a city dog pursuit — almost all dogs seem to find whatever feces they can get to be quite appealing. Cat feces is near if not on top of the list, as we veterinarians hear constantly from disgusted and desperate pet lovers asking for a cure for litterbox cruising.

Dogs also, of course, eat their own feces and that of other dogs. Honestly, I have to laugh when people ask about things to put on poop that will make it taste “bad.” Some of the things people want to add to poop could only be perceived as seasoning for dogs. (And, really, if you're close enough to a pile to put something on it to discourage your pet from eating it, you're close enough to clean it up!)

How to Stop It

While there are some health issues related to poop-eating — including the transmission of worms and disease-producing bacteria — the problem isn’t the most serious one we veterinarians address. But since it is certainly among the most disgusting pet-related problems by human standards (who wants a nice doggy kiss from a pet who has been eating poop?), the best thing to do is keep dogs away from temptation.

That’s accomplished either by denying access (putting the litterbox where a dog can’t get to it or walking dogs on leash) or teaching dogs to ignore tempting items on command.