Video & Blog: Why Do Dogs Eat Poop, Barriers to Rabies Vaccination, Dogs & Weight Bias

Dr. Ernie Ward

Why Do Dogs Eat Poop? New Research from University California, Davis

Our first story comes to us from the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. UC Davis is home to sunshine, surfing, and cutting edge coprophagy research. The researchers wanted to discover how many dogs had coprophagy, what led to these coprophagous behaviors, and did any of the common treatments for coprophagy actually work?

Using internet-based surveys, Dr. Benjamin Hart and his team found that approximately 16-percent of dogs engaged in some form of coprophagy, defined as eating feces at least six times during the study period.

Hart hypothesized that coprophagy was a behavior held over from the canine’s evolution from wolves and was an attempt to keep the wolves’ den clean and parasite free.

Hart found in his research that fresh feces was favored, especially poop less than 48 hours old.

When Hart and his team evaluated coprophagy treatments, including behavior modification and 11 commercially available products, he found that success rates were close to zero. Nada. Didn’t work.

As a practicing veterinarian I'm often asked why do dogs eat poop? While this research doesn't answer that question, it does show the importance of cleaning up a dog’s poop as quickly as possible. It also goes to show we've got a lot of work to do when it comes to the treatment of coprophagy.

New Study Explores Barriers to Rabies Vaccination in Malawi

Our next story comes to us from Malawi, Africa and it has to do with rabies. Approximately 59,000 people die worldwide of rabies each year. The vast majority are from rabies-infected dog bites.

I'm proud to serve with Dr. Luke Gamble and Mission Rabies in an effort to eradicate rabies from our planet. Annual vaccination of at least 70-percent of the dog population is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to eliminate rabies. Mission Rabies provides free rabies vaccinations for the most vulnerable populations, especially in impoverished countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Members of Mission Rabies recently published a study to evaluate why people did or did not participate in free rabies vaccine clinics in Malawi. Their research proved that distance to rabies vaccination was the key barrier.

When it comes to barriers reducing rabies vaccination rates in dogs, they also found that pregnant dogs, nursing mothers and puppies were less likely to be rabies vaccinated.

Publicity and advertising of rabies clinics is also critical to success. 27-percent of Malawians reported they didn't have their dog vaccinated at one of these free clinics simply because they didn't hear about it. 19-percent of dog owners in Malawi said they didn't have their dog vaccinated against rabies simply because they couldn't safely or adequately handle their dog.

Dr. Gamble and his team hope this research will help the efforts of other organizations interested in eradicating rabies. Identifying barriers to rabies vaccine is a critical step towards the vaccination goal of 70-percent of a dog population. 1) Accessibility to clinics, 2) Public education and publicity of vaccine clinics, and 3) Teaching people how to safely restrain and handle dogs are three key takeaways from this important research. Be sure to visit Mission Rabies online to find out how you can help.

 Can Dogs Help Overcome Human Weight Bias?

Our last story comes to us from the Yale University Department of Psychology. Molly Crossman and her team wanted to see if the presence of a dog could help reduce weight bias in people suffering from obesity.

Crossman and her team were drawing on earlier research that showed the presence of a dog made an individual more attractive, approachable, relaxed, and more likely to have positive social interactions. She wanted to find out if you were out with your dog, would you have less stigmatism and weight bias if you had obesity?

Unfortunately, Crossman and her team found the presence of dogs had no impact on weight bias.

The researchers pointed out that because weight bias was so severe, that the presence of a dog may not be enough to overcome it.

The researchers pointed out that the presence of a dog may help with attitudes that aren't so openly expressed as weight bias.

As someone dedicated to helping with pet and human obesity, weight bias is an incredible obstacle to diagnosis and treatment we need to overcome. When people feel stigmatized or marginalized due to a health condition, they're less likely to seek help. Weight bias can also affect health care providers, resulting in medical professionals offering less medical care.

I've also observed a form of weight bias towards animals. Dogs with obesity are characterized as “greedy eaters,” “lazy,” or their “attitude or actions” are somehow responsible for their medical condition.

This type of weight bias may also be extended to the pet’s owner, blaming them for “exercising too little and feeding too much.”

My concern is that weight bias may hinder the exploration of legitimate biological causes of obesity and weight gain. Genetic influences, a person or animal’s microbiome, hormones, and more are emerging causes of obesity in humans and animals. Obesity is a complex, multifactorial condition that can't be dismissed as easily as “exercising too little and you're eating too much.”

How does the presence of dogs affect our attitudes towards a person with obesity? Can a dog or other pet help overcome biases, including weight bias? I’d like to hear from you.