Stranger (furry) things

Some dogs eat poop, some cats suck on wool, and you wonder why. Here, we decode several quirky animal behaviours and what they mean.
By Cindy Yong
Published on Wednesday, 14 February 2018

If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Why is my dog so weird?” or “Why is Puss doing that?”, you’re not alone. As mysterious as some of our human friends are, our furry fourlegged friends do have their fair share of behaviours that are truly baffling. For instance, it’s hard for us to make sense of Fido’s desire to eat his own poop
or Puss’ obsessive grooming. Animal behaviourists and veterinarians help to shed light on some of these odd behaviours.


We’ve all joked about using the excuse “the dog ate my homework”, but even a phrase as seemingly harmless as this is no laughing matter to someone whose pooch
regularly ingests dirt, rocks, and faeces.

Pica is characterised by a desire to habitually consume non-edible items. A popular choice is poop, and stool-eating is termed ‘coprophagia’. “Suggested causes for coprophagia include general gastrointestinal diseases of various causes, malnutrition, or behavioural causes,” says veterinarian Dr Brian Loon from Amber Vet. Treatment specific to the condition will be recommended by the veterinarian, which may include probiotics and elimination diet for dietary intolerance.

While there’s the possibility of an underlying medical problem, consumption of foreign objects are usually behavioural, and is sometimes thought to be instinctive-based. “Dogs are known to consume their own poop and their friends’ faeces because these stools are made of undigested food that’s filled with nutrition,” adds trainer Barbara Wright from Positive Puppies. “If you notice that your pup is eating poop, change his diet. There’s a reason why he’s not digesting his meals well, and that poop probably tastes better than his food.”

SYMPTOMS: The habit of ingesting inedible objects. When coprophagia is associated with gastrointestinal disease, signs such as diarrhoea, blood and mucus in stools, change in appetite and vomiting may also be noted, all of which warrant veterinary attention.

TREATMENTS: May vary based on the cause. Removal of poop the instant it’s excreted from the body is recommended if it’s behaviour-related. If it’s medical related, anti-parasitic medications for parasite infections, probiotics, coprophagia supplements and limited-ingredient diets for dietary intolerance must be prescribed. If behaviour occurs due to boredom, training and interactive toys are encouraged.

This canine compulsive disorder is commonly seen in Doberman Pinschers, and other dog breeds that are prone to skin allergies and disorders. It is characterised by a dog holding or sucking on its own flank skin. Also referred to as lick granuloma, it is a repetitive and functionless act that is related to other non-nutritive sucking behaviours, such as blanket-sucking and pica.

“Flank-sucking caused by itching should be treated with anti-flea medications and for skin allergies, allergen management as a treatment option is advised,” says Dr Loon. This act usually begins as a coping strategy for anxiety and stress, as this releases relaxing endorphins. While seemingly harmless, in some cases, it can create a cycle of worrying behaviour, such as compulsive hiding and hair loss.

To counteract this behaviour—especially if it stems from boredom or anxiety—provide enrichment toys for Fido to play with. If paw-rents are unable to supervise their furkid, consider using an Elizabethan collar, as this prevents access to the flank and helps avert further self-motivated reinforcement of flank-sucking

SYMPTOMS: Obsessive sucking; licking or chewing of flank or hair skin; skin irritation, soreness and infections; and hair loss. Flank-sucking can lead to compulsive hiding or collection of objects, and pica.

TREATMENTS: If boredom is the cause, provide Fido with exercise and enrichment therapy. Anti-flea medications, topical therapy and allergen management are prescribed for skin issues. For severe cases, pain-relief medications and/or acupuncture may be advised.

For more odd pet behaviours and what they mean, flip to Body and Soul (pg 60) of our Feb/Mar 18 issue!