Why Do Dogs Eat Poop??
It may be the question I’m asked most often. I can’t even single out a reader on this one because I think I’ve received some variation of this question a good two dozen times or more.
But I’ll be honest… I’ve been putting this one off.
It’s not that I don’t want to know the answer, too.
That’s not it. My dogs do it, too… and the last thing I want to do is let them give me kisses right after I’ve seen them dive after squirrel poo.
No, the reason I’ve put it off is… well, who really wants to write about Poop??????
That said… now that I’ve decided to cover the topic, I’ll give it my best.
In my research, I found that there are many reasons why a dog will eat poop, and even found some ways to help curb the habit!
(Now I wish I’d covered this earlier…)
First, did you know that there’s a word for this? Yep, the word for eating stool is coprophagia.
It turns out that the reasons for a dog to eat its own poop, the stool of other dogs, and even the poo of other animals can vary from boredom to medical issues.
Let’s look at the medical issues first.
Medical Reasons Why a Dog Will Eat Poop.
Most of the medical reason a dog might eat poo have to do with nutritional deficiencies. Dogs eat poop that is their own, another dog’s, or other animals in an attempt to make up for those deficiencies.
Some deficiencies are easy enough to correct, others need you to work with your veterinarian.
Not feeding enough
Double check with your vet to see if you’re feeding your dog enough. If you’re underfeeding them, they will seek out other ways to get enough to eat.
Some people cut back on their dog’s food as part of their efforts to help Fido control his weight. But cutting back may not leave your dog feeling full, so he looks for something else to eat.
Or you might have cut back too far.
The best thing to do is have your dog weighed by your veterinarian and determine how many calories you should be feeding your dog. Then check your dog’s food and find out how much you need to feed them to hit that calorie count. Each brand will be different, and sometimes it can be different from flavor to flavor.
Not feeding them the right food
Low-quality food might not have the right nutrient levels for some dogs. Even some higher quality brands can fall short for specific breeds.
This is another question for your dog’s doc. The iron, fiber, vitamin, or other nutrient levels in your brand of food may not be right for your dog’s breed, age, weight, health… etc.
And if you’re feeding your dog an entirely homemade diet, you’ll need guidance on what to emphasize in your meal plans.
This is the official term for when you don’t break down and absorb nutrients from your food properly. And dogs are just as prone to this issue as humans.
This one requires some testing. If you and your vet agree that you’re feeding the right foods in the right amounts, then your dog could have a medical condition that prevents them from properly digesting their food.
When you talk to your vet, be sure to tell them whose stool your dog is interested in. Some animals leave more of specific nutrients in their stool. So, it matters if your dog is after their own, the cat’s, or even the neighborhood squirrel’s leavings.
Some dogs struggle to keep their inner enzymes balanced. Without the proper enzymes, they can’t digest their food properly. Instead of breaking down and absorbing the nutrients, they pass them in their stool.
In the wild, they solve this by eating the entire animal when they hunt. This includes whatever enzymes that animal had in its stomach and intestines.
It’s a sort of evolved supplementation. Since dogs wouldn’t have vets in the wild to prescribe them extra enzymes, they get them from their prey.
But in modern homes, dogs generally don’t hut prey and eat it. They get their dinners from cans, boxes, bags, and whatever their human makes for them.
So, instead… they eat poo.
This is an easier term for a medical condition called Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). The basics of this one are that the pancreas does not make enough of the right enzymes for your dog.
So, your dog isn’t able to pull all of the nutrients out of their food… and they may “re-eat” it to get a second chance at it.
The problem is that stool eating will not solve this, and the issue will starve your dog over time. So, if you notice that your dog is eating stool, along with weight loss and diarrhea, take him to the veterinarian right away.
There are parasites that can live in your dog’s intestines and which cause all sorts of digestion issues. Worms and other nasties eat the nutrients that your dog’s system broke down for them. Convenient for them, bad news for your pup.
The good news is that these interlopers can usually be evicted with a simple deworming. Your vet will have natural and medication options for you to try.
Other Medical Conditions
Some medical conditions can make your dog hungrier than usual. Bigger appetites can be signs of diabetes or thyroid issues.
In these cases, no matter how much you feed your dog or how well-nourished they are, they’re still going to be hungry enough to go after the next poo they find.
Steroids can also make your dog hungry enough to eat poop. Lovely, huh?
Behavioral Reasons Why a Dog Will Eat Poop
Some dogs don’t eat poo for any medical reason.
A bored dog will look for just about any way to entertain themselves. If your dog isn’t getting enough stimulation, they “experiment” with eating poo to see what happens.
Dogs explore the world with their noses and mouths… so eating poo entertains both senses.
Canine mothers naturally clean up poo. They lick their pup’s bottoms to stimulate them to eliminate and then eat it to keep the “nest” clean. This usually stops when pups are about three weeks old.
Some puppies also eat poo during their early development as part of their learning phase. Just like babies put everything in their mouths, puppies eat everything they find.
Thankfully, they usually grow out of this phase!
Some dogs are clean freaks! They learned from their mothers that they want to keep their “nest” a poo-free zone.
Dogs learn this habit young, so sometimes it’s just natural for them to continue. They don’t want to leave messes lying around.
While we’re talking about cleaning up messes… some dogs work to “hide the evidence.” Dogs who are punished for pooing in the house may eat it to avoid getting into trouble.
Ok, we all have some bad behaviors when we’re stressed. I personally clean my nails compulsively. Dogs also use habits to soothe their stress.
And like human stress habits, dogs are likely to have bad habits for coping with stress.
When you look at the evolution of the domestic dog, it’s important to know that dogs started out as scavengers. And even though they learned to hunt, dogs are still natural scavengers.
They use scent to hunt, and poo is smelly. Plus, scavengers are rarely as repulsed by things as we are and it’s no different with stool-eating.
Puppy Mill Birth
Yet another reason to support shutting down puppy mills! Puppies born in mills are born to horrible conditions.
There’s often not enough food to go around, and cages are barely kept up (if at all).
So, what do you do if you’re hungry and the only thing remotely edible is poo? Well, if you’re a dog, you eat the poo lying around your cage.
These dogs may never lose the habit. Plus, when you’re born into a bad situation like that, you may not fully trust food to keep coming. So, you keep your poo-eating habit as a way to ensure you never go hungry.
I’m going to go donate to the ASPCA… be right back.
Ok… next on the list we have attention seeking behaviors. Like children, if they’re desperate for attention of any sort, then bad attention is ok, too.
Some dogs who feel ignored deliberately start to push our buttons. Doesn’t matter if we’ve just played chase and fetch, and whatever other games they love. If they want attention and we’re doing something else, they’ll do what it takes to get what they want.
For some dogs… it means eating poo because we’ll yell ‘EW’ and start paying attention to them.
Plus, the poo acts like a food reward in their eyes… yuck!
That doesn’t have the same ring as copycat… but it’s the right principle.
Some dogs learn to eat poo by watching older dogs do it. They see their buddy eating squirrel stool, and suddenly they think it’s the THING to do.
Other “Interesting” Notes About Dogs Who Eat Poo
- Just under 1 in 4 dogs (about 24%) will eat poo sometime in their life (that we know of). And about 1 in 6 dogs develop a serious fixation on it. That’s according to a study by Dr. Benjamin Hart from the University of California.
- Poo-eaters prefer healthy stools or frozen ones. It’s rare for a dog to eat poo that is older than two days or that is loose.
- Dogs in multi-dog homes are more likely to be stool-eaters. Researchers found that only 20% of dogs in single dog homes ate poo versus 33% in homes with three dogs.
- Luckily – poo eaters are not any more difficult to house train than any other dog. Whew!
- Female dogs are more likely to indulge in poo eating, while intact male dogs were the least likely to eat poo.
- A dog who steals food from the table or other dogs is more likely to be a poo eater.
None of these points makes it any less gross…
Why You Need to Discourage Stool-Eating
Ok – we know we want to curb it because it’s, well… disgusting!! It’s so gross that I put off doing the research for this post.
Coprophagia has its dangers for not just your dog, but also for the people and any other animals in the family.
Dangers to Your Dog
Unrecognized medical issues go untreated. You can view stool eating as an effective warning sign that your dog needs to see their vet.
Also, while eating their own stool is gross, it won’t hurt your dog. But eating the stool of other animals is an easy way for them to pick up an infection.
It can be infected with parasites, viruses, or other toxins.
Dangers to Other Dogs
If your dog is a poo-eater, they can be a hazard to other dogs. If you have more than one dog in your home or come into contact with other dogs frequently, your dog can pass anything they’ve picked up to the next dog.
Dangers to You and Others in the Home
Poo-eaters bring hazards into the home. Even if their habit doesn’t make them sick, their poo can make others sick.
Plus, dogs use their tongues to clean themselves. They pick up their parasites and whatever while using their tongue after relieving themselves (like toilet paper).
They can spread things like Salmonella, E. coli, and other infections from their guts to other household members.
How? Well, they groom themselves with the tongue that is in the mouth that ate the poo. So, those bacteria and other nasty things end up on your dog’s fur. And if your dog gives kisses…
How to Train Your Dog NOT to Eat Poop
The first step to ending the poo-eating cycle is to take your dog to the vet. Talk over your concerns. Be sure to tell your veterinarian the circumstances when your dog eats poo.
For example, tell them what sort of poo they’re eating. Do any other dogs in the house do the same thing? Does your dog come into contact with other dogs at a park or other situation where they could have learned the habit?
Is your dog alone a lot? Do they stay in a crate or single room when you’re not home? Do they have separation issues or other behavioral issues?
Have a label from your dog’s food along for your visit, too. This will help your vet to determine if you need a different food to meet your dog’s needs.
Be prepared to be patient.
Your vet will want to try small changes at first. They may not appear to take the problem very seriously because they’re not taking drastic steps.
But they ARE taking it seriously… they don’t want to guess why your dog is eating poo. They want to work methodically to be sure to find the core reason for the problem before taking drastic steps that could make the issue worse if they “guess” wrong.
Your vet visit will probably include a full physical, lots of discussion on what is happening and answering the doc’s questions, and then a few tests to start things off.
But even before your vet exhausts any medical reasons for poo-eating, they will encourage you to work on some behavioral modifications and retraining.
Then, when the tests all come back, they may have some medications and advice for you.
Possible Medical Interventions
Your veterinarian may prescribe enzymes if they determine that your dog has a deficiency. They may also prescribe them when coping with a parasitic infection as a way to help boost your dog’s ability to break down nutrients while you also work on killing the parasites.
Possible Dietary Interventions
If your vet finds that your dog has a nutritional deficiency, they may prescribe supplements. They might also suggest food changes to support your dog’s health through diet. Depending on how severe the issues are, they might prescribe a medical diet at least temporarily.
In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend a raw diet for your dog for enzymatic issues. This is just what it sounds like for humans. You’ll feed your dog a diet of raw vegetables, high-quality proteins, and whole grains.
I do not recommend you move to a fully raw diet without your veterinarian’s approval because some dogs do not tolerate it well and some breeds can become ill on this diet.
If your dog has a mineral deficiency, your veterinarian may recommend adding kelp to your pup’s diet. They might recommend apple cider vinegar for dogs with hydrochloric acid deficiencies.
Again… don’t try these without your vet’s approval. They may not recommend these home remedies depending on your dog’s other health concerns, breed, weight, and age.
Keep things clean! When you take your dog out to do his business, be sure to clean up any stool immediately. You want to remove the temptation as quickly as possible.
If you have a cat, keep the litter box cleaned daily. You may also want to keep the litter box someplace your dog cannot go. Some families find that keeping a baby-gate across the threshold of the room where the litter is will do the trick. Other families need to take more drastic measures to keep the dog and litter separate.
For families with other animals around, such as rabbits, clean up under and around cages routinely. Again, you’re removing the temptation for your dog. Where possible, keep your dog away from pens and cages for small animals.
The absolute best first step is to be sure you completely train your dog on the commands “Leave it” and “Come.” These two commands can stop your dog from eating things off the ground and forcing your dog to come to you instead of continuing to investigate the poo.
Keep your dog engaged! The best thing to do is to make sure your dog is getting enough exercise and mental stimulation. If they engage in poo-eating when they go outdoors, then bring a ball and play fetch until they’re ready to stop. Then they’ll only have the idea of doing their business and returning to their favorite napping spot.
For dogs who poo in the house and then eat it… make sure you’re taking them out often enough. And be sure that they have the right toys for them.
Some breeds are content with a rope and a stuffie. Others need complex puzzles and brain toys for enough stimulation not to grow bored. And a bored dog is more likely to eat poo.
Do not try punishing your dog for eating stool. No matter how frustrating it is, punishment doesn’t really work with dogs. If you catch them eating poo, distract them by throwing a ball or something similar. Distracting them with noise or a toy is more effective than punishment for most things.
Reward your dog for doing their business. This seems odd to some people, but by training your dog to expect a treat after they’re finished, they focus on YOU and not looking for poo to eat. They’d rather have the treat and your attention.
There are some taste aversion methods around. The idea behind these products is that even dogs find some tastes or smells disgusting. So, you spray these products on the poo, and your dog won’t want it. The sprays may contain chamomile, pepper compounds, garlic, monosodium glutamate, or other herbs or foods that dogs find unappealing.
You may have to try a couple of these products until you find one that your dog doesn’t like. But another thing to keep in mind here is that these do not always work. Some dogs are just more determined than repulsed.
Remember that it is HARD to break a bad habit, and it’s not any easier for your dog. You’ll need to be patient.
They may “relapse” and fall back into their poo-eating habits on occasion. When that happens, simply start over with the behavioral training, and reinforce it.
They’ll soon quit again, and you can go back to enjoying poo-free kisses.
This was probably one of the most disgusting, yet interesting pieces I’ve ever researched. But it was worth it. I found plenty of fantastic information for us all to use.
In the end, you need to be sure of just two things to curb their poop-eating habits.
First, that your dog is healthy, and you work with your vet to care for any medical issues.
And two, that you’re training your dog properly to choose you over whatever poo they think is a tasty treat.
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