Your dog, if they're like most, loves to eat. Aside from food, dogs sometimes eat things they're not supposed to. Toys, rocks, dirt, grass, socks... the list goes on. And disgusting as it may be, some of our dogs eat poop, too. Medically, this behavior is known as coprophagia.
This can be their own poop or the fecal matter of another animal. Cat poop seems to be a common choice for many of our four-legged friends.
Stool eating isn't just gross. When a dog eats the fecal matter of another animal, it can be a health risk. That's because the feces could be contaminated with parasites, bacteria, viruses, or toxins. And when your dog eats their own poop or that of another animal, it could indicate an internal health problem.
The question is, why do dogs eat poop at all? And how can dog owners get them to stop? Read on to learn where this behavior comes from and how you can end it.
Why Dogs Eat Poop
There are many reasons why dogs eat poop. Some are more serious than others, but you'll want to check with your veterinarian regardless.
The top reasons for your dog's bad habit include:
Did you know that mother dogs clean up their dens by licking their puppies and ingesting feces? This is normal maternal behavior. Some dogs retain this instinct as they go through life.
Puppies themselves tend to eat feces when they're very young, and this is also considered normal behavior. Still, it’s concerning for health reasons, and it’s unpleasant. Most puppies grow out of it as they age, but some don't.
Disgusting as it may sound, another reason why dogs might eat poop is that they like the taste. Dogs seem to especially like cat poop. It's possible that this is because of cats' high-protein diets, but no one knows for sure.
Your dog's poop-eating habit could be attention-seeking behavior. If your dog knows it gets a strong reaction from you, they may keep doing it. (Ask your vet how to respond if you think this is the case. In some instances, ignoring your dog’s poop-eating behavior might be the best course of action.)
And dogs who are very food-motivated or food-aggressive may instinctively eat feces so no one else can get it.
Malabsorption Issues and Malnourishment
If a dog's diet is lacking in certain nutrients (like calories or fiber), they might start other things beyond food to get that nutrition, poop included. Nutritional deficiencies of this nature aren't particularly common, but they do happen. For example, a dog that isn't eating enough and is suffering from malnutrition or starvation may start to eat anything they can find.
Want to give your dogs' diet a healthy boost? Try Native Pet's Bone Broth Topper. It's jam-packed with nutrients like protein and collagen, and it comes in beef and chicken versions that dogs love.
It's possible that poop eaters’ behavior is rooted in medical problems. Pica, the medical term for the craving and ingestion of non-food items (which can include poop), is a symptom of several diseases and illnesses, including:
- Intestinal parasites (hookworms, whipworms, roundworms, etc.)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Dementia and other neurological problems
If you notice other symptoms in addition to your dog's penchant for poop-eating, such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, loss of appetite, or weight loss, tell your veterinarian right away.
Stress and Anxiety
Coprophagia can also be a sign of anxiety. Dogs can show strange behaviors when they're anxious, including excessive vocalization, destructive behavior, elimination inside the house, and — you guessed it — eating poop.
In this case, punishing your dog for pooping in the house may actually make coprophagia worse. Your dog may wind up associating the punishment with the presence of feces and eat the fecal matter to remove the evidence and avoid the punishment.
How to Stop Coprophagia
Why do dogs eat poop? As we've learned, there are several possibilities. But whether it's because of a medical issue or a behavior issue, you'll want to address the underlying problem, then stop this bad habit in its tracks. If your dog is eating their own feces or the feces of another pet or animal, here's what to do:
- See your vet: The first step when you notice your dog eating feces regularly is to set up an appointment at the veterinarian's office. You'll want to rule out medical problems like diabetes, anemia, malnourishment, parasites, IBD, and neurological problems. Once your dog is given a clean bill of health, you and your vet can decide on another course of action like those described below.
- Have your dog avoid poop: Often, the easiest way to deal with a case of coprophagia is to avoid opportunities for your pet to eat poop. That means monitoring your dog carefully when they're outdoors and on walks and pulling them away if they try to eat their own or others' poop. If your dog likes cat droppings, restrict their access to the litter box at all times. You can also try to pick up your pets’ yard droppings earlier.
- Train your dog: Train your pooch with a recall command like "come," or a command to "drop it" or "leave it.” Use the command whenever your dog seems like they're about to eat poop. Use positive reinforcement and praise your dog when they decide not to eat poop. If you've noticed other behavior problems alongside your dog's poop eating, reach out to your vet or an animal behaviorist. You might need professional help to get your dog's behavior under control.
- Try supplements: Ask your vet about adding supplements to your dog's diet. Some dogs who eat poop benefit from added digestive enzymes or vitamins. There are also taste-deterrent products you can add to your dog's food to make their feces taste bad. Native Pet’s probiotic powder can also help, as it can curb poop-eating behavior and also improve your dog’s gut health.
- Address anxiety: If your dog's poop-eating behavior is caused by anxiety, try to reduce their stress. Try to minimize triggers like loud noises or frequent comings and goings around your pup. You can also try giving your pet our Calming Chicken Chews. With ingredients like l-theanine and melatonin, they can help to reduce general anxiety, relax the muscles, and promote normal brain activity.
Why Do Dogs Eat Poop? How to Deal With This Behavior
Why do dogs eat poop, exactly? It turns out there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer.
In some cases, eating feces is simply instinctive. Puppies commonly eat poop, and adult dogs sometimes retain this behavior as they age. Your dog's behavior could also be attention-seeking, or they may simply like the taste. (Gross, we know.)
It's also possible for medical issues like parasitic infestation, anemia, diabetes, thyroid issues, inflammatory bowel disease, and anxiety to cause coprophagia. That’s why it’s important to check with your vet, especially if you've noticed other symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, or weight loss. Any medical issue should be resolved before the poop-eating behavior will stop.
Otherwise, treatment methods include having your pet avoid poop in the first place, training them not to engage in this behavior, adding supplements to the diet, and lowering your dog's stress level.
Would you like further insights into your dog's health, behavior, and wellness needs? Read more on the Native Pet blog.