Why Do Dogs Eat Poop? And How to Stop It
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM October 10, 2019
Puppy kisses may be considered one of the great things in life by dog parents. However if your dog eats poop, then those sweet kisses are avoided like the plague! Whether your dog is the occasional snacker or an all-out poop inhaler, you’re probably wondering what makes your dog dine on the waste of others. Answering that question isn’t enough for most dog parents, they also want to know if and how it can be stopped.
Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?
Eating poop in dogs is a behavior that may stem from many different reasons; the most common ones being boredom, attention, or health issues. Eating poop is more common in puppies and younger dogs. There are some actions you can take to stop your dog from eating poop or to prevent the habit all together.
Coprophagia, or eating poop, is a normal behavior in many animals. Rabbits, for example, routinely consume their first round of feces in order to glean all of the nutrients that they can from it. Since most dogs get all of the nutrition that they need from dog food, it’s unlikely that this is the reason for their disgusting behavior. So what might the reason be?
- Nutritional deficiencies
I know I said that this was unlikely, but it needs to be covered anyway. Since a body can’t fully extract all the nutrients from the food we eat, feces can be a variable smorgasbord of undigested food particles. For the dogs that are curious enough, they might find something in that poop that they’ve been missing. This is more relevant to dogs eating low quality dog foods and incomplete raw or homemade diets. Is your dog a litter box raider? That’s probably because cats require much more protein in their diet than dogs, meaning their feces are higher in protein. So it’s much tastier than the average dog pile.
Since dog poop contain some undigested food and therefore nutrients, dogs on the brink of starvation may turn to eating poop as a survival mechanism. Dogs with medical conditions such as Cushings, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, or other digestive disorders may resort to eating feces as a way to curb their ravenous appetite. In these cases, you will probably notice dogs eating other forms of organic material such as dirt.
Coprophagia even exists in people. Hold it! Before you get too grossed out to continue reading, a method called fecal transplantation in which the healthy gut microbes found in feces are transplanted from one human to another is used to treat a variety of digestive disorders. Our bodies need these microbes for healthy digestion. Some cases of dogs eating feces may be that they are trying to self-medicate by giving their gut micro biome a boost. Believe it or not, when a dog’s tummy is feeling ‘off’, instincts may tell them that eating feces, grass, or other objects can help.
- Bad behavior
Mother dogs routinely consume the feces of their young. In fact, newborn puppies aren’t able to defecate on their own for several weeks. It takes the stimulation from the mother licking their anal region for them to properly defecate. During this process, the mother consumes the feces. Needless to say, old habits die hard. Some puppies may start eating feces as a way of mimicking their mother. That habit can carry through to adulthood.
Still other dogs will consume feces out of boredom. Without proper mental and physical stimulation, your dog may mindlessly wander the yard all day nosing in feces for entertainment. Cophrophagia can also develop as a neurotic behavior, especially in those dogs that already experienced separation anxiety and other behavioral disorders. Even still, some dogs eat feces as a way of getting your attention. After all, nothing gets your attention faster than seeing them munching on a big pile of poop!
What Kind of Poop Do Dogs Like to Eat Most?
The short answer to which kind of poop dogs like best is fresh poop. The fresher the better! After feces get old enough to start growing mold, most dogs lose interest unless it’s used to play a friendly game of self-catch. With the freshness factor aside, dogs are going to prefer feces from those high protein eaters simply because it just tastes better to them. They may also be partial to high fat diets as well. This is because there is more likely to be undigested fat in the feces making it all the more flavorful. Cats, in particular, eat a high protein diet so you may notice your pooch poking around the litter box or rooting through the loose dirt outside in search of some little cat nuggets.
Do All Dogs, Wild and Domestic, Eat Poop?
Not every dog that you meet is going to practice cophrophagia. Developing this behavior will depend on a lot of factors described above. However, there is some research that suggests that eating feces is an ancestral trait that is ingrained in our pooch’s brain. The backing behind this is that wolves, coyotes, and other wild canines routinely consume feces out of cleanliness. Many internal parasites are passed through feces but require some time outside of the body to mature enough to infect others. Consuming the feces before those parasite eggs have a chance to mature helps prevent future infestations.
Is Poop Eating a Normal Behavior For Dogs?
There are many reasons a dog might eat poop as mentioned earlier. Some reasons stem from instinctual behaviors while others may be related to physical or mental health issues. While it seems like an utterly disgusting habit, the habit comes naturally for most dogs.
When Should I Be Concerned About My Dog Eating Poop?
Let’s first talk about whether or not it’s safe for dogs to eat poop regardless of the reason they are doing it. Poop in and of itself is fairly harmless, especially if it’s a dog’s own poop. After all, they’ve already been exposed to everything in it. Eating poop becomes an issue when they start diving into someone else’s. Other dogs’ or other animals’ poop may contain bacteria or other components that your dog is not used to. Salmonella, E. coli and many viruses live in feces, sometimes for many days after it has passed. Eating poop can lead to serious infections by these bugs that can create havoc on your dog and you as well. Another issue that your dog may encounter is if they eat moldy feces and contract an infection there. Other animal feces may contain even more bad bugs that your pup isn’t used to.
As far as the reasons behind eating feces, most dogs that do it as a puppy continue more or less through adulthood. While you might want to break this habit, there is less likely to be a troublesome cause behind it. For dogs that start eating feces as adults or that suddenly ramp up their consumption, you should see a veterinarian to help rule out dietary and medical causes.
What Should I Do If My Dog Just Ate Poop?
How you handle your dog just eating poop depends a lot on your comfort level and the situation surrounding their little snack. Some people go as far as removing the feces from their dog’s mouth and brushing their teeth afterwards! Not recommended due to the risk of getting bitten. What you can do is prevent further consumption by either removing any remaining poop or removing your dog from the area. If this is your dog’s poop eating debut, then you will either want to monitor them to see if it continues or take them to the vet to ensure they are healthy.
How To Stop Dogs From Eating Poop
No matter the reason, it’s best to try to stop the poop eating behavior in order to prevent disease in your pup and an upset stomach in you. For dogs that have been eating poop their whole life, this may come as no easy task so here are some methods to help you.
- Rule out medical issues
Make sure that your dog isn’t eating poop due to a medical issue. As we discussed before, certain diseases like Cushings make your dog feel hungry all of the time. They may start consuming poop as a way to fill the hunger void. If eating poop is a new habit, this method should always be the first step. Your veterinarian will perform an exam and maybe some blood work testing for a variety of diseases that may cause your dog to be hungry enough to eat poop.
This method proves very effective at stopping poop eating if the behavior is due to a medical issue that can be treated. Often, once dogs get their disease under control, that ravenous hunger goes away and so does their desire to eat poop.
- Vitamin supplements
Even though most high quality dog foods contain all of the necessary nutrients that your dog needs, every dog is different. Some dogs may require higher amounts of vitamins than others do such as B vitamins in particular. Many B vitamins are actually produced by the bacteria that thrive in the digestive tract which are transferred to feces, so your dog may actually be trying to supplement their vitamin deficiency naturally. Giving your dog a proper vitamin supplement may help curb their poop eating behavior.
If your dog is on a high quality commercial dog food, vitamin deficiency is pretty rare. However, if you’re feeding a raw or a homemade diet, this may be the cause of their poop eating. In these cases, giving them the proper vitamin supplementation at the right amounts may help stop poop eating behavior.
- Make it less enticing
Some dogs just enjoy the taste of feces. For those dogs, you can try changing the taste to something less enticing. There are many products on the market that work by feeding your dog a powder or liquid that once digested tastes terrible. Other products like pineapple or meat tenderizers can be used for this as well.
This method has varying success. It works best in dogs that consume their own feces and no one else’s. It will have no effect if your pup is a dog park snacker since you can’t feed all of the neighborhood dogs these products. It has varying efficacy for cat poop as well since you’ll be lucky to get your cat to eat these prevention products at all.
- Clean it up
If it’s not there, they can’t eat it. Proper potty training and cleanup can help curb poop eating behavior, and this goes for the litter box as well. Obviously, this is easier said than done for dog parks or hiking trails where it’s hard to control the cleanup effort.
If your dog is eating feces in your yard or litter box, this is the best way. However, dogs that are indulging at the dog park or other common areas will not respond as well.
- Exercise and play
This method is for dogs that are eating poop out of boredom, anxiety, or other behavioral disorders. Giving them something else to focus on may deter poop eating. Make interaction with your dog a priority. Just check in with them for a couple of minutes several times a day. Make sure they are getting enough exercise and have something to do while you’re gone at work all day. Taking a midday walk or providing interactive toys may give your dog that mental stimulation that they’re craving.
For dogs that are eating poop for attention or out of boredom, this method usually proves to work well. Replace that ‘fix’ poop eating poop provides with stimulation or an activity that’s healthier and less disgusting instead.
Can Eating Poop Be Entirely Prevented?
Depending on the reason and the situations in which your dog eats poop, it is possible to prevent this yucky habit entirely. Dogs that eat poop due to a treatable medical or behavioral issue usually never lick their lips at poop again once the issue is taken care of. Dogs that eat poop because of an ingrained habit will have more trouble stopping. For these dogs, it’s best to limit their exposure to poop by cleaning it up immediately and avoiding common areas where they can make contact with other dogs’ feces.
If there is one thing that would make us love our dogs less, it would be eating poop. Most dog owners simply can’t stomach the sight of it. The first step to ending this disgusting behavior is to find out why your dog is doing it. After that, implementing one or all of the above methods may help. If all else fails, talk with your veterinarian about behavioral training to help clean up your dog’s potty mouth.
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