Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?
As gross as it may seem, it's a pretty common canine behavior. Here’s what to know about why your dog eats poop, whether you should worry about that, and what you can do to prevent your dog from eating feces in the future.
Our furry, four-legged best friends come with a lot of repulsive habits. They roll in dead animals. They drink from the toilet. They lick their private parts. They smell each other’s butts. But nothing grosses out humans more than their dogs’ fondness for eating poop. The smell is bad enough. We dare not contemplate the taste. But dogs find both the aroma and flavor tantalizing. You may not want to think about coprophagia (pronounced cop-ruh-fay’-jee-uh—the scientific name for eating poop), but it’s worth learning more to figure out what you can do about it.
Poop Eating is Normal for Dogs
Don’t panic quite yet; poop eating is normal, natural behavior for dogs, according to Lisa Radosta, DVM, board-certified veterinary behaviorist and owner of Florida Veterinary Behavior Service. In fact, this behavior starts early. Mamas clean their puppies by licking them (including their feces) to keep the den tidy. Puppies eat their own droppings; it’s all part of exploring their world. And why do dogs eat poop in the winter? Because frozen droppings—or poopcicles as some owners call them—are a special treat.
Here are some specific reasons why your dog may eat poo.
Is Your Dog Eating Poop Because He’s Hungry?
A severely malnourished dog will eat anything it can find—including poop. And a well-nourished dog may be completely obsessed with food and eat anything that appeals to him—including his poop, another dog’s poop, cat poop, and more.
Your Dog Eats Poop to Avoid Punishment
If you’re punishing your dog by confining him to a kennel, he may eat his own poop to keep you from scolding him again.
Your Dog Eats Poop Because He Feels Ignored
He eats poop to get a reaction from you—after all, negative attention is better than no attention at all.
Your Dog Eats Poop as a Learned Behavior
He sees another dog eating poop and decides to give it a try. And a nasty new habit is born.
Your Dog Eats Poop Because He Doesn’t Feel Well
Sometimes a dog eats poop if he has an underlying health problem, such as diabetes or a parasitic infection. If this is the case, you may see additional symptoms such as diarrhea, excessive thirst, lethargy, and weight loss.
Your Dog Eats Poop for the Nutrients
Even if your dog gets two squares a day, he may need to make up for nutrients that are lost to a gut disease, Radosta says. Examples include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD—which causes an overgrowth of bacteria in the gut) or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI—when a dog can’t produce the pancreatic enzyme needed to digest his food).
Can Dog Eating Poop be a Serious Problem?
You may be disgusted by coprophagia, but for a dog, eating his own poop is harmless. Eating another dog’s or animal’s poop—on the other hand—is riskier because those droppings may carry parasites, viruses, or toxins.
Even if you’re not sure if anything is wrong, don’t shy away from taking your pooch to the veterinarian. “You can’t tell on the outside if a dog is feeling sick on the inside,” Radosta says. “Animals are voiceless; you must be your dog’s advocate.”
What will the vet do for your dog? At minimum, she’ll give your dog a physical exam, conduct a fecal test on whosever poop he’s eating (to check for parasites), and interview you to gather information, Radosta says. The vet will ask if you’ve observed any additional gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms such as excessive licking, vomiting, diarrhea, burping, and/or flatulence. What she finds out may lead to a diagnosis and recommended solutions—or more testing.
Should I Stop My Dog from Eating Poop?
Yes, there’s nothing to be gained by letting your best pal dine on dung. The yuck factor—in terms of both visuals and stinky breath—is reason enough to cut his coprophagia short. And you need to consider your own health.
“Think about it; as a loving pet parent, you probably let your dog lick you,” Radosta says. “Some of the parasites dog pick up from poop can be transmitted to humans. So keep your dog from getting into trouble.”
By now you’ve probably shifted from asking “Why is my dog eating poop all of a sudden?” to “What can I do to stop my dog from eating poop?” There are a variety of coprophagia treatment options.
Manage Your Dog’s Environment to Stop Him from Eating Poop
Keep his living area clean—especially the yard—so there won’t be any droppings for him to eat. That means picking up after him as soon as poop happens, not waiting until the snow melts or someone needs to mow the lawn. Pay attention to your dog while you’re strolling through the neighborhood and clean up after him as soon as he poops. (This is also for your neighbor’s benefit; dogs are known to eat other dog’s droppings as well as their own.)
You might ask, “Why do dogs eat cat poop?” And your dog will stare at you and think, “Because it’s delicious!” So keep the cat’s litterbox clean or station somewhere your dog can’t get to it.
Train Your Dog NOT to Eat Poop
Work hard on the cues “leave it” (or “drop it”) to keep poop from being ingested, and “come” to keep your dog away from temptation. Teach your dog to come to you for a favorite treat as soon as he has pooped. He feels good about following the cue, and you’re relieved that you won’t have to smell his breath after he eats something foul. BTW: Make sure the treats are extra tasty, Radosta says. “If your dog thinks feces are 9 on a 10-point scale, you’ve got to come up with treats that he thinks are a 10.”
Try this approach if you have a dog who eats other dog’s feces as well as his own. Train him to run back to you for a high-value treat each every time he finds poop. In other words, you’re telling him, “Find poop. Alert me. And I’ll pay you generously,” Radosta says.
Condition Your Dog To Wear A Basket Muzzle
Stop your dog from eating poop on walks by getting him to wear a basket muzzle. Choose a comfortable basket model that is well-ventilated on the sides but either solid in front or designed with small enough openings to keep your dog from scavenging, Radosta says.
Add a “Stop Eating Poop” Product to Your Dog’s Daily Diet
Such over-the-counter deterrents—which come in the form of chews, tablets for ingestion, or a powder to sprinkle on food—typically contain ingredients and digestive enzymes that give droppings a terrible taste and unappealing odor. Many of them also contain breath fresheners. Some owners use pumpkin to stop their dogs from eating poop by simply mixing it in with a meal. Understand that the longer your pooch has been eating poop, the tougher it is to break a deeply ingrained habit. So don’t stock up on any stool-snacking deterrent until you’ve tested it and found that it works.
Word to the wise: Researchers at the University of California Davis found that food additives used to stop poop eating are only effective up to 2 percent of the time.
Coat Dog Poop With Something That Tastes Bad
Dog-owners have tried coating dog poop with lemon juice or hot sauce to stop their pooches from snacking. This approach doesn’t work well because eating poop is its own reward from Fido’s point of view, Radosta says. “It’s hard to outweigh the memory of eating something wonderful,” she says. And it’s hard on the human, she says, because “you must make sure that every piece of poop tastes bad.”
Never Punish Your Dog For Eating Poop
“Punishment is not your best bet,” Radosta says. “Instead, reward your dog when he does something correctly.”
In short, there’s no magic fix for stopping dogs from eating poop; it’s a self-rewarding behavior, after all. But with patience, positive training methods, and some simple changes in your dog’s living arrangements, you’ll find that getting close to Fido is more delightful than it used to be.