Why Do Dogs Eat Poop? Although Common Behavior, Here's What to Do About It
If we're honest, our furry, four-legged best friends have some rather repulsive habits! They roll in stinky stuff. They drink from the toilet. They sniff butts. But why do dogs eat poop? The smell is bad enough. We dare not contemplate the taste. Yet dogs find both the aroma and flavor tantalizing.
It's totally natural for them to do it, says Lisa Radosta, DVM, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist and owner of Florida Veterinary Behavior Service. She adds that dogs eating poop starts early as learned behavior. Mamas clean their puppies by licking them (including their feces) to keep the den tidy. Puppies eat their own droppings as part of exploring their world, or they see another dog do it and decide to try it themselves.
You might 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.
5 Reasons Your Dog Eats Poop
Aside from their natural instinct to explore their world and eat some droppings along the way, there are additional (and fixable) reasons why your dog might be eating his poop.
1. He's Hungry
A severely malnourished dog will eat anything it can find, including poop. A well-nourished dog may be completely obsessed with food and eat anything that appeals to him, which also includes his poop, another dog's poop, cat poop, and more.
Is this also why some dogs eat poop in the winter? Kind of. They consider frozen droppings—or poopcicles as some owners call them—a special treat. Ick!
2. To Avoid Punishment
If your dog has had an accident in the house and was punished for it, he may eat his own poop to keep you from scolding him again. This is why it's imperative to never scold your dog for having an accident but instead set them up for success on their potty-training journey.
3. He Feels Ignored
He eats poop to get a reaction from you—after all, negative attention is better than no attention at all.
4. He Doesn't Feel Well
Sometimes a dog eats poop if he has an underlying health problem, such as diabetes or a parasitic infection such as coccidiosis. If this is the case, you may see additional symptoms such as diarrhea, excessive thirst, lethargy, and weight loss.
5. He's Lacking 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, which causes an overgrowth of bacteria in the gut, or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, when a dog can't produce the pancreatic enzyme needed to digest his food.
Can Dogs Eating Poop Be a Serious Problem?
While it's generally harmless for your pooch to eat his poo, eating another dog's or animal's poop is riskier because those droppings may carry parasites, viruses, or toxins.
Even if you're not sure 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 conduct a physical exam, conduct a fecal test to check for parasites, and interview you to gather information, Radosta says. The vet will also ask if you've observed any additional gastrointestinal symptoms such as:
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 favorite furball 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 tactics you can implement to train your dog to stop eating poop.
How to Train Your Dog to Stop Eating Poop
First, start with his environment. 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, too.
You might also 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 litter box clean or place it somewhere your dog can't get to it.
Teach Him to Avoid the Poo
Using positive reinforcement training, teach your pooch to respond to cues such as "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.
And make sure the treats are extra tasty! "If your dog thinks feces is 9 on a 10-point scale, you've got to come up with treats that he thinks are a 10," Radosta says.
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. Radosta recommends a comfortable basket model that's well-ventilated on the sides but either solid in front or designed with small enough openings to keep your dog from scavenging.
Add a "Stop Eating Poop" Product to Dog Food
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 canned or pureed 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.
Keep in mind, 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.
Never Punish Your Dog For Eating Poop
"Punishment is not your best bet," Radosta says. "Instead, reward your dog when he does something correctly."