Have you ever had a dog that ate poop? Two of my dogs found poop to be quite a delicacy. It’s a repulsive problem.
Shockingly, 16% of dogs eat their poop regularly, according to a study done at the University of California at Davis. And it’s a common reason for re-homing or euthanizing a dog. That’s sad!
What would cause a dog to develop this disgusting habit?
Well, in puppies coprophagia (poop eating) is instinctual. In older dogs, it’s a health or behavior issue.
A normal puppy will often eat their poop because they’ve learned this behavior from Mom. To keep her den clean and to protect her babies from predators, Mom eats the poop to get rid of the scent.
A puppy will follow Mom’s lead and learn to eat poop but they’ll usually outgrow the habit.
Sometimes though, the taste of poop can become normal for a puppy because they taste and smell it on their mom’s mouth. She may regurgitate food that’s mixed with the poop she’s eaten.
Mom also licks the pups tush to stimulate pooping in the first three weeks, which also leaves fecal matter in her mouth.
The puppy becomes used to the scent of poop on Mom’s breath and the taste of poop when the feces mixes with regurgitated food.
This normalization can make breaking the poop eating habit difficult.
While exploring the world, eating poop is normal for a puppy. But if they are eating a well-balanced healthy diet, they should stop doing this.
Why wouldn’t a puppy outgrow poop eating and why would an older dog suddenly start?
Sometimes poop eating in puppies continues long after it should stop because they think food should be poop flavored from their days with Mom.
But they may also continue to do this for health or behavioral reasons. In addition, an older dog may suddenly start scavenging for poop.
If your adult dog is eating poop and they’re showing other symptoms like weight loss, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea or behavioral changes, this could be the sign of a health issue. Talk to your vet.
Here are the main causes of coprophagia.
Poor digestion – Feeding a diet that’s low in digestible nutrients may cause the food to come out the way it went in. To your dog, that tastes good. A problem with the digestive system may also cause the food to come out undigested.
Diseases of the intestinal tract, liver and brain, parasites, malabsorption syndromes, diabetes, Cushing’s, thyroid disease – Your vet can rule these out.
Drugs – Some medications like steroids can cause your dog to eat poop.
Boredom – If you leave your dog alone for hours, they may play with and eat their stool.
Stress – A dog that’s crated for long periods or a dog that’s re-homed may eat poop because they are under stress. Any stressful situation can bring this habit on.
Hunger – Is your dog getting enough to eat during the day? If they aren’t, anything that seems edible will do as far as your dog is concerned. If you aren’t sure how much to feed, ask your vet.
A dog can also be hungry if they’re harboring a parasite that’s leaching nutrients from their system. Your dog will look to supplement their diet any way they can.
Attention Seeking – If you’ve freaked when you’ve seen your dog eat poop, they’ve learned they can get you to react when they do. Even if they’re getting negative attention, they may continue to eat poop to get a rise out of you.
Alternatively, a dog may eat their poop to get rid of the evidence if you’ve yelled at them for having an accident.
Restrictive confinement – Puppy mill dogs crated all day may eat poop. In addition, these dogs may lack food, which encourages poop eating.
I rescued a greyhound that was a poop eater. Long hours crated at the track was probably the cause.
Isolation – Dogs locked in a basement or garage away from their people may eat poop.
Associating poop with food – This can happen if you feed your dog too close to where they do their business.
Living with a sick or elderly dog – A healthy dog may eat the sick dog’s poop to protect the pack from predators… instinct.
If you live in a multi-dog home and one of the dog’s eats the poop of another, it could be a sign that the pooper is sick and not sufficiently digesting their food. To the poop eater, eating their housemates poop is like scoring another meal.
And finally, some dogs just like to eat poop.
How can you stop this behavior?
From my experience I can tell you it’s difficult to end this behavior if a health problem isn’t the cause.
Start by feeding a high–quality digestible food like Husse. This will ensure your dog’s body is using the protein, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in their food and not pooping them out.
Assess your dog’s level of exercise, playtime and the attention you give them. Dogs need those things. If they’re not getting what they need from you, they’ll let you know. And they may do that by eating their poop.
You can try additives in the food. These stool-eating deterrents never worked for my dogs. And studies show they work in only 2% of cases. Some say meat tenderizer added to the food makes the poop unpleasant as a snack.
The best advice is to be diligent about picking up your dog’s poop as soon as they go. And always walk your dog on a leash so they can’t eat another dog’s poop.
There haven’t been many studies of coprophagia even though it’s a common habit. But the little research that’s been done revealed things about a dog’s preferences.
Interestingly, dogs will rarely eat soft poop or diarrhea. They like their stool snacks firm. Most dogs that eat poop want it to be fresh… 1 to 2 days old. Females are most likely to eat poop and intact males are least likely.
And 85% of poop eaters prefer eating another dog’s poop to their own.
Even if your dog doesn’t eat dog poop, most dogs love cat and horse poop. So prevent access to this delicacy if you own a cat or your dog is around horses.
Although coprophagia is a difficult behavior to change, you can avoid the problem by cleaning up after your dog and controlling them on a leash when you are away from home. Much better alternatives to giving your pet up, or worse yet, euthanizing them.
Does your dog eat its poop? How do you handle the problem? Share your experience in the comment section at the top of the page.