Ah, yes. Coprophagia. Otherwise known as the act of eating feces, whether its one’s own or another creature’s. It’s common, it’s gross, and it can be harmful to dogs. So why do dogs eat poop?
Believe it or not, the jury’s still out on what drives dogs to eat stool. However, there is an endless number of theories as to why your dog might be doing it:
- It’s natural – It's common for mother dogs to eat their puppies’ feces during the first three weeks of lactation, which helps protect the puppies and keep their environment clean. Puppies are orally fixated and may eat their own poop (and any other deposits they can find). As adolescents, it’s important to be diligent about housetraining. According to the AKC, “Eating their own poop is harmless, but consuming that of other animals may cause health problems if the stool is contaminated with parasites, viruses, or toxins.”
- Symptom of disease or illness – Pica is a condition that drives dogs (and people) to eat non-food items like hair, drywall, dirt and stones, paper, stool, and more. It can also be a symptom of certain diseases and illnesses. If your dog’s poop-eating behavior has suddenly started, our experts recommend giving your veterinarian a call.
- Boredom or isolation – Puppies and dogs left unsupervised or alone for long periods may simply investigate, play with, and eat feces.
- Nutritional deficiencies – Another theory is that dogs who eat poop are trying to fulfill a deficiency in enzymes or vitamins.
- Behavioral problem and attention seeking – Playing with or eating feces usually attracts a lot of attention from the owner, which may further reinforce the behavior.
- Your dog may simply like the way feces smells and tastes.
Do you think boredom or attention-seeking is to blame for your dog’s coprophagy?
“Consider adding some extra challenge to your dog’s life in the form of environmental enrichment and increased physical activity,” says Just Right Behaviorist Dr. Annie Valuska. “This could not only significantly reduce the unwanted behavior but strengthen the bond between you and your dog as well!”
The Scoop on Eating Poop
A study conducted by Dr. Hart from the School of Veterinary Medicine at University of California, Davis found that:
- Female dogs are more likely to eat poop, while males that haven’t been neutered were the least likely.
- Coprophagia is more common in multi-dog households (compare 20% in single-dog homes vs. 33% in homes with 3+ dogs).
- 92% of poop eaters prefer poop that’s only 1-2 days old.
- Dogs will rarely eat soft, poorly formed stools or diarrhea. They’re more attracted to hard or even frozen stools. (The latter are called “poopcicles.” The more you know.)
- 85% of stool eaters only eat other dogs’ feces and not their own.
- Dogs who steal food off tables tend to be poop eaters, too.
How to Stop Your Dog from Eating Poop
Whatever the reason behind your dog’s poop-eating habit, you are going to want to curb your dog’s behavior. Thanks to the dangers of transmitting parasitic diseases through coprophagia, your dog’s bad breath will be the least of your worries! Here are a couple ways to prevent your dog from eating poop:
- Walk your dog on a leash – If you have a better handle on your dog on walks and are attentive, you’ll be better able to keep them away from any poop they may find.
- ALWAYS pick up after your dog! It can be tempting to leave poop in the yard (especially on cold days when the last thing you want to do is go pick it up), but this gives your dog the opportunity to chow down on his backyard deposits. If your dog is a poop eater, make sure you go outside with them so you can quickly distract them if they start eating poop and pick it up right away.
- Add meat tenderizer, canned pumpkin, or another deterrent to his food. These items taste fine going down, but they make poop taste terrible to dogs.
- Teach your dog the “Leave It” command – The AKC has a great tutorial here!
- Talk to your veterinarian about switching dog food or try a complete and balanced diet like Just Right to ensure that your dog is receiving all the nutrients they need.
- Avoid resorting to punishment – Punishment may stop the behavior in the short term, but it could damage your relationship with your dog and actually make the behavior worse.
Bonus Reads: What's Your Dog's Poop Telling You?
It will take some gentle, consistent guidance, but we have all the confidence in the world that you’ll be able to help your dog stop eating poop. A great place to start is by making sure your dog’s diet is a complete and balanced blend of food that’s tailored for their nutritional needs and preferences. It’s simple to get started, just share your dog’s details with our experts!