By Jacque Lynn Schultz, C.P.D.T. & Andrea Arden, C.P.D.T. (Companion Animal Programs Adviser). National Outreach & Eric Gillaspy CPDT-KA
Stool, feces, or poop eating is a common, bad habit among dogs, but why do dogs eat poop? Dogs consume poop, known as coprophagia, for many reasons including stress, learned behavior, boredom, the list is endless! What’s important, is that with the right training, any dog can stop poop-eating behavior.
8 Reasons for a Dog Eating Poop
Dogs are historically scavengers and known to survive on refuse and waste that sometimes includes excrement of other animals, humans, and dogs, including themselves. Veterinarians offer many reasons that dogs eat poop.
Some four-legged family members find the habit extremely rewarding, making it difficult to stop. While it’s disgusting behavior, some of the following reasons can explain why dogs eating poop is so common and why puppies eat their poop too:
- Tradition: Biologically, female dogs stimulate puppies to poop on their own by licking their genital area, and then consuming the young’s waste. Dog mothers behave this way for the first three weeks of a puppy’s life, so pups may mimic this behavior. This behavior tends to fade during adulthood, but some dogs continue throughout life.
- Taste: A puppy eating poop could be attributed to puppy behavior that sees them running everything through their mouth. This behavior helps a puppy learn that some things taste better than others.
- Activity: Poop-eating can be a displacement activity. If a puppy feels stress or boredom, a good self-soothing remedy such as eating or having something inside the mouth may help. Poop is most often readily available.
- Flavor: Often poop contains undigested food or flavorings in it that has a taste appeal for dogs. They also have fewer taste buds than humans and that may be part of why they seem to be less selective than we are in regards to what they will put into their mouths.
- Allelomimetic behavior: This phrase is used when dogs observe a pattern that affects their own performance or behavior. For example, a dog sees you scoop up poop and mimics the behavior, resulting in the pup eating feces.
- Pancreatic insufficiency: A medical issue that causes digestive enzymes to malfunction and prevent digestion of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.
- Intestinal infections: Known as a GI disorder, intestinal infections are caused by bacteria and viruses and can lead to painful stomach aches that result in dogs looking for nourishment in other forms.
- Malabsorption: Nutrient reduction from traditional food sources may lead to dogs seeking other nutrition-dense foods.
If you suspect your dog is feasting on feces because of a medical problem, visit a veterinarian as soon as possible for a check-up and professional diagnosis.
Can Eating Poop Make a Dog Sick?
While disgusting to humans, the simple answer of why dogs eat their poop or any poop may be that a fresh stool from a healthy, domesticated animal contains nutrients they crave.
There are three types of poop-eaters: Auto-coprophagic who will eat their own poop; intraspecific coprophagic that eat the poop of other dogs; and inter-specific coprophagy, which means animals eat the poop of other animals.
For the most part, there are no health risks to a dog with this bad habit and feces is generally safe to eat. However, stools from uninoculated, infected, or diseased animals can be cause for concern.
- Wild animal poop can be infested with internal parasites.
- Cat poop from free-roaming cats sometimes carries Toxoplasma gondii.
- Dogs without vaccinations are at particular risk for contracting parvovirus.
- Uninoculated canines can contract hepatitis if they eat the stool of infected dogs.
If you have a poop-eater in the house, it’s always better to be safe and have your dog checked for any underlying medical issues that may be influencing this dirty poop-snacking habit.
How to Stop a Dog from Eating Poop
Most coprophagics are healthy and simply need to learn a combination of obedience training, careful management, environmental enrichment, and, a dietary adjustment to stop a dog from eating poop. The treatment plan may vary depending on whether the dog is consuming his own feces or the feces of others.
|Plan A||Plan B||Plan C|
|Autocoprophagic||Intraspecific coprophagics||Inter-specific coprophagy
|Leash walk for potty-time||Allow off-leash at home in a secure area of a fenced-in yard||Move cat litter box off the ground|
|Clean up poop immediately||Leash when off the premises||Gate off litter box area|
|Scoop poop without dogs watching||The handler needs to scan the ground ahead of the dog to avert behavior||Store the litter tray in a cardboard box with a cut-out for cat access|
|Consider a head halter for training||Teach the “leave it” command||Place litter box inside the closet|
|Teach sit, stay while cleaning up||Reward good behavior||Bathtubs make trays hard for short-legged poop-eaters to get to|
|Reward pups for good behavior||Lower stress or boredom through regular and vigorous daily exercise||For bathtub-wary dogs, place tray in bath|
|Consider a high-fiber diet||Keep environment poop-free and clean||Limit access to the poop by cleaning out try often|
|Divide meals into smaller portions and feed throughout the day||Try feeding digestible or sensitive stomach diets|
|Avert unwanted behavior by creating activities such as burying toys to be dug up||Offer meals stuffed in food-dispensing toys|
Dogs and puppies can learn socially acceptable behavior through patience, rewards, and helpful training methods. Regardless of whose stool your dog is eating, avoid reprimanding them for doing so, as this may result in your dog simply waiting to do it when you are gone. If you catch your dog, try to remain calm, as your urgency might exacerbate the problem.