Dogs eating poop is a gross habit, but surprisingly it is also a very common one. It’s estimated that up to 84% of dogs will eat poop at some point in their lives. So why do dogs eat poop? There are actually several reasons behind this behavior, some of which are more concerning than others. In this blog post, we will discuss the natural reasons why dogs eat poop, as well as the behavioral and health problems that can cause this behavior. We’ll also provide tips on how to stop your dog from eating poop!
This gross habit has an official scientific name of coprophagia (kop-ruh-fey-jee-uh), and there can be several reasons why a dog might engage in this behavior including biological, behavioral, and medical reasons. If you have a poop eater, don’t worry! There are methods to discourage this habit, as well as some over-the-counter treatments.
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How Common Is It For Dogs To Eat Poop?
Although there is very little research into the area — poop eating is a widespread occurrence. Researchers led by Dr. Benjamin Hart from UC Davis, Davis, found that:
- One in six (16%) of dogs are classified as frequent stool eaters who have been viewed eating feces more than six times.
- One quarter (24%) of the dogs were seen eating feces at least one time.
It’s A Natural Behavior
The natural reason why dogs eat poop is that they are scavengers and it is evolutionary behavior. In a nutshell, this means it’s in a dog’s DNA to eat feces. Dogs are descended from wolves, and as scavengers, they have evolved to consume anything that is available to them. This includes feces, which is a rich source of nutrients like proteins, lipids, minerals, and vitamins. In the wild, dogs would eat the feces in order to gain these nutrients
Normal Reasons Why Dogs Eat Poop
They Are Nursing:
Nursing mother dogs eat their puppies’ poop to help keep their den clean and free of parasites. In fact, bitches will lick their young puppies to stimulate them to defecate so that they can consume them to keep the area clean. Puppies who are nursing will often eat the feces of their mother and siblings in order to acquire the nutrients that they need, this may also have a born instinct to gain gut flora and improve their microbiome quickly.
They Like The Taste:
As mentioned above: dogs are scavengers by nature. Some dogs simply enjoy the taste of feces and will eat it regardless of whether or not they need the nutrients. Many dogs enjoy the waste of other animals such as cows, horses, and rabbits. Others like to munch on their feline flatmate’s stool due to the high protein content and delectable smell. This normal behavior occurs more commonly in young dogs and generally decreases or stops by around 10-12 months of age. I can say that this has happened with my dogs who love cats, cows, and horse feces.
Dr. Hart also made the following observations from his study:
- 85% prefer it fresh and well-formed (no diarrhea!), no more than two days old
- Counter surfers and greedy eaters are more likely to be poop eaters (this is so true for one of my dogs Rosie)
Abnormal Reasons Why Dogs Eat Poop
There are a number of behavioral reasons why dogs eat poop and this can be a common issue. These include:
– They are anxious or stressed and eating poop provides them with comfort
– Boredom: Lack of enrichment or mental stimulation in the dog’s environment can lead to boredom, which can manifest itself in a number of ways, including eating poop.
– They are being rewarded for the behavior, either intentionally (by their owners – for example, you laugh when they do it) or unintentionally (due to a lack of enough attention)
– They are imitating other dogs in the household as a learned behavior- this is how one of my dogs Axl started as he learned from my other dog Rosie
If your dog is eating poop suddenly and it is out of character, or there is other medical issues such as weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, etc this could be caused by an underlying health problem such as:
- Nutritional Deficiency or malnutrition: Your dog’s diet may be lacking the necessary nutrients such as protein or certain vitamins and are trying to compensate for it by eating feces
- They may be suffering from gastrointestinal problems such as parasites. Always consult with your vet if you have any suspicion of an underlying health issue.
- Medications such as steroids
- Medical causes that increase your dog’s appetite such as Cushing’s disease, thyroid disease, diabetes, malabsorptive issues, and pancreatic insufficiency.
How To Stop Your Dog From Eating Poop
If you are concerned about your dog’s propensity to eat poop, there are a few things you can do to curb the behavior. Here are a few tips:
1. Limit Your Dog’s Access To Poop
The best way you can avoid this undesirable behavior is to limit your dog’s access to poop and hopefully, break the cycle if you nip it in the bud early enough. A good idea is to monitor your pooch after meals for 10 minutes when outside (this is the most common time they like to defecate) if they are eating their own poop. If your dog likes eating cat poop -keep your cat’s litter tray pristine with 2-3 times daily collection (your cat will thank you for this too!)
2. Environmental Enrichment
Provide your dog with plenty of environmental enrichment and mental stimulation to keep them stimulated and help prevent boredom. This can include a variety of toys, treats, bones, puzzle feeders, etc. I highly recommend you check out this website for some ideas to keep your furry friend occupied
3. Dietary Supplements
Your vet will help your dog by recommending vitamins and various dietary supplements to prevent your dog from eating poop. These are typically added to your dog’s food.
4. Diet Change
Ensure that your dog is on a complete and balanced, life stage-appropriate diet that contains all the important nutrients. Discuss what diet is best for your pet with your regular veterinarian.
This is incredibly important if you want to stop this bad habit – especially when you are out on walks. Teach your dogs using positive reinforcement for good behavior and teach the command “leave it”. This is a great video that teaches this command:
6.Taste Aversion Products
Taste aversion products are designed to make dogs’ poop and other animals’ poop distasteful to your dog. There are no long term health effects associated with these food additives and chews.
If your dog is eating another dog or cat’s feces (or their own) then you can try to feed them a stool eating deterrent. These are usually in a capsule or tablet form that tastes fine to the dog going in, but awful at the other end. However the study by Hart1 reviewed 6 stool eating deterrents and noted the success rate was close to zero (as in, the products don’t appear to work).
If your dog is eating other animal feces non-canine)or the stool eating deterrent does not work you can try a topical spray/product such as bitter yuck so that when they go back for a second helping, it will taste horrible and the association with eating poop is made.
Some people have reported success by adding pineapple chunks or juice to the dog’s food to make feces distasteful.
You can also try putting a small amount of hot sauce or chili powder on the feces and leave them out for a spicy surprise (please note only to use a few drops or a small pinch – too much chili can cause diarrhea in dogs and some dogs love it!)
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Why is my old dog eating poop all of a sudden
If your dog has never eaten poop before and has suddenly started an older there could be an underlying health issue. Many dogs suddenly start to eat poop to increase their protein or calories. If you have noticed your old dog is losing weight or its appetite has increased get them checked out by your local vet.
Why do dogs eat cat poop?
Cat poop is like candy to a lot of dogs I am sorry to report. It is very high in protein and ohhhh so delightfully smelly. Almost all dogs can’t resist the aroma.
Why do dogs eat poop on walks?
This is often the time they come across other animals’ excrement and they simply can’t resist a sample. While many dogs will not eat their own feces – they do like the taste of other dogs and other animals and this is the prime opportunity.
Can a dog get sick from eating poop?
Yes. While it may not seem like a big deal to let your dog indulge in a little feces-snacking, doing so can actually be quite dangerous. Dogs can pick up all sorts of parasites and infections by consuming feces, which can then be passed on to their human guardians. So, while it may be tempting to simply turn a blind eye to your dog’s poop-eating habits, it’s important to be vigilant about preventing them from indulging in this unhealthy behavior.
So why do dogs eat poop? The answer is actually quite complex, as there are a variety of reasons behind this behavior. However, most of the time it is simply a case of dogs being scavengers and enjoying the taste of feces. Thankfully, there are a number of things you can do to stop your dog from eating poop, including keeping their living area clean, training them not to eat it, and using a taste deterrent.
Dr. Elly has always loved animals, and she knew from a young age that she wanted to be a veterinarian. After studying hard in veterinary school, she practiced in several different countries before moving to North Carolina with her husband and young family. She currently works part time as a veterinarian while caring for her 4 busy children and writing this blog. Dr. Elly genuinely cares about the welfare of her patients. She currently has three dogs, two cats, 5 chickens and 2 rabbits (yes a bit of a zoo!)