Out of all the disgusting habits our beloved dogs have – like drinking from the toilet, rolling in swamp muck, licking their butts—nothing tops the disgusting practice of eating poop.
There’s a scientific name for this habit—coprophagia —and also both behavioral and physiologic reasons why some dogs view dung as a delicacy.
If you have a poop eater, don’t despair. There are ways to discourage the habit.
Poop Eating is Normal for Mothers and Pups
For some species, eating fecal droppings is a totally normal way of obtaining key nutrients.
Fortunately, dogs do not need to get nutrients in this manner.
It is, however, a normal, natural behavior at some canine life stages. Mother dogs will lick their puppies to urge them to eliminate, and clean their feces, for about the first three weeks. Puppies will also naturally engage in this behavior, eating both their own fecal droppings (known as autocoprophagia), and those of other dogs (allocoprophagia), as well as cats and other animals.
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. In most cases, this behavior will fade before the puppy is about nine months old.
Some Facts About Dogs Who Eat Poop
When it occurs in puppies, coprophagia is generally considered part of the process of exploring the world around them. Most will be satisfied with a sniff, but a few will want, like human children, to put everything in their mouths. One bizarre fact: Dogs will rarely eat soft, poorly formed stools or diarrhea. They appear to be attracted most to hard stools.
Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?
If your adult dog starts to dine on dung, you should consult with your vet to rule out such health problems as:
- Diets deficient in nutrients and calories malabsorption syndromes diabetes, Cushing’s, thyroid disease, and other conditions that might cause an increase in appetite drugs, such as steroids
In many cases dogs eat their own poop because of various reasons:
Being left alone: Dogs who are kept alone in kennels or locked up are more likely to eat poop than dogs that live with their people
Restricted confinement: Spending too much time in confined spaces can cause the problem
Anxiety: Often when a pet parent has used punishment or harsher methods while toilet training their dog. Dogs eat their own poop to get rid of evidence, but then they are punished more for it.
Attention seeking: Dogs eat their own poop to get a reaction from their humans, which they inevitably will. So if you see your dog doing this, don’t overreact.
Inappropriate association with food: Dogs who are fed in close proximity to their feces may make a connection between the odors of food and those of poop and will be unable to tell the difference.
Scenting it on their mothers: Puppies will get confused by sniffing fecal odors on their mother’s breath after she has cleaned them. Also, sometimes mothers may regurgitate food that is mixed with puppy fecal matter.
Living with a sick or geriatric dog: Sometimes a healthy dog will consume stools from a weaker canine member of the household, especially in cases of fecal incontinence. Science says that this may be related to the instinct to protect the pack from predators.
How to stop your dog from eating poop
Vitamin supplementation: There’s been a long-standing theory that dogs eat feces because they are missing something in their diets. Vitamin-B deficiency, in particular, has been a prime suspect
Enzyme supplementation: The modern canine diet is higher in carbohydrates and lower in meat-based proteins and fats than the canine ancestral diet.
Taste-aversion products: The theory is that certain tastes and smells are as disgusting to dogs as the idea of stool eating is to us and that spraying certain substances on poop will make it less appealing.
Be diligent in cleaning up: After your puppy eliminates. Do not give him the chance to play with or eat his stool. Try placing the puppy on a leash when you take him outside to relieve himself, and do not allow him to inspect his stool after he has defecated. Distract him from the stool by calling him to you, and when he responds appropriately, reward him with a training treat and verbal encouragement and then take him inside, away from the stool, before you go back to pick it up.
Why You Should Take Your Poop Eating Dog to the Vet
If your dog eats poop, you should make sure it’s not because of a health issue. Some dogs will start eating poop when they aren’t absorbing enough nutrients, they have parasites, or they have issues with their pancreas. All coprophagic dogs should be examined by a veterinarian.