It’s gross, but it happens: a dog snacking on their own poop or that of another animal. While this poop eating problem definitely sounds gross to humans, it is actually a natural behavior among dogs and other animals in the wild. Apparently, multi-dog households and dogs that are left alone for long periods of time are more likely to engage in this behavior than single dog homes. Studies say that among dogs that engage in stool eating, 85% of them only eat from other dogs' feces and not their own feces.
But why do they do it? Turns out, there are a few reasons why canines feel the need to eat poop. While you may not understand why your pups feel the need to be poop eaters, there are some possible explanations for this behavior and ways to stop your dog from eating poop.
What is Coprophagia and Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?: An Overview of This Icky Habit
Coprophagia is the scientific name for a dog's poop eating behavior, and it’s actually a behavior that many dogs may engage in from time to time. While some dog owners are perplexed by their pup's bizarre habit, it's actually a relatively normal canine behavior. The reasons why dogs eat poop can vary widely, ranging from nutrient deficiencies to mere curiosity. Here are a few of the most common reasons why your pup may be drawn to dining on their own waste:
They’re Nutrient Deficient
If your dog isn't receiving enough of the nutrients they need in their regular meals, they may start snacking on poop as a way to supplement their nutrient needs. Nutritional deficiencies can be caused by an unbalanced or inadequate diet, so it’s important to make sure your pup is receiving the right balance of nutrients in their meals. Make sure to include high-quality proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in your dog’s diet, such as vegetables, lean meats, and healthy fats.
They’re Just Being Nosey
Dogs are naturally curious creatures, and they tend to investigate new and unfamiliar smells. In some cases, a dog may find the smell of poop particularly interesting and decide to take a taste.
They Might Have Intestinal Parasites
Intestinal parasites can lead to nutrient deficiency in dogs, causing them to seek out alternative sources of nutrition like poop. If your pup has been eating feces frequently, it may be worth it to take them for a veterinary checkup to make sure they don’t have an intestinal parasite.
It Could Be Genetic
Some dog breeds are more likely to eat poop than others, such as Labradors and Terriers. This is because the habit of eating poop is believed to be genetically linked in certain breeds. For example, Labrador retrievers and Golden retrievers are some of the most popular dog breeds worldwide. But did you know that these breeds are nearly twice as likely to eat poop compared to other breeds?
Research suggests that there may be a genetic mutation common in retrievers that makes them more prone to being a poop eater. This theory proposes that retrievers may have difficulty turning off their ‘hunger switch’ after a meal, leading to excessive food-motivated behaviors and food obsession. As a result, retrievers may be more likely to eat anything, including feces, to satisfy their appetites.
If the behavior runs in your pup’s bloodline, it may be harder to discourage them to stop eating poop. Nonetheless, it is possible to change this behavior with the right training and persistent effort.
It Could Be an Instinctive Behavior
Dogs may also eat poop as an instinctive behavior—they could be trying to clean up their living area or hide evidence of their existence from predators. It can also become a habit if they've been rewarded for this type of behavior in the past. For example, if you’ve given them treats when they’ve done it before. Mother dogs may also eat their puppies' feces as a way to keep their living space and their young clean.
It Could Be a Form of Attention Seeking
Sometimes dogs learn that if they eat poop, they can get some extra attention from their owners. If your pup has become accustomed to receiving attention or treats every time they eat their own feces, then this unwanted behavior may be reinforced, and the cycle will continue.
They’re Anxious or Depressed
Sometimes dogs may resort to eating their own waste as a way to cope with anxiety or other behavioral issues. If you think your pup might be experiencing a high level of stress or anxiety, talk to your vet about potential solutions to help support their mental health.
They’re Bored or Lacking Stimulation
Boredom is one of the biggest causes of coprophagia in dogs, as they may start eating poop out of sheer curiosity if they don't have enough stimulating activities to occupy their time. Make sure your pup is receiving plenty of exercise, playtime, and mental stimulation throughout the day in order to prevent this behavior from taking hold.
Cushing’s Disease is a condition that occurs when a dog’s adrenal glands produce too much of the hormone cortisol. This can lead to increased hunger and thirst, causing your pup to seek out alternative sources of certain nutrients like poop. Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease range from increased appetite to excessive urination and hair loss. If you think your pup may have this condition, take them to the vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
Is it Dangerous?: Health Risks Associated with Poop Eating
Eating poop can present a number of health risks to your pup, and it should be avoided if at all possible. The biggest risk of dogs eating stool is the potential for gastrointestinal parasites. These parasites can cause vomiting, diarrhea and even malnutrition in dogs if left untreated.
Additionally, some types of bacteria that are found in dogs' poop can be harmful including E. coli and Salmonella. These bacteria can cause serious illness in both humans and animals, so it’s important to take steps to prevent your pup from engaging in this behavior.
Finally, eating poop may lead to other unwanted behaviors such as aggression or territorial marking. If your pup starts exhibiting signs of either of these behaviors, it’s important to take them for a veterinary visit as soon as possible.
5 Ways to Stop Your Dog From Eating Poop
We know how funny yet frustrating it is to find your dog eating poop and then on the next catch they leave poop on the carpet. If your pup is engaging in coprophagia, there are a few strategies you can try to help prevent and stop this behavior.
1. Make a Balanced Diet
The first step in curbing this habit is ensuring that your dog's food provides a balanced and complete diet. If your pup isn't getting enough of the nutrients they need in their regular meals, it may be worth switching to a high quality food or adding supplements to your dog's diet. You can add nutrient-rich foods such as fish, vegetables, or yogurt to make sure your pup is getting all the nutrition they need.
2. Clean Up Immediately
One of the best ways to discourage and prevent poop eating habits is to clean up any messes immediately after they occur. This means scooping up poop in the yard and using an enzymatic cleaner for any accidents inside the house. By consistently cleaning up after your pup, you can help to reduce their temptation to eat their own feces.
3. Potty Training
If your pup isn't fully potty trained yet, it’s important to start working on this as soon as possible. Teaching them the proper places for eliminating can help reduce their temptation to eat feces as well. Start by taking them out often and rewarding them when they go in the right spot. Training pads can also be helpful for housebreaking.
4. Increase Exercise and Stimulation
Make sure your pup has plenty of stimulating activities throughout the day, such as exercise, playtime, and puzzle toys. This will help relieve boredom and give them an outlet for their excess energy. You can also try providing your pup with more mental stimulation by teaching them new commands or tricks.
5. Discourage the Behavior
If you do catch your pup in the act of eating poop, be sure to discourage the behavior right away. This can be done by clapping your hands, making a loud noise, or saying “no” in a firm voice. Never scold your pup after the fact, as this will only confuse them and make it harder to break the habit. It would also help if you keep them out of the litter box or any other areas where they may have access to feces.
Get Rid of Poop Buffet for Good!
We'll never understand why poop tastes good for our furry buddies, but it's essential to take steps to stop this behavior if you're concerned about your pup's health and safety. Though it might be funny to see your pup happily chow down on poop, this habit can lead to serious health risks and should be avoided at all costs. With a balanced diet, plenty of exercise and stimulation, and consistent cleaning up after your pup, you can help discourage this behavior and keep your best friend safe, healthy, and poop-free!