Why Do Dogs Eat Their Poop (and How to STOP It!)

It’s a simple questions: “Why do dogs eat their own poop?”.  There are however many potential reasons which I’m going to break down for you today as well as go through my top strategies for how to stop this disgusting problem

 

Thanks to Jason from Petcorps Professional Pet Care for sharing his knowledge on coprophagia

 

Coprophagia is a fancy word for the very disgusting habit that many dogs have: eating their stool, or the poop of other animals. As disgusting as it may seem, coprophagia seldom does any harm to your dog (and I’ll get into this a bit later), but what causes dogs to eat poop?

Why do dogs eat their own poop?

There are three main reasons for coprophagia in dogs.

  • Medical

  • Behavioral

  • Nutritional

Medical conditions

Let's take a moment to talk about the medical issues that may cause coprophagia in dogs.

  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency

  • Pancreatitis

  • Intestinal infections

  • Malabsorptive syndromes

All of these problems result in either an inability of a dogs intestine to either digest or absorb fat from the diet.  As a result the stool will become very high in fat which can make it appear quite appetizing. Especially for a dog who may struggle to get enough energy from their diet because of these conditions.

Now, because of these medical issues, the very first thing you should do, when you first notice that your dog starts eating their own waste, or the feces of another animal, is to talk with your veterinarian.

Behavioral problems

Let's move on to the behavioral reasons. Now, there are many behavioral reasons that are hypothesized by experts in the field, as to why dogs will engage in coprophagia.

Attention seeking

The first behavioral reason is attention-seeking behavior. Some dogs, when they don't feel like they're getting the attention that they need, will start eating their poop.

As a result, owners will often correct them, quite understandably.  This negative attention however is still attention to your dog. Some people would suggest that you should simply ignore the problem, in hopes that it'll go away, but I’ll talk about some other solutions later on.

Copycat behavior

The second behavioral reason is mimicry. This is a learned behavior for some dogs. Some dogs that spend time in a shelter situation may observe another dog in the shelter eating its waste, or the waste of another animal.  As it notices this, it picks it up and adopts this behavior as its own.

At home, if you're a good pet owner and you clean up after your dog every time it goes, there's a chance your dog will begin to associate this idea that when the poop comes out, it gets cleaned up. In understanding this, your dog will begin to help keep the yard clean in the only way it knows how, which is eating the waste!

Instinct

The third possible behavioral reason is maternal instinct. Now, this is an instinctive behavior of mother dogs. They will intuitively clean off the bottoms of their pups, and keep their nesting area clean. Doing so keeps predators at bay, because, as a mama dog, we certainly don't want predators coming into our nesting area, while our puppies are vulnerable.

Dominance

The fourth behavioral reason is dominance behavior. So some dogs are trying to assert themselves as the alpha dog, and so what they'll do is, they'll adopt the attitude of, "I'm top dog, so I'm gonna eat your waste." And that's how they will assert their dominance over non-dominant dogs.

They love the taste!

The last behavioral reason that dogs engage in coprophagia is reinforcement behavior. Basically, what this means is that the dogs begin to develop a taste for the waste. Dogs will begin to eat their feces. They'll develop a palate for the waste, and once they realize that the dog poop is actually pleasing to them, they will continue to do it, because it lights up the positive reinforcement centers of their brain.  As a result they continue to do this behavior, somewhat compulsively.

Dietary deficiencies cause coprophagia

Now, the final reason that dogs will engage in poop eating is nutritional. What this means is that you may be feeding a low quality food.  This may mean that is is imbalanced, resulting in a deficiency in certain vitamins or minerals, or is has a very high fat content.

If there is a deficiency then you might also notice your dog eating other unusual things like soil, a behavior known as pica. If a food is too fatty, the result is similar to that of our medical conditions.

If this might be the cause of your dog eating their own poop then switching to a higher quality diet may be all that’s needed to solve the problem and stop your dog eating their own feces.

The problem with eating poop

Now, like I said before, coprophagia will seldom do your dog any sort of harm, but there's one thing that all pet owners need to be worried about, and that's parasites.

Now, if you take your dog for a walk along your neighborhood, or you take him down to the dog park, and your dog engages in coprophagia, by eating the waste of another animal, your dog could come in contact with parasites, such as roundworm, or hookworm.

And in the case that your dog is eating your cat's waste, right out of the litter box, there's a chance that your dog could become infected with a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii, which causes the disease, toxoplasmosis in your dog. These are all problems I plan on discussing in a separate article out soon (watch this space!)

It’s also just disgusting, if you think that your dog may eat poop and then want to play with and lick you!

How to stop your dog eating their own poop

  • Pick up after your dog

  • Make the poop taste bad

  • Training

Pick it up

So what can be done to stop coprophagia? There's no single strategy that works for all dogs, but one that absolutely works every single time is to clean up after your dog.  It's not difficult, just carry a handy bag dispenser (amazon link) whenever you head out, or keep a collection kit at home for instant clean-up.

Why does this work? Well, first all, if there's no waste in the yard, there's nothing there to tempt your dog to eat it. So it's very important, that if you want to stop coprophagia, that you clean up after the dogs, every time they go.

Make the poop taste bad (even worse than normal!)

Vet clinics do have some products that can help make the waste unpalatable.  Other home remedies reported to work (but which I have no experience with) include simply adding meat tenderizer to the dog's food. Another thing that you could add to the dog's food, to make the waste unpalatable, is pineapple, or pineapple juice.

There's this other idea about making waste unpalatable, and that is simply running out into the yard, and sprinkling hot sauce on the waste. Now, let's be honest. If you're going to take the time to go out in the yard, and sprinkle hot sauce on the waste, wouldn't it be better to just clean it up instead?

Training

So if you notice that your dog is going towards waste, they need to know the "Leave it!" command. You can teach them, "Leave it!", it's going to require a great deal of persistence on your part, and consistency over time to teach them this command, but is can help in many other situations, such as if you drop some medication or dangerous food on the floor with your dog around.

McCann dogs have an excellent training video that teaches you exactly how to train your dog to "Leave it"!

When they listen to you, and they do not go near the waste, you need to reward them as positively as you can. It would not hurt to also add a recall command into the mix. Here's another excellent video teaching simple puppy recall techniques (that will work for any dog!).

So that's it, why your dog eats its own poop and exactly how to stop it!  Have you tried any of these techniques?  If so I'd love to hear how successful they were for your dog in the comments below.

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