Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?

Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?

July 01, 2024

Canine coprophagia, or dogs eating their poop, is a normal behaviour. Up to 24% of dogs will demonstrate this behaviour.

Although it is unpleasant for dog owners, it is important to understand why dogs do this.

The following points provide a brief overview of the reasons why dogs eat poop.

  • Behavioural Factors: Pups may copy their mothers or eat poop due to stress, boredom, and anxiety.
  • Environment: Cleanliness, the presence of other dogs and animals, or confinement can influence poop eating.
  • Diet: Poor diet makes dogs eat poop to meet nutrient needs.
  • Health: Parasites or intestinal tract issues can make poop seem appealing.

Similar to barking or jumping, dogs eating poop is a self-rewarding habit that is hardwired in their genes.

Understanding the reasons behind dogs' coprophagia can help you develop effective strategies to prevent this behaviour in your dogs.

4 Reasons Why Dogs Eat Poop

Dogs eating poop can stem from various factors — including behavioural, environmental, nutritional or dietary, and medical reasons.

Here is a closer look at the main factors contributing to this behaviour.

1. Habit and Other Behavioural Factors

Dogs may learn to eat poop as early as in their first few weeks of being born by copying their mothers. After all, mother dogs instinctively eat their puppies' faeces to keep the den clean.

Therefore, most puppies might detect the scent of poop on their mother's breath and associate it with her scent, leading them to accidentally consume faeces.

A dog's poop-eating habit might also be linked to their evolutionary past.

Like wolves, dogs evolved by scavenging, so it is possible that faeces consumption is a natural behaviour to ensure they get enough nutrients, even from unlikely sources like poop.

Some dogs eat their own poop as a way to attract their owner's attention. They learn that this behaviour elicits a strong reaction, even if negative, and might continue the behaviour to get noticed.

Additionally, stress, boredom, or anxiety can lead dogs to develop compulsive behaviours like eating their own poop.

2. Environmental Influences

Confined or messy living spaces or mimicking other poop-eating dogs can all trigger a dog's urge to eat poop.

Dogs in multi-dog households might pick up this habit by copying other dogs. If one dog eats poop, others may follow suit, especially if they are greedy eaters.

According to the American Kennel Club, in single-dog homes, only 20% of dogs habitually eat poop. However, in homes with three dogs, this number rises to 33%.

Worse, some dogs living with other animals, like cats, may start eating cat poop. Similarly, farm dogs may consume horse manure.

If you see your dog eating cat poop from the litter tray, it may be because the litter tray has been moved or the dynamic between your dog and cat has changed.

Your dog's sense of smell and taste are also very different from yours, and they may be able to detect undigested fats, proteins, or other materials from fresh stools.

Lack of cleanliness in living areas can also cause dogs to eat poop. This is particularly true for a dog who is confined to small spaces or left in a dirty kennel.

3. Nutritional Deficiencies and Dietary Factors

When a dog does not consume a nutritionally-balanced diet, they might turn to eating poop in order to supplement whatever nutrient is missing. Note that diet should be adjusted according to a dog's age.

Additionally, issues with nutrient absorption can trigger this habit.

Conditions such as malabsorption disorders and enzyme deficiencies can impair a dog's ability to properly absorb nutrients from their food.

This, in turn, leads to dogs seeking out alternative sources, including the tendency for dogs to eat their own poop.

To prevent poop-eating behaviour, ensure your pets consume a balanced and nutritious diet.

4. Medical and Health Issues

Dogs may sometimes engage in poop-eating behaviour due to medical or health-related issues.

For example, dogs with intestinal parasites, internal imbalances, or other digestive issues will experience stomach discomfort.

This discomfort can cause a weaker dog to find their own faeces appealing and lead them to eat it.

Additionally, specific medical conditions, such as pancreatitis or inflammatory bowel disease, could trigger this behaviour in dogs. 

Ensuring your dog's health through routine veterinary visits can help reduce their inclination towards eating poop.

How to Prevent and Manage Coprophagia

Tackling coprophagia in dogs requires a well-rounded approach that focuses on several variables, including their diet, behaviour, and surroundings.

Though it poses a challenge, with the right mix of patience, consistency, and effective strategies, you can successfully manage and prevent this behaviour.

Here are 10 tips on how to prevent and manage coprophagia.

  1. Understand the Cause

First, it is important to figure out why your dog is eating poop. Some common reasons include nutritional deficiencies, boredom, attention-seeking behaviour, or health issues.

Observe when and where your dog eats poop to identify potential patterns or triggers. Knowing the cause will help you tailor your approach.

  1. Proper Nutrition

Sometimes, dogs eat their own poop because they are lacking certain nutrients.

Owners with an adult dog can consider adding a spoonful of canned pumpkin to their food. It can aid digestion and make their poop less appealing.

If the above does not work, consult your vet about the best food for your pet. High-quality adult dog food and supplements can help.

It is also important to review your dog's diet regularly as they age or if they experience any health changes.

  1. Keep Their Environment Clean

Clean your pet's living area regularly and remove their poop immediately after their bowel movements. A clean environment reduces poop eating.

Ensure that your yard is free of poop, and supervise your dog when they poop.

Use tools like a pooper scooper to keep the area clean and tidy and prevent your dog from eating their own poop or any other faeces.

If you also have a cat, routinely clean their litter box or keep it out of the dog's reach.

  1. Use Deterrents

There are stool-eating deterrents that can be added to your pet's food to stop them from eating their own poop.

Similarly, there are sprays for the yard to deter them from eating faeces. These deterrents can help break this dog-eating-poop habit.

Ensure you follow the product instructions carefully for the best results.

  1. Provide Plenty of Exercise

Ensure your dog gets adequate amounts of physical exercise and mental stimulation. Boredom can lead to undesirable behaviours, including coprophagia.

Regular walks, playtime, and interactive toys can help keep your dog engaged. Consider getting puzzle toys that will challenge your dog's mind.

A tired and stimulated dog is less likely to engage in poop-eating than a healthy dog.

  1. Positive Reinforcement

Teach your dog commands like "Leave it" or "Drop it" to prevent them from picking up faeces.

Positive reinforcement techniques are effective in training pets to avoid unwanted behaviours like coprophagia.

Reward your dog with a tasty treat, like peanut butter, or praise when they obey commands. Practise these commands regularly to ensure your dog responds reliably.

  1. Monitor Your Dog During Walks

Restrict access to areas where other animals' faeces may be present. In addition, use a short leash when walking to maintain control and steer them away from faeces.

Consider walking your dog in cleaner areas if possible.

  1. Check for Underlying Health Issues

As mentioned earlier, dogs who eat their own poop may be an indication of severe health problems like parasites or digestive issues, especially in adult dogs.

Regular check-ups with your vet are important. They can perform tests to rule out or treat specific health issues.

Early detection and treatment can prevent the behaviour from further developing into a bad habit.

  1. Provide Positive Alternatives

To discourage your dog from eating poop, offer them chew toys, bones, or dental treats as positive alternatives.

Another good option is to use slow-feeder dog bowls for a long-lasting, enriching chew session.

These alternatives can keep your pet busy and satisfy their need to chew, eat, and explore.

  1. Seek Professional Help

If you are concerned about your dog eating poop and none of the above strategies has worked, it is time to consult a vet or an animal behaviourist.

They can give you specific advice and strategies to address your dog's coprophagia.

Professionals can spot any factors you might have missed. They can explain to you the more accurate reason why your dog eats poop.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

This section answers common questions related to ‘Why do dogs eat poop?’

Is It Dangerous for My Dog to Eat Poop?

While dogs eating their own poop is not inherently dangerous, it should be curtailed. This behaviour carries a risk of ingesting parasites, viruses, or bacteria. Your dog may consume poop which contains harmful pathogens.

Can My Dog Get Worms from Eating Poop?

Yes. Parasites and their eggs can be found in animal faeces, and eating poop can transmit worms like hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms to your dog, making them ill.

How Do I Clean My Dog’s Mouth After They've Eaten Poop?

Use a dog-specific mouthwash mixed with water or a cloth soaked in dog mouthwash. Avoid using toothpaste or mouthwash formulated for humans. Afterwards, offer your dog water and food.

The saliva your dog produces while eating the food will naturally help clean their mouth.

Can Pineapple and Courgette Stop Dogs From Eating Poop?

Some people suggest that feeding a dog raw pineapple or courgette can introduce a bitter taste to its excrement, putting a stop to the behaviour.

While there is limited scientific support for this claim, it may work.

Key Takeaways on Why Dogs Eat Poop

Similar to a curious baby who puts everything in their mouth, dogs will explore the world through their taste buds – including fresh poop!

While this is unpleasant for us, their reasons can be simple. They might be mimicking their mothers, feeling bored or stressed, or their food might lack essential nutrients.

However, with patience, training, and addressing any underlying health issues, you can break your dog's habit and keep them healthy.

If your dog continues to eat faeces despite your efforts, consult your vet for further advice.