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Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?

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It’s a reality for many dog owners … dogs eat poop. It’s a habit that humans find disgusting and try to prevent. But to stop it, you have to know why your dog’s doing it.

Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?

There are many reasons, and even an official name, for the behavior of dogs eating poop: coprophagia. It’s a normal behavior in the animal kingdom, though not one humans enjoy. Dogs typically eat poop for one of two broad reasons: either it’s medical, or behavioral. 

Researchers at UC Davis found that 16% of dogs qualified as coprophagic by eating other dogs’ poop at least 6 times. 23% of dogs ate poop at least once (1). The researchers found no difference according to sex or neuter status, age, diet, ease of house training or compulsive behaviors.  Coprophagic dogs were often greedy eaters, and were more common in multi‐dog households. The dogs ate dirt and cat stools as well. Terriers and hounds were the most most coprophagic breed groups. 

Medical Reasons Dogs Eat Poop

There are many medical reasons why dogs may eat poop: underfeeding, medications, parasites, malabsorption diseases like exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), enzyme deficiency, diabetes or thyroid problems.

Missing Nutrients
In the wild, dogs eat a more diverse diet than most domesticated dogs. So dogs may not get the range of nutrients they need … or they may lack the digestive enzymes they need to absorb nutrients. Feed your dog a varied raw diet, so he gets a wide range of nutrients. Adding digestive enzymes to your dog’s diet may also help reduce his urge to supplement his diet with poop. 

EPI or IBD
A serious disease, exocrine pancreative insufficiency (EPI) means that a dog can’t absorb and break down nutrients. Dogs suffering from EPI lose weight, are ravenously hungry, eat stool, and often suffer from diarrhea. Feeding a raw diet is the starting point to managing EPI. Raw food provides your dog with digestible nutrients that his body is built for. Feeding pancreatic enzymes or raw pancreas, as well as adding probiotics to your dog’s diet, is another important factor in managing EPI. 

IBD, or inflammatory bowel disease, is another condition that stops your dog from absorbing nutrients, and he’ll likely experience chronic diarrhea and weight loss. Gut-healing supplements that contains herbs like slippery elm or marshmallow root can promote a healthier gut and help soothe his digestive tract.  

Parasites
Parasites may also deplete nutrients in your dog. A fecal sample taken to the veterinarian can confirm worms or parasites. But if your dog tests positive, try some natural foods to help your dog expel parasites instead of using harsh deworming medicines.

Other Health Issues
Dogs with diabetes or hypothyroidism can get extremely hungry. Dogs taking steroid drugs can also feel ravenous. So they may eat poop because of hunger or nutritional deficiencies. If your dog is losing weight, he might just need more real food. Again, feeding a fresh, whole food raw diet is the best start to resolve just about any health issue.

Behavioral Reasons Dogs Eat Poop

Sometimes eating poop is just fun for your dog. And, of course, poop is smelly … and to your dog that means it might be food!  Smelling poop and eating it, can be entertainment for your dog. And that goes for cat poop too. To your dog, cat poop in the litter box seems like a tasty snack. 

Outdoors, any kind of animal poop may be attractive to your dog … rabbit and goose poop seem especially delicious.

Apparently, dogs prefer to eat fresh poop. The UC Davis study referenced above found that 85% of dogs observed didn’t eat stools that were more than 2 days old (1).

Clean-up
Eating poop to clean up is a natural instinct. Female dogs clean up after their puppies by eating their stool. Sometimes dogs may eat poop to clean up their crate or kennel … or to avoid punishment if they had an accident in the house. (Never scold or punish your dog for accidents in the house. It’s a natural behavior, and he won’t understand the reasons you’re upset. It’ll also create a relationship based on fear.)

The UC Davis study suggested that dogs eating poop may be an inherited behavior from wolves. Wolves might clean up poop near their dens to prevent parasite larvae from hatching and spreading onto the wolves’ fur and getting licked off and swallowed (1)

Curiosity
Puppies may just be exploring their surroundings and tasting poop out of curiosity. Puppies often outgrow poop-eating behavior.

If your dog sees another dog eating poop, he might wonder if he’s missing out, and mimic the behavior. After all, if someone else gets a poop treat, why can’t he?

Attention
Some dogs eat poop to get your attention. So try not to over-react or make a big fuss if you see him eating poop.  

Stress
If your dog is stressed, he might eat poop. It’s not unusual for stressed puppy mill dogs to eat poop because they don’t have the nutrients they need … or because they are forced to poop in their kennel. 

Risks Of Dogs Eating Poop

As gross as it may seem, there are minimal risks for dogs who eat their own poop or even other dogs’ poop. It’s a normal behavior, isn’t indicative of any particular problem, and may provide him with extra nutrients.

Some dogs love eating wild animal poop they find when they’re out. If your dog gets digestive upset from this, you may want to get a fecal sample tested for parasites. 

If your dog is a poop eater, you may want to brush his teeth regularly (you should anyway!), and discourage him from licking people. Washing after he licks you should also can help lower the risk of your dog passing bacteria and parasites on to you and your family.

If you have multiple dogs, and any of them are on medication, your poop-eating dog could be at risk of drug toxicity from medicine in the stool. One study described a dog who developed thyrotoxicosis from eating poop from his housemate who was on thyroid meds (2). In this case, it’s safest to pick up poop in your yard to keep it from being a tasty snack.

Can You Stop Your Dog From Eating Poop?

Have you ever tried to get a child to stop doing something by yelling or making a big deal out of the behavior? It just doesn’t work. So don’t make a big fuss when your dog eats poop. 

It’s not easy to change poop-eating behavior. The UC Davis researchers found that “The success in eliminating the coprophagia with the various behavioural procedures ranged from only 1 to 4%.” (1)

The best way to get your dog to stop eating poop is to take away the opportunity. So pick up poop (dog and cat) as soon as it happens. Then, there won’t be snacks for furry poop eaters in your yard or cat litterbox. 

Keep your dog busy with plenty of exercise and mental activities.  Maybe he’ll be too tired to go scavenging for poop. And if he’s eating poop for medical reasons, manage any health issues and make a few adjustments to his diet as suggested earlier.

And most importantly, feed your dog a varied whole food diet and  avoid processed foods if you can. A raw, whole food diet is ideal, including organ meats, plus vegetables and fruits for extra nutrients. Pre- and probiotics as well as digestive enzymes can also help. 

But, remember, even though it’s gross to you, it’s a normal behavior for your dog, it’s one that’s hard to stop … and it’s unlikely to harm him.

References

1. Hart BL, Hart LA, Thigpen AP, Tran A, Bain MJ. The paradox of canine conspecific coprophagyVet Med Sci. 2018;4(2):106-114.

2. Shadwick SR, Ridgway MD, Kubier A. Thyrotoxicosis in a dog induced by the consumption of feces from a levothyroxine-supplemented housemate. Can Vet J. 2013;54(10):987-989.

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