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28 February 2024

6 MINS READ

Why Do Dogs Eat Poop & How to Stop It

Does your dog partake in poop? We get to the bottom of this unusual behavior, including its medical and behavioral causes, and how to address it.

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Poop eating is a fairly common habit in dogs, especially puppies, but that doesn’t make the behavior less gross for pet parents. Understanding why your dog may be snacking on stools can help you determine how to stop this unpleasant behavior or, at least, learn how to manage your dog’s environment and minimize poop-eating opportunities. Learn the most common medical and behavioral reasons why dogs eat poop—whether it’s their own or another pet’s—and some helpful advice on how to address each cause.

Dogs Will Be Dogs: Poop Eating Is a Natural Behavior

Before learning about the complex reasons why dogs eat poop (i.e., coprophagia), understand that occasional poop eating is natural—and often normal—canine behavior. Dogs do not share pet parents’ sanitation, hygiene, health, or tastiness standards! While you see animal waste as disgusting, your dog sees a treasure trove of fragrant and flavorful information.

By keeping in mind your dog’s poop-eating perspective, you can avoid shaming them when you see them occasionally eating stool. Punishment damages the dog-owner relationship, and harsh reprimand can intensify your dog’s coprophagia.

Medical Reasons Your Dog Is Eating Poop

If your dog or puppy is suddenly eating poop, consuming it with increased frequency, or obsessively seeking it out in the yard or on a walk, an underlying medical cause may be driving this behavior. Untreated health conditions and disorders can lead to severe—sometimes irreversible—complications. If your pup’s poop eating is more than the occasional nibble, consult your veterinarian to determine if a medical cause is to blame. In addition to the causes discussed below, other chronic health conditions can prompt dogs to eat poop, including diabetes, Cushing’s disease, and hypothyroidism (i.e., low thyroid). However, the most common medical causes for poop eating include:

Parasites

Intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms, live in a dog’s gut, damaging their intestinal lining and disrupting food absorption. Parasites also directly feed on components of your dog’s food, robbing your pup of essential nutrients. This resulting deficiency drives some dogs to eat poop, which is rich in various nutrients and beneficial bacteria, and helps them recover lost vitamins and minerals.

Diet Deficiencies

Dogs may eat poop in an effort to consume more calories. If your dog’s food isn’t providing adequate nutrition and energy to maintain their body systems, they may attempt to satisfy those needs by ingesting fecal material, especially stools containing undigested fats. This can be easily remedied by feeding your dog the appropriate amount of a balanced and nutritionally complete diet.

Malabsorption

Many medical conditions and therapies can disrupt your dog’s digestion and nutrient absorption, including inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal blockages, and certain prescription medications. Dogs who are unable to absorb and utilize the nutrients in their food are often visibly ill, experiencing vomiting, loose stools, and excessive gas. In addition, dogs with malabsorption issues exhibit noticeable weight loss despite having a hearty appetite.

Behavioral Reasons Your Dog is Eating Poop

In addition to physical health abnormalities, changes in your dog’s emotional health and wellbeing can cause coprophagia. Your dog’s poop eating can be caused by the following behavioral issues:

Stress and Anxiety

Stress can trigger unusual or inappropriate canine behaviors, including coprophagia. Dogs who experience prolonged isolation or who were previously housed in close quarters with other dogs (e.g., shelters, hoarding situations) frequently demonstrate stool-eating behavior. Dogs who lack mental or social stimulation may eat poop because of boredom-induced stress.

Trauma Associated with Poop

Negative events, such as being scolded, punished, or otherwise frightened after inappropriately relieving themselves (e.g., potty training accidents, eliminating inside the house), may prompt dogs to eat their own poop in an effort to hide the evidence and escape further punishment. If your puppy or dog eliminates inappropriately, stay calm and make a mental note to take them outside more often or at more consistent intervals.

Seeking Attention from Owners

Dogs who lack social interaction may exhibit undesirable behaviors, such as biting, barking, or poop eating, to get their owner’s or caretaker’s attention. For these dogs, negative attention is considered better than no attention.

Imitating Another Dog’s Behavior

While their puppies are nursing, mother dogs ingest the puppies’ stools to maintain a clean and safe environment. Although this behavior ends when puppies transition to solid food, some puppies will mimic their mom’s behavior. Puppies and adolescent dogs may also learn through observation if another dog in their household eats poop.

Is It Normal for Puppies to Eat Poop?

Because puppies are naturally curious and lack a trained adult dog’s impulse control, they are the most likely to eat their own poop and any other pet’s poop they can find. Fortunately, the reason behind this behavior is most often benign. A puppy has usually learned the behavior from their mother or another dog, is exploring their environment, or has learned that eating poop gets a big reaction from you. If your puppy has been eating poop, you have little cause for concern. Although most puppies naturally grow out of this phase, chronic or obsessive poop eating or that which is accompanied by other illness signs, should be assessed by a veterinarian.

How to Stop a Dog from Eating Poop

No matter how natural your dog’s motivations are, you’re likely more interested in stopping this gross behavior. To curb your pup’s appetite for poop and minimize their opportunities to snack on fresh stool, follow these tips:

Visit the Vet if Your Pup Has Symptoms of a Medical Issue

Determine whether your dog’s physical condition suggests their stool consumption has a medical cause such as parasites or malabsorption. If you suspect your dog has a medical issue, consult your veterinarian before trying any DIY solutions or deterrents.

Pick Up Your Dog’s Poop Right Away

Controlling your dog’s ability to eat poop can be an effective way to break this habit, although you must be vigilant and consistent to prevent them from sneaking snacks. When on a walk or in your yard, immediately pick up your dog’s poop, as well as any other poop you see. Alternatively, you can shorten your dog’s leash or have them wear a basket muzzle to prevent them from eating poop during walks or while at the dog park. If your dog likes to dine at the cat’s litter box, clean the box several times per day and place it behind a gate or similar dog-proof barrier.

Offer Your Dog Poop-Eating Deterrent Treats

If you can’t stop your dog from eating poop by limiting their access, you can try to make it less appealing by giving them a deterrent powder or treat made for coprophagic canines. You can also try adding some pumpkin to their diet to make the stool less appetizing.

Properly Exercise and Enrich Your Dog

Physical exercise and mental stimulation often resolve a dog’s behavior-based eating disorder, including coprophagia. Ensure your dog is receiving sufficient and satisfying exercise by engaging in regular physical activity (e.g., walks, hikes, play) and inviting your pup to play mentally stimulating games (e.g., puzzle toys and mats, scent-based activities).

Learning the answer to ”Why do dogs eat poop?” may not make the behavior more acceptable to you. However, by gaining insight to this canine mystery, you become a more compassionate and attentive dog owner, especially in regard to your dog’s physical, emotional, and nutritional needs. 

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The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out MyOllie.com.

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