Why Do Dogs Eat Poop? Is It Harmful? How Can You Stop Your Dog from Eating Poop?

Why do Dogs Eat Poop

Dogs may be the most endearing creatures ever but let’s admit it, they can be absolutely embarrassing sometimes. Dogs can easily pick up many repulsive habits such as rear-sniffing, licking people’s feet, or rolling over in waste and dirt. However, nothing beats the most disgusting one- EATING POOP!

While discussing why dogs eat poop might not be very appealing, it is important to understand the reasons behind this behavior. Turns out, there is a scientific term for this habit: Coprophagia. Coprophagia in dogs is usually a result of boredom but sometimes, there can be serious medical issues.

The act of eating stool is a common practice not only in canines, but in a few among the mammal family. This behavior is found in rabbits, rodents, beavers, and elephants, to name a few. You will be surprised to know that for rabbits, feces eating is a perfectly normal and healthy way of attaining nutrients. If you try to stop them, they will develop some serious health concerns. The same is not true for our beloved canine companion.

So, Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?

We can divide the causes of coprophagia among dogs into two distinct categories:

  • Behavioral issues
  • Medical issues

Behavioral Issues

In many cases, dogs start eating feces due to environmental stress that causes behavioral triggers.

  1. Anxiety: Using punishment or harsh methods to train dogs can cause anxiety in dogs. They might start eating their own poop to get rid of the evidence because they fear that they will get punished if you notice. So, if you see your pooch eating poop, do not shout or give them any kind of punishment. Otherwise, this will become a vicious cycle.
  2. Isolation: Dogs who are kept alone in their kennel are most likely to suffer from Coprophagia. They get bored and with nothing to do and no one to play with, they develop this nasty habit of eating their own stool.
  3. Seeking attention: It is no surprise that dogs want to be around you all the time and get all your attention. When they feel that they aren’t getting enough attention, they will do anything to get your reaction, even eat their own excrement.
  4. Association with the food they eat: Sometimes, dogs will be unable to figure out the difference between the food they eat and their stool. It can smell the same to them.
  5. A protective instinct for an elderly dog: Dogs have a highly protective instinct for their loved ones. This can drive them to eat the feces of an elderly dog, as a sign of protecting them from predators.

Medical Issues

  1. Enzyme deficiency: Most dogs today are fed highly processed food. This diet doesn’t provide their body with the required digestive enzymes that are needed to digest food properly. This undigested stool can smell the same to your dog as the food they eat.
  2. Parasites: If dogs get intestinal worms, there is a chance that they are not getting enough nutrition because these parasites need food too. As a result, the dogs will go around looking for nutrition in their stool.
  3. Increased appetite due to health concerns: Diseases like diabetes and thyroid in dogs can make them really hungry, even though they are getting the required proportion of food at regular intervals. This increase in appetite can push your dog to look for food from other sources, like the poop of  other animals or their own.
  4. Malabsorption: Malabsorption is a condition that makes dogs unable to absorb nutrients like protein, carbohydrate, minerals, and fiber from their food. This can, in turn, lead them to look for nutrition in their stool.
  5. Pica: Pica is a psychological disorder that drives canines (and humans) to consume non-food items such as stones, dirt, hair, paper, paint, chalk, and feces. If you think your dog has coprophagia and none of the above causes seem plausible, you must contact your vet for advice.

Why Do Puppies Eat Poop?

Why do dogs eat poop
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

In the case of puppies, Coprophagia is an entirely different case. Mothers tend to lick their puppies and the puppies’ stool to maintain cleanliness around them. As a result, puppies learn this behavior, eating their own poop or poop from other dogs as well as other animals.

It can also be that your puppy is just exploring the world. Human babies put anything in their mouths, don’t they? The same can be the case with puppies. No big deal!

According to American Kennel Club, puppies are likely to give up on this childish habit by the age of 9 months.

Is Poop Eating Common in Dogs?

Dog sniffing poop
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

No dog owner wants to admit their dog eats poop, understandably so. However, this nasty habit is extremely common in dogs.

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior presented a research study in its annual conference in 2012 regarding Coprophagia. The research was led by Dr. Benjamin Hart. According to him,  among 1441 respondents answering the question about Coprophagia,

  • One in six dogs (16 percent) were found to be “serious” poop eaters.
  • 1 percent of the dogs were seen eating poop one to five times.
  • One in four dogs (24 percent) were observed eating poop at least one time.

Is It Normal for Dogs to Eat Poop?

Dog sniffing poop
Photo Credit: Pinterest

Yes. It is totally normal for dogs to eat poop, whether it’s their own, or of other animals.

Dogs evolved from wild canines to the domesticated pets that we know and love today. Initially, as scavengers, they would eat whatever they could find on the ground. Animal behaviorist Steven R. Lindsay says, that coprophagia “may be one of several appetitive survival behaviors that have evolved to cope with the periodic adversity of starvation.” Rough translation: Eating whatever they get their hands on, including stool, is in the dog’s DNA.

You can read more about coprophagia in dogs in Lindsay’s book, Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training

Is It Safe for Dogs to Eat Poop?

Yes. Eating their own poop is safe for dogs. But, eating the poop of another dog or other animals can be harmful as their excretion may be soiled with worms or viruses. If you find your dog eating the poop of any other animals, like cats or dogs, contact your vet immediately.

Humans, on the other hand, can be at risk from the poop-eating habits of their furry friend. If you let your dog lick you all over your face, the bacteria will get transmitted to you through their mouth and saliva.  Not to mention, you will also have to smell their filthy breath!

How Can You Stop Your Dog from Eating Poop?

Why do dogs eat poop
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

So you know that your dog eating their own poop is totally normal. But this doesn’t change the fact that it is still a very disgusting habit. While there is no specific solution, if you want to stop your dog from eating poop, following approaches seem to work:

  • You should always keep your dog’s living area fresh and clean. Don’t forget to pick up their poop as fast as you can.
  • If you also own a cat, you must keep the kitty’s litter box clean and out of your dog’s reach.
  • You can add vitamins and enzymes supplements to your dog’s diet to be sure that there are no missing nutrients in their food.
  • Do not leave your dog to wander or walk out alone in public spaces. You can use a leash to walk your dog. Also, be cautious about what they put in their mouth.
  • Training is an effective way to discipline your dog. Teach them, “leave it” and “No” commands from a very early age. This way, whenever they try to eat anything that is not edible, you can simply say the command.

    Teaching your dog the 'no' command
    Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Frequently Asked Questions about Poop-eating in Dogs

  • Why do dogs eat cat poop?

Dogs eat cat poop because there is a chance that cat poop might smell like food to dogs. Especially if it’s undigested poop. Therefore, if you have both a cat and a dog, look out for your kitty’s digestive health. You might find your dog  stealing a lick off of your cat’s undigested stool.

  • Why do dogs eat human poop?

Human poop smells like food to dogs. This is why dogs eat human poop.

Eating human stool can turn out to be very dangerous for dogs. In addition to the harmful bacteria, there can be residuals of drugs and medications. If you notice your pup licking human poop, take him to the vet immediately.

  • Why do dogs eat poop in winter?

We have often heard dog owners saying that this habit either starts or increases during the winter season. Although there is no scientific reason behind this, there are explanations that snow could be a major factor. Poop can easily get attached with snow in the ground making it easier for dogs to it gulp down. Snow also hides the foul odor of poop.

  • Can eating pineapple help your dog stop eating their poop?

There is a popular belief that pineapple can make dogs’ poop smell unpleasant and can stop them from eating their own poop. Sadly, this is not true. According to Jessica Potosky, Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine, “Nothing will stop a dog from eating their poop! Not even pineapple.”

You might also be interested in “Can Dogs Eat Pineapple?

Dogs eating their own poop is a sickening habit. There can be behavioral and sometimes medical reasons behind Coprophegia in your dog, but there is nothing serious to worry about. However, dogs eating the poop of another dog or cat could be a health concern. So, it is best to make sure your dog doesn’t develop a taste for other pets’ poop, or just poop in general.

 For more information on dog health, visit our website.

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