Help! Why Is My Dog Eating Poop?
Pets do weird things — sniff butts, chase their tails, knead you like bread, and bathe you. However, the weirdest and most disgusting behavior you encounter may be your dog eating poop.
Gross! Why do they do that?
It depends on the dog and the situation, but there are underlying causes for this unappetizing behavior. It is important to investigate and find the reason behind your dog's love of poop—because it CAN be stopped.
While scientists haven't dedicated a large amount of time to studying this phenomenon, they've dabbled enough to give it a name: coprophagia. Pronounced cop-ruh-fay-jee-uh, it is the fancy name given to the habit of eating poop.
In most cases, this habit is behavioral and doesn't mean there is anything wrong with your pet. However, there are some medical concerns that should be ruled out first before you decide how to intervene. The reasons also differ for puppies versus older dogs, so we'll look at each age group separately.
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Puppies Eating Poop
One of the biggest reasons you see your puppy eating poop is because he learned it from his mother. This is an instinct common in many wild animals and though domesticated, our pets haven't lost it. In the wild, a mother will eat her puppies' stools for two reasons:
- Cleanliness: Though you are capable of scooping poop for your pet and her puppies, your dog's brain is still wired to clean up after her pups. In the wild, a mother will eat her pups stools to keep the den clean.
- Protection from Predators: In the wild, the scent of stool will draw predators to the den where they'll find an easy meal. Even though your dog and puppies are no longer in danger from wild predators, the instinct to protect remains. A mother will eat the poop to keep her babies safe.
Puppies mimic the actions of their mother, as this is how they learn. However, once the pups are weaned and capable of leaving the den to poop, the mother stops eating stool. Unfortunately, this habit may stick with the puppy for a while after they are weaned. It is important for you, or their caregiver, to be vigilant about cleaning up puppy poop before they have a chance to eat it. This discourages the behavior and eventually, most puppies will grow out of it.
Older Dogs Who Eat Poop
If you have a puppy who continues to eat poop or you have an older dog with the same habit, it's important to rule out any underlying medical concerns. This is extremely important in two different scenarios:
- Your dog has never been a poop eater but suddenly begins eating its own stools, especially if other symptoms of illness are present. This is a red flag that something isn't right.
- Your dog isn't a poop eater, but suddenly develops an interest in eating a different dog's poop. While you should still have your pet checked by a vet, this is a bigger red flag for the other dog. It can signal a change in stool and possible health problems for the other dog.
There are different health issues that can cause coprophagia, but they typically tend to manifest in the same way and that is malnutrition. What causes malnutrition? Malnutrition means that your dog isn't getting the nutrients it needs from its food and therefore has an increased appetite. This can occur for the following reasons:
- Underfeeding: Check with your vet to make sure you are feeding your dog the appropriate amount of food for its size and activity level. If your dog isn't getting enough and always feels hungry, this can lead to stool eating.
- Poor Diet: Just like humans, dogs can be eating too much of the wrong foods and not getting the proper balance of nutrients. They may also have problems digesting the ingredients in their food. If a dog's stool has a high amount of undigested kibble, it may smell much more appetizing than regular poo. They may also be hungrier because they aren't absorbing the nutrients they need. Combined, this provides a powerful motivator to eat poop. Discuss with your vet the proper type of foods to offer your pet.
- Parasites: Make sure your dog hasn't picked up worms. Any type of parasite hanging out in their digestive tract will consume nutrients from your pet's food. This means your dog isn't getting what it needs and can increase hunger, leading to stool consumption.
- Enzyme Deficiencies: It is possible for a dog's body to stop producing the proper amount or types of digestive enzymes needed to digest and absorb nutrients. If this is causing an increased appetite and stool eating, your vet can offer you supplements to add to their food.
- Other Diseases: There are other diseases that cause an increased appetite and consequently, eating poop. These include diabetes, thyroid malfunction, and Cushing's syndrome. Your vet can easily test for these to rule them out.
If your dog has been checked by a vet and doesn't have an underlying medical condition, there are other reasons they eat their poop. These are behavioral, meaning they are behaving in this manner due to an outside issue. Some of the most common reasons are:
- Attention Seeking
- Incorrect Training
Though these reasons don't need medical treatment, they still need attention. If you're unsure how to change these situations and behaviors, your vet is still a good resource.
Pet MD recommends the following ways to stop and/or prevent coprophagia:
- Feed a high quality, easily digestible diet.
- Be sure to give your pet the proper amount of attention, play time, and exercise.
- Be diligent about cleaning up your dog's poop, especially in your own yard.
- Always walk your dogs on a leash to keep them from accessing other animals' stools.
- Learn proper praise and discouragement techniques to break the habit.
While the habit of eating poop is gross and a bit disturbing to humans, it doesn't tend to cause your dog any harm. However, it is always best to have your vet assess the health of your pet to rule out medical causes. From there, you can discuss treatment options and behavior modification to teach your dog that poop is not a delicacy.
If you have questions or want more information about coprophagia, please contact us. We are always here to help you provide the best care for your pet.
About Dr. Natalie Waggener
Dr. Natalie Waggener has 17 years of experience in emergency work and general practice in Rhode Island, Florida and Massachusetts. She has a special interest in dentistry, wellness care and rehabilitation therapy. She is currently licensed in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.