When dogs eat their own poop (or even the poop of another dog or animal) it is called “coprophagia.” The habit of eating poop is relatively common in dogs with an estimated 16% of domesticated pups engaging in the habit. But why do dogs eat poop and what can you do to stop it?
There are several reasons that a dog may eat poop. In most cases, the practice is harmless. However, it can be the sign (or occasionally the cause) of serious nutritional deficiencies or illness in dogs, so it’s important to determine why your dog is eating poop and help them quit the habit if you can.
Why Dogs Eat Poop
There are several common reasons that dogs eat poop.
When a mother dog has a new batch of puppies, she will generally eat their poop for them for the first several weeks of their life. This is because various parasites thrive in poop and tiny puppies are too small to move away from their poop and avoid these parasites.
To protect her puppies, a mother dog will eat the poop to clear the area of parasites and keep it safe for her puppies. Sometimes, puppies who see their mother doing this or smell the poop on her breath may pick up the same habit. In other cases, a dog may simply desire to clean their area and decide to eat the poop as a way of “tidying up.”
There are a few suspected reasons that dogs may eat their poop instinctually. Some scientists believe that dogs have traditionally used feces to mark their territory. If another dog poops on their territory, a dog may be inclined to eat it and replace it with their own poop.
It has also been suggested that dogs ate their poop in the past to prevent the spread of parasites and diseases that could easily accumulate in poop. In this case, they may eat the poop as soon as they eliminate it to prevent any parasites from forming.
Sometimes, dogs who share homes with old or sick dogs will eat the poop of the old or sick pup. Scientists suspect this habit is related to protecting the weaker animal (their “herd”).
Dogs may also eat poop simply because their natural instinct is to get food from wherever they can. Since poop contains some fat and potentially other nutrients, dogs may simply be eating the food they find available to them without discriminating where it comes from.
3. Disease or Deficiency
Sometimes, dogs eat their poop because they are suffering from some sort of disease or deficiency. Malabsorption syndrome may result in coprophagia if the dog senses that some of the nutrients they are lacking have escaped them through their feces.
In addition, deficiency in the pancreas or in thiamine (an important B vitamin that cannot be produced in the body) can lead to a dog eating poop to try and make up for the deficiencies. Other possible deficiencies and issues that could lead to this behavior include:
- Mineral deficiencies
- Hydrochloric acid deficiencies
- Lack of digestive enzymes
- Thyroid issues
- Cushing’s disease
4. Anxiety or Boredom
Some dogs eat their poop as a technique to handle behavioral issues. They may eat their poop immediately after going because they are afraid of being punished and want to hide the evidence (usually this habit arises if the dog was punished harshly during housetraining).
Some dogs may be anxious when you leave the house or confine them to a small space and may eat their poop as a strange comforting or coping mechanism. Some dogs eat poop simply because they’re bored—not too different from a human indulging in too many sweets out of boredom.
In addition, some dogs may simply be seeking more attention. If they know eating their poop will get a reaction out of you, they may indulge in an effort to draw your attention to them.
If dogs are fed in the same place where they defecate, they may associate the smell of poop with the smell of food and be unable to distinguish that one is not for consumption. This can lead them to eat their poop if it’s the only thing available.
In addition, many dogs enjoy the taste of poop, specifically from other animals. Dogs usually enjoy cat poop, goose poop, and horse poop, among others. If you have other pets and your dog eats their poop, it may simply be a matter of preference.
How To Stop Your Dog from Eating Poop
You most likely don’t want your dog to eat poop. Even putting aside how disgusting it is, it can potentially lead to parasites or disease in your dog and is generally not a benefit to their health. It can also make it easier for your dog to spread disease if they tend to lick you or your children.
If you want to stop your dog from eating poop, there are a few methods you can try.
- Keep your dog away from the litter box or different areas where cats or other pets poop.
- Use a leash when your dog poops to pull them away from the site of their defecation as soon as possible.
- Offer your dog treats or other distractions after they poop to keep them away from the area while you clean it up.
- Reward your dog for NOT eating their poop after they defecate.
- Feed your dog a more nutrient-dense diet to ensure they’re getting all the vitamins and minerals they need.
- Feed your dog a diet that is high in fat and protein but low in carbohydrates as this stimulates a fuller feeling and can also make the consistency of poop less desirable (dogs generally only eat poop that is firm and somewhat round).
- Try a deterrent such as a supplement or something that will make the dog poop less appealing.
- Speak with your vet to rule out any serious deficiencies or diseases that could be causing coprophagia.
Keep Your Yard Clean
If you suspect your dog isn’t sick and is simply eating poop because of a behavioral issue, you should make every effort to keep poop out of sight and out of mind. This is where our team at Idaho Poop Scoop can help.
We’ll come to your home to pick up your dog’s poop so that you don’t have to. Just like you, we love dogs and want yours to be happy, healthy, and hygienic. If you’d like help picking up poop in your yard, get in touch with us to learn more about our services.