Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Understanding Why Dogs Eat Their Own Poop
Looking for the best products to stop your dog from eating poop? Well, when it comes to poop eating in dogs, it's important to first determine what is causing this behavior in the first place.
Doing some troubleshooting is important because you want to get to the root of the problem, as sometimes Rover's behavior is trying to tell us that something is amiss. . . Just as you don't want to just take pain relievers while ignoring the underlying source of the pain, you don't want to suppress poop eating behavior without first analyzing if there's some underlying problem that needs some deserved attention. The following are some possible causes for poop eating behavior in dogs.
Note: This article will address only dogs who eat their own stool.
Your first stop when dealing with poop-eating behavior should be the vet's office. As mentioned, you don't want to suppress poop eating without knowing if there's a medical cause first!
Also known as coprophagia, stool eating in dogs can at times be triggered by conditions known for creating decreased absorption of nutrients. Because nutrients aren't properly absorbed, the dog, therefore, tries to eat his stool as a way to compensate. The stool-eating habit, therefore, is driven by the increased nutritional value of the stool and also the increased appetite due to lack of proper nutrition, explain Donal McKeown, Andrew Luescher, and Mary Machum in the Canadian Veterinarian Journal. Soon, a vicious cycle is established.
Causes of decreased absorption of nutrients include:
- the presence of parasites (who eat up what the dog should be absorbing),
- digestive enzyme deficiencies
- malabsorption or feeding a poorly digestible diet.
Dog foods that aren't much nutritious and are hard to digest cause the stool to come out in an appealing, undigested form that from Rover's perspective almost tastes like food. It's very important therefore to have the vet rule out any of these conditions that lead to malnutrition, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and an increased appetite. Conditions known for causing an increased appetite include thyroid problems, diabetes, and Cushing's disease.
After ruling out medical causes, it's important to consider behavioral causes. In several cases, coprophagia stems from early puppyhood. Puppies who were raised in pet stores may have developed a tendency to eat stools so they could clean up their cages and not rest near a pile of poop.
At times, puppies learn to eat poop by watching their mother. When pups are small, mother dogs eat their poop to clean up. On the other hand, puppies may soon learn to eat poop as a way to gain attention, even if negative. Worth mentioning is also the puppy who learns to eat poop to hide "evidence" in the case of puppies being scolded harshly for pooping in the house.
In adult dogs, poop eating may stem from boredom, loneliness, anxiety, stress (which affects gut-motility decreasing absorption of nutrients), or a need for attention. Luckily, the great majority of pups outgrow poop eating, but in some cases, poop eating may carry on onto adulthood and indeed can become a habit, and in some cases, even a compulsive behavior.
Last but not least, poop eating in canines is, after all, a natural behavior. While we smell poop, dogs are blessed with very sensitive noses, so what smells like poop to us may smell like tasty chicken, beef, and fish to a dog.
Dogs are also attracted to all sorts of things that we repel. Rotting carcasses, cow manure, rabbit pellets, and dog poop are a few things dogs may perceive as yummy but that we may find revolting and hard to accept. Always make sure your poop eating dog is checked for parasites, at least twice a year.
In the next paragraphs, we will look at the best ways to stop a dog from eating his own poop.
What Doesn't Work
- Punishing your dog for eating poop will cause your dog to associate your presence with punishment, which leads to him feeling compelled to secretly eat poop when you are not around. On top of that, he'll get faster in eating poop and you won't get to the root of the problem.
- Using a muzzle may seem to work, only that you'll end up dealing with a muzzle dirty with poop.
- Covering the stools with taste deterrents may seem to work, but the moment the dog finds a stool that is not treated, the behavior of stool eating will come back stronger than before.
Best Ways to Stop Dog from Eating Poop
Whether your dog is addicted to poop eating or just occasionally enjoys "poopsicles" in the winter, you will be looking for solutions to this distasteful habit. After dealing with several poop-eating dogs, I feel compelled to compile a list of the top best ways to stop a dog from eating poop. The solutions may leave you disappointed as there's no magic cure in several instances, but this will prevent you from engaging in false hopes and much frustration. Of course, these tips apply to dogs who have received a clean bill of health by their vets.
Always Pick up After Your Dog
This has been the best-proven method to stop a dog from eating poop. You can't have a dog eating poop if you clean up right after him! Often the solution is right in front of our eyes, but we are hoping for some miracle cure.
This management method works because it stops the dog from rehearsing an unwanted behavior over and over. The more the dog rehearses the poop eating behavior, the more it'll put roots making it harder and harder to extinguish.
The is a reason why the word I added the word always is to emphasize that if you pick up poop only sometimes, you will set your dog to fail. Why? Let's take a look at this from a behavioral standpoint.
You go at the race tracks and bid on the horses. That day you win $100. Next time you play, you win nothing. The next week you win $20. After a week of not winning anything, you then win $200. All these ups and down create a mix of emotions including frustration, excitement, disappointment, and exhilaration. After some time, you'll find you get an adrenaline rush when you go bid on the horses and sooner than later you realize you're getting addicted to that rush and you'll find yourself wanting to go more and more.
In dog training, there's a reason why trainers tell you to start giving treats every now and then once the dog's behavior starts getting fluent. The fact that the dog doesn't know when a treat is coming builds motivation, anticipation, and an eagerness to work that would not be there if a treat would be delivered every single time. This is called a "variable schedule." In the same way, finding poop one day and none the next builds more motivation to continue looking for poop. The same goes for finding some poop covered in Tabasco sauce and some poop without. Soon, you'll have a dog addicted to poop eating just as people may be to gambling.
So the best thing to do is to keep Rover on a leash when he needs to poop and then redirect his attention to you so you can move away immediately and then keep track of where he pooped so you can pick it up immediately after putting your dog back inside. This solution always works if you follow it meticulously!
Change Their Diet
In some cases, a higher quality diet may help solve the problem. You may want to consult with a nutritionist for this. Generally, you want to feed foods that are rich in high-quality protein and do not contain fillers such as corn, soy, wheat or other grains.
There are several success stories on dogs fed raw food because the stool is actually for the most part waste, and some have noticed an improvement in feeding canned food as it's more readily digested and absorbed. All new diet transitions should be gradually over the course of several days by adding the new dog food to the old in gradual increments.
It's also important to not overfeed the dog, as too much eating at once will cause the meal to be only partially digested. The same goes for dogs who eat too fast, with the end result of their food not being digested well, which means their stools end up being more appealing. If your dog eats very fast, consider investing in a "Brake-Fast bowl."
Again, these won't work with all dogs, but some have reported success, so they're worth mentioning. The addition of high-quality probiotics and digestive enzymes have helped some owners reduce the poop-eating habit in their dogs. In cases of vitamin B deficiency, the addition of B vitamin supplements may be an option. Always consult with your vet before adding any supplements to your dog's diet.
There are a few owners claiming that adding supplements such as 100% pure canned pumpkin, pineapple juice, or some grated zucchini to the dog's food has helped, but again it seems to work only for a few dogs.
What about products meant to deter dogs from eating poop? At the vet's office, we used to recommend products like Forbid and Deter, but after looking at many disappointed reviews and hearing my clients claiming they don't work, I think this may be a waste of money.
On top of that, several products meant to deter dogs from eating poop contain MSG which is not the healthiest thing for your dog as Karen Becker in the video below refers to it as a toxic ingredient!
There are several other remedies suggested such as feeding breath mints, meat tenderizer (another source of MSG), and covering feces with hot sauces, but these seem to be short-lived, with the poop-eating habit coming right back the moment these remedies are stopped. Also, it's important to consider that adding certain chemicals and supplements can turn out to be harmful to dogs, so always best to consult with a vet before trying anything.
After ruling out medical disorders and trying dietary changes the vet recommends, behavior modification can turn out helpful as well. Walking the dog on a leash and distracting him with a treat after a bowel movement should divert his attention from the poop to the owner offering the treat. Soon, a new behavior pattern may establish.
Teaching the leave it command may turn out helpful as well to divert the dog from the pile of poop to the owner. Even better, try training the treasure hunt game for coprophagia. Dogs who are bored, lonely, anxious or stressed may benefit from a more active lifestyle and a stress-reduction program.
As seen, solving the poop-eating habit isn't easy. The top best way remains strict management as it's a win-win situation. By cleaning up all the yard frequently and keeping Rover on a leash, you prevent poop eating, avoid Rover from rehearsing the unwanted behavior over and over and minimize the chances of him getting infected over and over with parasites and protozoans. Fencing off an area in the yard where you take your dog to eliminate will help make the poop easy to find and pick up as it will all be there. Management though doesn't go to the root of the problem if it's triggered by a medical issue or a behavioral one. Therefore there's ultimately no best way to stop a dog from eating his poop, but rather there are several avenues to take.
For Further Reading
- Dealing with Dog Coprophagia? Train the Treasure Hun...
Dealing with dog coprophagia isn't easy. There are several remedies that do not work. Management is key, but you can try the treasure hunt game, the leave it command with a special twist.
- My Dog Ate Rabbit Poop, Now what?
Many dogs find eating rabbit poop an irresistible temptation. What happens if dogs eat rabbit poop, and what diseases can they get?
- Dog Health: Understanding Pancreatitis in Dogs
What is canine pancreatitis? Why does the dog's pancreas get inflamed? What are treatments for pancreatitis in dogs? Learn more about this debilitating condition.
- How to Stop a Dog From Eating Fast
A dog eating fast is not only a bad habit, but also a cause for concern since it may lead to several health problems. If you own a dog that wolfs down its food as soon as you put it down, be assured there are ways to address this problem and calm...
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2014 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 21, 2014:
Yes, that's the advantage, the yard is spotless that way. Also, most poop deterrent products contain MSG, not very healthy.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 21, 2014:
Edward, neither do mine luckily, but they have a sweet spot for rabbit poop.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 21, 2014:
Yes, prompt clean up is the best way to go, less frustration for all. Thanks for the votes up Dzymslizzy!
Dawn Ross on January 20, 2014:
My dog Pierson loves to eat my other dog Maya's poop. He probably developed his bad habit of eating other dogs' poop when he had lived as a stray. The easiest way for me to stop this is to pick up Maya's poop. It can be a hassle in cold weather when I stand outside shivering waiting for her to sniff around and find the right spot. But it is much more convenient for me to pick up after her than it is to give her regular supplements to make her poop taste bad. It's also easier than standing around waiting for Pierson to try to eat Maya's poop so that I can redirect the behavior. Chances are, he'd just learn to eat the poop when I'm not looking. Besides. Picking up both her and Pierson's poop regularly keeps my yard nice and clean.
Ed Palumbo from Tualatin, OR on January 19, 2014:
Neither of my dogs demonstrates this behavior, but I will be attentive to it. Thank you.
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on January 19, 2014:
Ewww! I never had a dog eat his own poo, but one of them did like to snack from the cat's litter box! Equally disgusting!
As you suggest, the main solution lies in prompt cleanup!
Very well-done article, with important points about vet checkups to rule out an underlying problem.
Voted up and useful.