Why Dogs Eat Poop and How to Deal With This Bad Behavior
|Expert Reviewed||Dr. Rachel Barrack, Veterinarian|
There are many types of poop eaters.
Some dogs only eat their own poop, other dogs love eating cat poop, and some special connoisseurs only enjoy grass-flavored treats, especially from horses and goats. Bird droppings are also a delicacy that is in frequent demand by very many dogs.
If your dog is eating poop, you are definitely not alone.
It is actually a very common thing among dogs. Dogs are not humans, and they think and learn differently than we do. What smells good and what tastes good to them, can be very different from what smells good and tastes good to us.
There is one circumstance when it's considered quite normal for a dog to eat feces. Mother dogs may deliberately ingest their puppies' feces to hide their scent while the babies are still vulnerable and hidden away in the den or nest.
However, for reasons of cleanliness and health (intestinal parasites), it is generally a good idea to stop your dog from eating poop.
Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?
"There are many reasons why a dog may eat their own feces (coprophagia) or the feces of another animal," says Dr. Jacob Vencil, a veterinarian in St. Augustine, Florida. "The most common would be behavioral. Meaning, as strange as this may sound, the dog simply enjoys eating feces. Think of it like a person eating a booger."
Common Reasons Why Dogs Eat Poop
- The most common reason for dogs to eat other animals' poop is that they simply enjoy the taste.
- Nutritional imbalance, specifically digestive enzyme deficiency, can lead dogs to eat feces.
- Dogs under stress may eat poop to relieve anxiety.
- Understimulated or underexercised dogs may eat feces out of boredom.
- A dog may simply be curious about the taste.
- Dogs may eat their own poop in order to please their owner, effectively cleaning up after themselves.
Is My Dog Eating Poop Because He's Enzyme Deficient?
Stool-eating can occur because the dog is lacking certain digestive enzymes or nutrients. When this occurs, the dog will eat his own poop to conserve those much-needed elements. Studies have shown that insufficient vitamin B1 can cause poop eating.
Dogs on dry food diets will often develop coprophagia as a way to make up for a chronic enzyme deficiency. Commercial dog food is higher in carbohydrates and lower in meat-based proteins and fats than their ancestral canine diet.
Is My Dog Under Stress?
Dogs will sometimes eat their own poop to relieve stress. This usually only occurs when the dog is extremely anxious.
This has happened to my Shiba Inu twice, both times at the vet when he was getting his shots. Shiba Sephy is extremely sensitive to handling, and to pain, so vet visits are always a high-stress affair.
Different dogs will have different anxieties, fears, and stress triggers that may result in stool eating. For example, dogs with extreme separation anxiety may poop, and then eat their own poop when left alone.
Dogs Get Bored!
If dogs are left alone all day, with very little human contact and very little to do, their only choice for self-entertainment may be to play with and eat their own poop. Imagine if we were cooped up in the house all day with nothing to do, we would go a little bit crazy as well. Think cabin fever and The Shining.
Curious About the Taste of Poop
Puppies or young dogs may eat poop out of curiosity. Everything is new to a puppy so he may want to explore and manipulate all that he sees with his mouth, including animal droppings. It is best to train a puppy not to engage in stool eating as early as possible so that it does not become a habit when he grows up.
Trying to Please Their Owner
Harsh potty training techniques may cause some dogs or puppies to eat their own poop, in an effort to appease us, or to avoid painful punishment.
Remember the antiquated trick of rubbing a dog's nose in their feces when they poop in the wrong place? This can send mixed messages to a dog about getting feces on their mouth.
Some dogs may also see us cleaning up their poop in the house (den), and try to mimic that behavior. This is why many trainers suggest that we do not clean up potty mistakes in front of our dogs.
How Can I Get My Dog to Stop Eating Poop?
Here are some common techniques to stop our dog from eating poop:
- Feed our dog a healthy and balanced diet. This will keep a dog's digestive system healthy and provide him with all the nutrients that his body needs. An easy way to provide our dog with a balanced diet is through high-quality kibble. Make sure the kibble has good protein sources that are from meat, rather than from grains, which are more difficult for our dogs to digest. Stay away from kibble that contains gluten (e.g. wheat gluten). Compared to meat protein, gluten is less nutritionally complete and may contain contaminants.
- Keep a consistent feeding schedule and supervise their poop time. A consistent eating schedule will also keep a dog's stool regular. This makes it easier to supervise, and prevent our dog from eating his own poop. Scheduled feedings will also help to prevent overeating and obesity issues down the road.
- Exercise your dog and keep him busy. Play fun games with your dog, walk him regularly and do frequent obedience training sessions. A well-exercised dog is better-behaved at home, and less likely to eat poop out of boredom.
- Keep the environment clean. If there is no free poop lying about then our dog cannot engage in opportunistic stool eating.
- Reduce stress. Try to reduce our own stress and keep our dog relaxed. When we are calm, our dog will have an easier time staying calm as well. This results in a better quality of life for everyone and will stop stool eating behavior that results from stress.
- Teach your dog the "Leave-It" command. "Leave it!" helps us communicate to our dog what is acceptable to eat, and what is not. Poop is unacceptable to eat, as are some common houseplants such as oleander, and some common people food, such as onions and chocolates, which are poisonous to our dogs.
- Make the poop taste bad. One of the most common ways to stop stool eating is to make the poop taste bad to our dogs. Adding meat tenderizer to dog food is one way to do this. Canned pumpkin, spinach, and pineapple juice may work as well. However, this only works when we have full control of the environment. In addition, it only targets the symptoms of poop eating, rather than addressing the issue at its source. (Note: Consult the vet first before adding any of these to your dog's food. Adding too much may be bad for a dog and cause digestive issues. A dog may also be allergic to some of these ingredients.)
What Is Coprophagia?
Coprophagia is the term for when an animal eats their own feces. Some dogs eat their own poop for purely behavioral reasons (they're curious or want attention), but there can also be medical explanations for this behavior.
One possibility is that the dog is not fully absorbing the nutrients in their food. Perhaps they have parasites, or their food is hard for them to digest. These possible issues can be tested for by a veterinarian.
What Is Pica?
Pica is a medical term for when an animal eats non-food items, like dirt, rocks, paper, cloth, and mulch. In most cases, it is a compulsive behavior problem.
Depending on what your dog is eating, pica can have serious health consequences. Take your dog to the vet if you see them eating inedible objects. Most likely, this behavior won't go away on its own and there may be an underlying medical issue, though it's unlikely that poor diet is the problem.
"If your pet is fed a high-quality, well-balanced diet, pica as a result of nutritional deficiency is very rare," says Dr. Vencil.
Can My Dog Get Sick From Eating Bird Droppings?
Yes, there is a fungal infection that dogs get from eating contaminated soil or bird droppings. Histoplasmosis is an infection caused by the Histoplasma capsulatum fungus. The fungus then enters the dog's intestinal tract and an infection develops from there.
The most common symptoms are weight loss, lack of appetite, and diarrhea.
How to Clean Your Dog's Mouth After They Eat Poop
If your dog sneaks a little cat or bird poop snack while out on a walk, you'll be able to smell it on their breath.
- Find a toothpaste designed for pets. They're flavored like poultry and are safe to use. Never use human toothpaste or baking soda.
- Use a pet toothbrush with soft bristles or a child's toothbrush. Moisten it and apply toothpaste.
- Let your dog have a dab of the toothpaste first so they can get used to the taste.
- Left your dog's lip to expose their teeth and gums.
- Brush in gentle motions to clean the teeth and gums. Clean the outside tooth surfaces. Most dogs won't let you brush the inside surfaces.
- Reward your dog with play and pets to thank them for their patience and create positive reinforcement!
Does your dog eat poop?
Dr. Rachel Barrack
- The article has been modified since this review was written.
“This is a very thorough and concise report.”