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Why Dogs Eat Poop & How to Stop It – According to Our Dog Experts

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dog about to eat another dog's poop

Right up there among politics, religion, and money is another topic banned from public discussion—poop. Especially if it involves your dog eating it! We asked Dr. Sara Ochoa, one of our veterinarians here at Senior Tail Waggers, and Dr. Minday Waite (PhD), one of our Certified Dog Trainers, to provide insights and tips on how to stop your dog from eating poop!

Is eating poop normal or is my dog weird?

Your dog is not weird: dogs eating their own poop – or other animals’ poop – is quite common. In a 2012 study presented at the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior annual conference, researchers led by Dr. Benjamin Hart, from the University of California, Davis, found that:

  • 16 percent of (one in six) dogs are classified as ‘serious’ dog poop eaters, which means that they were caught in the act five times.
  • 24 percent of the dogs in the study (one in four) were observed eating poop at least once.

We asked Mindy Waite, Ph.D., Certified Dog Trainer, and she agreed:

  • “In the general population, around 10 to 40% of dogs engage in coprophagia, with most of those dogs gravitating toward fresh poop (two days old or fresher).”

What are the top reasons why dogs eat poop?

dog encountering poop on a walk in the street

1. It’s a natural dog behavior

Dr. Sara Ochoa answers:  “For about the first three weeks after birth, mother dogs will lick their puppies to urge them to eliminate and clean up their poop by eating it. Puppies will also naturally engage in this behavior, eating their own poop (autocoprophagia), poop from other dogs (allocoprophagia), as well as poop from cats and other animals.”

Again referencing the 2012 study, Dr. Ochoa quoted Dr. Hart:

“Hart wrote, ‘Our conclusion is that eating of fresh stools is a reflection of an innate predisposition of ancestral canids living in nature that protects pack members from intestinal parasites present in feces that could occasionally be dropped in the den/rest area.’ Translation: It’s in a dog’s DNA to eat poop.”

2. Poop still contains some nutrients

One of the most common reasons for dogs (and other animals) to snack on feces is because it still contains some vital nutrients that would otherwise go to waste. 

3. Poop tastes good to some dogs!

Dr Waite adds “There are also behavioral reasons for poop eating. More specifically, the feces may simply taste good to some dogs.”


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4. Behavioral or medical issues.

Dr. Waite also notes that behavioral and medical issues can also motivate a dog to ingest feces. “There may be medical reasons why dogs eat feces, and these should be addressed by a veterinarian”. Behavioral issues such as anxiety, isolation, confinement, boredom, fear of being punished for the behavior, and attention-seeking may be the cause.

Ok… but can my dog get sick from eating poop?

Yes they can sick from eating poop: a dog may develop intestinal issues such as vomiting and diarrhea if they ingest poop that is infected with parasites. Unless the parasites are eliminated, the dog may become anemic, dehydrated, lethargic, and in some extreme cases, an infestation may lead to death.

However, many dogs don’t even get sick from eating poop. Dr. Ochoa explained to us: “I see many puppies that will eat poop. Many of them are not sick it is just a very gross habit that most pet owners want to discourage.”

So how do you know if your dog’s habits can be detrimental to their health? Dr. Ochoa explains: “Dogs with medical issues from eating poop are often thin, and have a poor hair coat. They may have a pot belly appearance from parasites.”

Let’s figure out now what you need to do if your dog is eating poop.

Should I do anything if my dog has just eaten poop?

Scolding your dog will likely not discourage the coprophagia. In fact, if they are doing it to gain attention, it can encourage them to repeat the behavior!

Inducing vomiting is also not recommended as the poop will most likely be digested. Again, it may cause some minor intestinal upset.

Here is what you should do: you can try washing out your dog’s mouth. It will help if it’s done right away. It’s not a pleasant task and will go easier if the dog is already used to having their teeth brushed. Start by brushing their teeth: make sure to use specially formulated toothpaste for dogs. In the absence of that, plain water on a clean cloth will help some. Do not use any mouthwashes or pastes made for humans.

teeth and toothbrush on a dog

How do you stop dogs from eating poop?

After you’ve determined why your dog is eating poop and have ruled out any medical issues, your best bet is prevention. Dr. Waite offered these suggestions:

  1. Clean up your yard. Removing all the poop in your yard reduces the temptation for your pup and avoids your dog learning to run around the yard searching for poop snacks.
  2. Try food supplements: If your dog is eating their own poop, or poop from one of your dogs or cats in the household, you can change the taste of the feces by adding simple ingredients to the dog’s diet such as meat tenderizer, pineapple, or pumpkin. There are also many over-the-counter supplements and additives to try along with a slew of homemade remedies. These concoctions usually contain some sort of awful-tasting ingredient and will turn up your pup’s nose. Of course, how do you make something taste worse than poop! Don’t expect this to be a magical solution though. Dr. Waite cautions that “literature suggests owners have historically found products they purchased to have limited efficacy.” It doesn’t hurt to try and see if it helps your dog.
  3. Pick up the poop right away: Once your dog has been trained to alert you when they need to go out, you’ll probably need to accompany them in order to pick up the poop right away. Puppies will be easier to train but may be harder to monitor than older dogs that have been eating poop for some time. You may need to scoop things up quickly or keep your dog on a leash so they don’t beat you to the ‘snack.’
  4. Train your dog to only poop in a certain part of the yard: this reduces the likelihood your dog will get into the goods without you noticing.
  5. Train your dog to leave poop alone: On walks, teaching your pup to leave items alone on the ground or to come ‘tell you’ when they have found some poop, can then be rewarded with a higher value item, followed by cleaning up the found feces.
  6. If all else fails… use a muzzle. If the behavior doesn’t respond well to training or needs to reduce immediately for safety purposes, you may need to invest in training your pup to wear a muzzle with a stool guard or a muzzle that prevents eating and chewing. This will ensure that they physically cannot get into trouble and won’t continue to practice this problematic behavior.”

Some dogs may just need supplements such as vitamins, enzymes, or probiotics that may be missing in their diet.

When to call a vet (and why)

Dr. Waite stated: “If you have a dog who eats poop, you should always start with a veterinary assessment. Once all potential medical issues have been assessed and/or addressed, then behavior and training solutions can be put into place.” If you suspect your pup could have a medical issue, it’s best to consult a vet. Coprophagia can be due to nutritional deficiencies (malabsorption), diabetes, and Cushing’s, as well as gastrointestinal issues and diseases of the liver, brain, and thyroid. Steroids may also cause a dog to eat poop.

Conscientious owners will consistently monitor a dog’s general health and demeanor. That way it’s easy to spot when poop eating is not just an unpleasant habit – but a sign of a more serious medical issue. Signs that might indicate an illness include:

  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Pain
  • Behavioral changes
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Poor hair coat
  • Pot belly

What will your vet do? They will examine your pet and their stool sample and perhaps prescribe a dewormer. They can also advise you on the best methods of prevention, training, and remedies.

‘Interesting’ facts about dogs eating poop

  • Coprophagia is more common in multi-dog households (85% of dogs eating poop will only eat poop from other dogs)
  • Training poop eaters is just as hard (or easy) as house training a dog
  • Over 90% of dogs eating poop want fresh poop only! (1-2 days old)

FAQs

Are certain dogs or dog breeds more likely to eat poop?

One study has identified Labrador and golden retrievers as nearly twice as likely to eat poop than other breeds due to a genetic mutation that prevents them from feeling full. Other breeds that made the coprophagic list include terriers, hounds, and Shetland sheepdogs.

Why do dogs eat cat poop?

The most likely reason that dogs eat cat poop is because it smells like cat food. Owners can take preventative measures by keeping litter boxes clean, covered, and out of reach. The main concern with dogs raiding the litter box is the ingestion of litter, which could cause a blockage. 

Do dogs eat all kinds of poop?

There are nursing mothers and then there are dogs who just like the taste of poop! Although it may disgust an owner, there is usually no cause for alarm unless your dog eats another animal’s poop. Many dogs will regularly clean litter boxes if allowed to do so. Dr. Ochoa explains why: “Some dogs find horse manure and goose droppings particularly appealing. Eating their own poop is harmless, but consuming poop from other animals may cause health problems if the stool is contaminated with parasites, viruses, or toxins. In most cases, this behavior will fade before the puppy is about nine months old.”

Authors

  • Dr Sara Ochoa, Veterinarian

    Dr. Ochoa earned her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from St. George University and completed her program with excellent scores. She has been working as a veterinarian since 2015 for Whitehouse Veterinary Hospital in Whitehouse, TX (Practice Profile).

  • Mindy Waite, PhD, Dog Behaviorist

    Dr. Waite is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) and Certified Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). CAABs must meet rigorous standards for academic degrees and animal behavior experience. She is also a lecturer in the psychology department of the University of Wisconsin, and a researcher on dog behavior.

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Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.

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