Why Dogs Eat Their Poop?

Our beloved pet dogs have many strange and often disgusting habits, one of which is having an abominable relationship with poop, both their poop and the poop of other dogs and animals. 

Don’t worry if you have a dog that can’t be stopped when it comes to sampling his own and everyone else’s poop. 

If you are wondering why on earth dogs eat their poop, you have come to the right place, because we are going to get to the bottom of this, no pun intended.

  • What is coprophagy?
  • Why dogs eat their poop?
  • Possible medical reasons as to why your dog eats poop
  • Potential behavioral reasons your dog is eating poop
  • How to stop your dog from eating poop
cute puppy

What Is Coprophagy?

As much as we think that our pet dogs’ fascination with poop is weird and disgusting, “Coprophagy” is a behavior that many dogs indulge in. 

Coprophagy means “feces eating,” which is basically what is going on here.

We all know that dogs are scavengers. This was how dogs and humans came to be acquainted in the first place. We built a relationship that was based around food. 

The dogs scavenged for food, and soon we realized that they could be trained to help us hunt for food. 

In return, we began to actually offer wild dogs the scraps and remains of our feasts, and so the cycle continued. 

Dogs will eat anything, and alas, much to our distaste, and animal poop is rich pickings for many dogs. They will very much enjoy the poop of rabbits, birds, horses, sheep, cats, and even other dogs.

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Why Dogs Eat Their Poop?

The bizarre thing about dogs and poop is that dogs in the wild and even domesticated dogs do not poop in the den. 

If pooping in the den happens, for whatever reason, maybe because of a litter of pups, they will fastidiously remove the poop and take it away from the sleeping area to keep it clean. 

You may also have noticed that when out on a walk, your dog will go out of his way to avoid areas contaminated by other dogs’ poo. 

This innate behavior probably has something to do with preventing the spread of disease, but if this is the case, then why would a dog then go ahead and eat feces, posing a massive risk of contracting a disease?

A study has been able to shed some light on this contradiction, showing that not all dogs eat other dogs’ poop. 

Only 16% of over 1,000 dog owners reported witnessing their dog consume feces more than six times, which was the study’s definition of coprophagy. 

A massive 77% of dog owners reported never seeing their pet dog eat another dog’s feces.

The study also determined that neither age nor gender affected a dog’s desire to eat feces. 

Whether the dog was spayed, neutered, housetrained, or even weaned off its mother’s milk too early also made no difference, and neither did the current diet of the dog. 

Attempts to reduce the behavior via punishment or several products on the market did not affect either.

Possible Medical Reason As To Why Your Dog Eats Poop

So why do dogs eat their poop? Well, keep reading for some possible medical reasons.

  • Enzyme Deficiency – A dog’s natural diet should be whole prey, including the digestive tracts of animals, which contain the digestive enzymes the dog needs to absorb nutrition and a small amount of local vegetation. If your dog is on a cheap processed commercial diet, he may not be acquiring or able to produce enough of the digestive enzymes he needs. This could be a potential reason for your dog turning to his feces.

  • Parasites – If your dog has internal parasites, such as worms, he will mostly be competing against them for nutrients. This could lead to your dog eating his poop to ingest more nutrients from the food he previously ate.

  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) – If your dog has developed this genetic condition, they can slowly starve from not being able to digest nutrients. The symptoms of EPI include weight loss, diarrhea, and yes, you guessed it - stool eating.

  • Increased appetite – Certain conditions like diabetes and thyroid issues can affect your dog’s hunger levels, making him feel hungry even when he’s not. If your dog is on steroids, then these can also make your dog hungry enough to eat his feces. Alternatively, you may directly not be feeding your dog sufficient at mealtimes, and he is looking for a top-up.

  • Malabsorption – Your dog may resort to eating his poo in an attempt to get undigested nutrients back in the case of malabsorption.

  • Other deficiencies – It makes sense to attribute the poop eating behavior of your dog to several potential deficiencies that he may be experiencing. For example, they may have a mineral deficiency or a hydrochloric acid deficiency.

Potential Behavioural Reasons Your Dog Is Eating Poop

If you have had your dog checked over by a veterinarian and the reasons aren’t medical, then you may decide to consider whether or not your dog’s undesirable habit is a behavioral problem.

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Here are some potential behavioral reasons that your dog could be experiencing:

  • Puppies – Puppies are notorious for eating their poop, or the cat’s poop. Puppies are curious, and poop eating is just something that maybe they have to try out. Poop does look a little bit like dog food after all, and it probably smells pretty good to your pup. The good news is that most puppies do grow out of this behavior reasonably quickly, and you can discourage it by making sure that they don’t have access to the cat’s litter box and cleaning up your pup’s poop immediately.

  • Cleanliness – Perhaps your dog is acting out a maternal need to “clean up” after other dogs? Mother dogs naturally do this with puppy poop to keep the den or nest clean. You may want to consider whether your dog is experiencing a phantom pregnancy during which her hormones are likely to be a little off-balance, causing her to do strange maternal things.

  • Boredom – When left to their own devices for too long, dogs will be dogs. That is, they will find ways to entertain themselves, and this may mean hunting in the garden for remnants of their poop. A poop treasure hunt, if you will.

  • Attention Seeking – Similar to being bored, if your dog is after your attention, and he learns that every time he goes for a mouthful of his poop that you run towards him shouting, he may see it as a jolly good game! Getting into trouble can be just as rewarding as being a good dog, didn’t you know?

  • Scavengers – Dogs are natural scavengers, and if they come across a fresh poop, belonging to themselves or another animal, they are probably going to chow down on it as a tasty in-between meals snack.

  • Stress – It has been known for some dogs to eat poop to relieve stress. If you have a puppy mill dog, then this behavior likely stemmed from the time they were trapped in the puppy mill. Puppy mills are highly stressful environments and a place where little nutrition would have been available for the dogs.

  • Punishment – It is a sad fact that if you punish your dog for having accidents in the house, they may take the initiative to “clean up” their poop by eating it. This is not the dog’s fault. Punishment and fear should never be used to stop a dog from repeating undesirable behavior.

How To Stop Your Dog From Eating Poop

“Faeces eating” is an extremely unhygienic habit, and can be highly embarrassing for dog owners. No doubt, you are eager to hear our tips on how to stop your dog from eating poop.

  • Clean up after your dog – Being clean and picking up after your dog immediately will go a long way to prevent them from continuing this awful habit. The study mentioned earlier in the article suggests that dogs that are less exposed to feces are less likely to eat it.

  • Check your dog’s health and diet – Dog food is not something you should scrimp on. High-quality dog food will ensure that your dog is getting all of the nutrients he needs so that he doesn’t need to go scavenging for extras. Ensure also that you are feeding the correct amount for your dog according to the guidelines on the back of the packaging. Regular vet check-ups will rule out any health problems that could contribute to your dog’s poop fetish. You may also want to look into adding some natural supplements like kelp or apple cider vinegar to your dog’s meals to cater for any deficiencies.

  • Keep your dog busy – A happy, active and mentally stimulated dog is not going to have time to go hunting around for poop to eat, because he will be far to busy resting to regain all of the energy spent on positive and healthy activities.

Summary

Sometimes our dogs form bad habits for no apparent reason, and these can be difficult to kick. 

How do you persuade a dog not to do something he has discovered that he thoroughly enjoys after all? 

If, after reading this article, you still for the life of you can’t work out why your dog is eating poop, the best action to take is not to make a big fuss of your dog’s bad habit. 

The more attention you bring to it, the worse it could get. Distraction is a great technique, as is prevention. Good luck with your dog and all of the poop!

is it safe for dogs to eat their poop
(Last Updated On: June 12, 2020)
Liz
 

I'm a self-employed blogger, life-long pet parent, and lover of dogs and somehow manage to have time to pursue another of my passions - writing. I’m the primary contributor and editor of PUPPY FAQS. I love to write about nutrition, health, and care of puppies. In my spare time, I volunteer at my local dog shelter. If you have a question that needs answering, please leave a comment below, and I will do my best to explain it.

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