We’re about to have a conversation about poop—more specifically, about why dogs eat poop. This weird dog behavior is a little unsettling, at least to first-time dog owners, yet very common, as longtime doggy parents know. Dogs eat poop for a number of reasons, some of which are normal, some of which are a sign of health or behavioral issues.
What is Coprophagia?
Eating weird things isn’t a new phenomenon—we’ve certainly heard of people doing it. But in the canine world, dogs who eat poop aren’t seen as eccentric by their pack—in fact, the rest of the pack would probably want to join in. It’s even got its own name—coprophagia. It could be their own poop, another dog’s feces, or even droppings from the cat’s litter box. But unless you’re a dog, you probably don’t understand the motivation for this strange dog behavior.
Is eating poop normal?
The answer to whether a dog eating poop is normal is: It depends. A dog eating poop is considered normal behavior in some cases—for example, if they are cleaning their puppy’s backside. (Consider it a hazard of motherhood.) However, it could also be due to nutritional deficiencies or another cause for concern.
Normal Reasons Why Dogs Eat Poop
A Mother’s Duty.
“Female dogs (and cats) will lick the rectum of their young to stimulate bowel movements and, in turn, will ingest the feces during routine grooming of the young to keep them clean,” says Dr. Allyson Harris, DVM, of Woodlawn Animal Hospital in Chicago. She explains that for mother dogs who’ve just had puppies, it’s “part of the instinctive grooming and husbandry,” and therefore nothing to worry about.
It’s a Puppy Thing.
A puppy eating poop can easily be understood as something they picked up from their mother. “Some vets feel that pups may learn this behavior by following mom’s lead,” says Dr. Harris.
In fact, she points out that this pet behavior is most common in puppies. “They discover the world through their mouths—apparently, everything has to be tasted!”
Not-So Normal Reasons Why Dogs Eat Poop
Dogs who eat feces might not be getting everything they need in their diet. It could be a form of pica, “a condition where an individual will eat odd food stuffs, usually to satisfy a nutritional dietary deficiency,” notes Dr. Harris.
The culprit could be a poor-quality food or one that’s not properly digested. It could also be that your dog is just not getting enough of their dog food.
The solution? Talk to your veterinarian about which dog food will give your pup complete nutrition, and to follow the feeding guidelines exactly for your dog’s weight. If your dog’s diet is of good quality with plenty of available nutrients and it’s easy to digest, then your dog’s body will usually produce less stool as a natural result. And your pup won’t feel so compelled to eat it.
Warning: You should never try to decrease the amount of food you give your dog in order to have them create less stool, Dr. Harris cautions. Not providing the proper amount of food can actually lead to dogs eating poop because they’re so hungry that they have to resort to this.
Reaction to Punishment.
Another reason why dogs eat poop—namely, their own poop—is that they might fear punishment for doing their duty in the house. In terms of dog psychology, if a dog is punished by being yelled at or having their nose rubbed in their mess, they will learn to fear the act of going to the bathroom in general. This can even be learned by showing dismay that your dog picks up on when you’re cleaning up a mess.
“Some who have been punished for having fecal accidents will eat their poop rather than dealing ‘The Wrath of Mom or Dad’,’’ says Dr. Harris.
Always give your pup positive reinforcement when potty training (or during any dog training for that matter), and be sure to check with a vet about how often he should be taken outside to go potty. If you have an instance of improper elimination with an adult dog, schedule a checkup with your vet to find out what may be the cause.
Why do dogs eat cat poop?
Does your dog have a taste for things they find in a cat litter box? This dog behavior is, surprisingly, pretty normal, and you might often find your pooch hanging out near the litter box, waiting for their chance to scavenge.
“Cat foods are extremely high in protein, and they typically have a very strong odor,” says Dr. Harris. “Consequently, cat feces have a strong odor. Some dogs feel if they can’t get the cat’s food on the way in, they’ll get it coming out!”
Although this is the most likely reason for ingesting cat poop, be sure to check with your vet to make sure it’s not caused by an incomplete diet or not having enough food.
How to get a dog to stop eating poop?
If it’s just a case of treasure hunting in the litter box, with no signs of health issues, then there’s an easy solution. Move the litter box to a place that’s inaccessible to dogs. Use the Carlson Pet Products Extra Tall Walk-Thru Gate with Pet Door, or try placing the box on a side table with steps leading up to it (so your kitty doesn’t have to jump right into the litter box).
If it goes beyond the litter box, Dr. Harris shares what pet parents can do to stop their little poop eaters:
- Be sure to feed an appropriate diet with nutritionally sound, balanced meals at regular intervals (2-4 times per day depending on age and breed).
- Teach your pup to be clean. This means teaching them to eat, sleep and play in separate areas from waste, and clean up any used dog potty pads or messes promptly.
- Be consistent with potty breaks so your dog has a set schedule to go out.
- Have your pet checked for intestinal parasites and vaccinated appropriately.
- Watch for sudden or unexplained weight loss, NEVER finding poop, breath that smells like feces, loose stools or parasites in the stool.
- Consult your veterinarian. They are there for you and your pet! Dr. Harris explains that “clients potentially waste valuable time and resources by making poor choices before getting counsel from a local veterinarian. Beware of ‘Dr. Google’!”
- Try feeding your dog supplements to prevent them from consuming their own poop, like the Solid Gold's Stop Eating Poop Dog Supplement, which will make your pup’s stool taste bitter.
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