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Why Does My Dog Eat Cat Poop? Understanding This Common Behavior - PawSafe

Why Does My Dog Eat Cat Poop? Understanding This Common Behavior

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

why dog eats cat poop

One common behavior that many dog owners are often puzzled by is their dog’s tendency to eat cat poop. While this behavior is certainly not pleasant to witness, it is actually quite common among dogs. But it still leads to the common, exacerbated question, “why does my dog eat cat poop?”

As with anything gut-related with dogs, the emphasis is always on their health first. Some people believe that nutrient deficiencies may be behind coprophagia, making careful use of canine vitamin supplements an option. However, most dogs who eat feces don’t have any real nutrient deficiencies. So let’s look at Dr. Katherine A. Houpt, VMD, PhD has to say about this common issue in dogs.

This behavior, known as coprophagia, can be quite perplexing and even revolting to witness. So, why do dogs eat cat poop? Let’s take a closer look at the individual reasons.

1. Indiscriminate Eating

Dogs are notorious for their indiscriminate eating habits, sometimes called pica. They will eat almost anything that smells remotely interesting, regardless of whether it’s edible or not. In fact they will often eat non-food items. This can include feces, which may have a strong smell that piques their curiosity.

Dogs with pica may need a lot of environmental control, such as going on walks with a muzzle, keeping their favorite items to eat out of reach (like socks or the cat litter box), and gradual behavior modification with a professional. Pica is a very difficult problem for the average dog owner to handle on their own, and it can be dangerous if your dog swallows something they can’t digest.

2. Strong Smell

Cat poop can have a particularly strong odor that may be appealing to dogs. This is because cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that their feces contain a lot of protein and other nutrients that dogs may find attractive.

3. Learned Behavior by Watching Other Dogs

Dogs are social animals, and they learn a lot by observing other dogs, including both good and bad behaviors. If your dog has seen another dog eat feces, whether it’s from a cat’s litter box or another source, they might be inclined to mimic this action. Dogs that live in multi-dog households may be more likely to engage in this behavior, particularly if one of the dogs has already exhibited the trait.

You might wonder why any dog would start this behavior in the first place. The roots could be evolutionary; wild canids like wolves and foxes often eat feces for various reasons, including to obtain additional nutrients or to eliminate waste from their territory. Domestic dogs don’t have the same needs, but the instinct could still be present.

If you suspect that your dog has learned this behavior from another dog, redirection and positive reinforcement can help. Keep an eye on your dog when they’re around the cat’s litter box or other dogs that exhibit this behavior. If you catch your dog in the act, redirect their attention with a toy or treat and reward them for leaving the area.

4. Boredom or Stress

Another possible reason for your dog’s interest in the cat’s litter box is boredom or stress. Dogs that are not mentally or physically stimulated may seek out ways to entertain themselves, even if it’s through undesirable behaviors. Additionally, some dogs may eat feces as a way to cope with stress or anxiety.

If you think boredom or stress might be driving your dog to eat cat poop, the solution may involve more than just blocking access to the litter box. Consider introducing new toys that challenge your dog mentally, like puzzle feeders. Daily exercise is another excellent way to keep your dog entertained and stress-free. You might also want to explore stress-relieving activities like doggy yoga or calming music.

5. Viable Nutrients

In addition to the strong smell, cat poop may also contain viable nutrients that dogs are lacking in their diet. Dogs may be drawn to the feces as a way to supplement their nutrition, especially if they are not getting enough protein or other essential nutrients from their regular diet.

6. Natural Cleaning Instinct

Dogs have a natural instinct to keep their living area clean, which can include removing any waste products. This instinct may extend to other areas of the home, including the litter box. Dogs may eat cat poop as a way to keep their environment clean and free of waste. This can be a natural extension of a mother dog’s instinct to clean up her puppies’ feces.

7. Scavenging Instinct

Finally, dogs have a natural scavenging instinct that can drive them to search for food in unlikely places. This instinct may be particularly strong in dogs that are not getting enough food or are used to scavenging in the wild. Eating cat poop may be a way for these dogs to satisfy their hunger and survival instincts.

Understanding Coprophagia

Animal Behavior

Coprophagia, or the act of eating feces, is a common behavior among dogs. While it may seem disgusting to humans, it is a natural behavior for many animals, including dogs. In the wild, dogs and other carnivores may eat feces as a way to obtain nutrients that they may have missed in their diet.

Dog’s Natural Instincts

Dogs are natural scavengers and have a strong sense of smell. They may be attracted to the smell of cat feces and other animal droppings. Additionally, dogs may eat feces as a way to keep their environment clean. In the wild, dogs and other animals may eat feces to prevent the spread of disease and parasites.

It is important to note that while coprophagia is a natural behavior for dogs, it can also be a sign of underlying health issues. Dogs that eat feces may be lacking certain nutrients in their diet or may have digestive issues. It is important to consult with a veterinarian if your dog is exhibiting coprophagia to rule out any potential health concerns.

Overall, coprophagia is a natural behavior for dogs, but it can also be a sign of underlying health issues. Understanding why dogs eat feces can help pet owners address this behavior and ensure the health and well-being of their furry friends.

Health Risks

While eating cat poop may seem like a harmless behavior, it can actually pose some serious health risks for dogs. In this section, we will discuss the potential health risks associated with eating cat poop, including parasites and diseases.

Parasites

One of the biggest health risks associated with eating cat poop is the potential for parasites. Cats are known to carry a variety of parasites in their feces, including roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms. When a dog eats cat poop, they can easily ingest these parasites, which can then infect their digestive system.

Roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms can all cause a range of health problems in dogs, including vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and even death in severe cases. In addition, some of these parasites can be transmitted to humans, which can pose a serious health risk for pet owners.

Diseases

In addition to parasites, cat poop can also contain a range of harmful bacteria and viruses that can cause disease in dogs. For example, cat feces can contain salmonella, which can cause severe diarrhea, fever, and vomiting in dogs.

Other diseases that dogs can contract from eating cat poop include E. coli, giardia, and toxoplasmosis. These diseases can cause a range of symptoms, including diarrhea, vomiting, and fever, and can be especially dangerous for puppies and older dogs.

Overall, it is important for dog owners to discourage their pets from eating cat poop to prevent the potential health risks associated with this behavior.

Nutritional Factors

Dietary Deficiencies

One reason why a dog might eat cat poop is due to a lack of essential nutrients in their diet. Dogs are known to be scavengers and will eat anything they can find, including feces. If a dog’s diet is deficient in certain nutrients, they may resort to eating feces as a way to supplement their diet. 

It’s important to note that while people often point to nutritional deficiencies as a reason for dogs eating cat poop, there really isn’t much evidence for this. Giving dogs vitamin or mineral supplements rarely (if ever) does anything to stop the behavior. It’s also vital to remember that too much of anything can be a bad thing and lead to health complications. 

Note: If you suspect your dog has a nutritional deficiency (you will usually see it in their coat first), your vet needs to run blood tests to check if they are actually low in something. Certain nutritional supplements, including minerals and certain vitamins, are toxic in large doses. They are also stored in the liver (see copper storage disease, or vitamin A & D toxicity), so the effects of giving your dog too much is usually not seen until weeks, months, or even years later. 

Still, some of the nutrients that dogs may be lacking include:

  • Enzymes;
  • Vitamins (particularly vitamin B1 or thiamine); and
  • Minerals.

If a dog is not getting enough of these essential nutrients in their diet, they may be more likely to eat feces. In order to prevent this behavior, it is important to ensure that a dog’s diet is well-balanced and contains all of the necessary nutrients.

Taste Preference

Another reason why a dog might eat cat poop is simply because they enjoy the taste. While this may seem gross to humans, dogs have different taste preferences than we do.

Cat poop may be particularly appealing to dogs because it contains high levels of protein and fat. Additionally, the smell of cat feces may be attractive to dogs, as they are attracted to strong odors.

To prevent a dog from eating cat poop due to taste preference, it is important to keep litter boxes out of reach and to clean up feces immediately. Providing dogs with plenty of toys and treats can also help to satisfy their need to chew and explore.

In conclusion, there are a variety of reasons why dogs may eat cat poop. By understanding the nutritional factors and taste preferences that may contribute to this behavior, pet owners can take steps to prevent it from happening.

Behavioral Factors

There are several behavioral factors that can lead a dog to eat cat poop. Some of the most common ones include attention seeking and boredom.

Attention Seeking

Dogs are social animals and crave attention from their owners. If they feel neglected or ignored, they may engage in attention-seeking behaviors, such as eating cat poop. This behavior can be reinforced if the owner reacts by scolding or punishing the dog, as negative attention is still attention.

To prevent attention-seeking behaviors, it is important to provide your dog with plenty of positive attention and interaction. Play with your dog, take them for walks, and give them plenty of praise and treats when they exhibit good behavior.

Boredom

Dogs that are left alone for long periods of time or do not receive enough mental stimulation may become bored and engage in destructive or unusual behaviors, such as eating cat poop. This behavior can also be reinforced if the dog finds the taste of the cat poop enjoyable.

To prevent boredom, provide your dog with plenty of toys and activities to keep them entertained while you are away. Puzzle toys, chew toys, and interactive toys can all help keep your dog mentally stimulated. Additionally, consider hiring a dog walker or pet sitter to provide your dog with some extra attention and exercise during the day.

Overall, it is important to identify the underlying behavioral factors that may be causing your dog to eat cat poop and take steps to address them. By providing your dog with plenty of positive attention and mental stimulation, you can help prevent this behavior from occurring in the future.

Preventing Your Dog From Eating Cat Poop

Environmental Changes

The primary way to stop your dog eating cat poop is simply not to allow them access to cat poop. Making some changes to your environment can also help prevent your dog from eating cat poop. Here are some ideas:

  • Litter box placement: Place the litter box in an area that is not easily accessible to your dog. You can also use a baby gate to block off the area.
  • Clean up the poop: Clean up the litter box regularly and dispose of the poop in a secure garbage can. This will reduce the temptation for your dog to eat it.
  • Supervision: Supervise your dog when they are around the litter box. This will allow you to intervene if they try to eat the poop.

Training Techniques

Training your dog not to eat cat poop is a great way to prevent this behavior. Here are some training techniques that you can use:

  • Leave it command: Teach your dog the “leave it” command and use it when you catch them trying to eat cat poop. Reward them with a treat when they listen to your command.
  • Positive reinforcement: Praise and reward your dog when they ignore cat poop. This will encourage them to continue this behavior.
  • Consistency: Be consistent with your training and do it regularly. It takes time and patience to train your dog, but it will be worth it in the end.

By using training techniques and making some environmental changes, you can prevent your dog from eating cat poop. Remember to be patient and consistent with your training, and always supervise your dog when they are around the litter box.

Consulting a Vet

If a dog owner is concerned about their dog’s coprophagia, they should consult a veterinarian. The vet will be able to determine if the behavior is a sign of a medical problem or if it is simply a behavioral issue.

When to Seek Help

If a dog is eating cat poop, it could be a sign of a medical problem such as a dietary deficiency or an intestinal parasite. If the dog is also experiencing other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, or weight loss, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately.

If the dog is otherwise healthy and the coprophagia is a behavioral issue, the vet can provide advice on how to modify the dog’s behavior.

Treatment Options

The treatment for coprophagia will depend on the underlying cause of the behavior. If the behavior is due to a medical issue, the vet will treat the underlying condition.

If the behavior is due to a behavioral issue, the vet may recommend training and behavior modification techniques. The dog owner may need to change the dog’s diet or provide more exercise and mental stimulation.

In some cases, the vet may prescribe medication to help modify the dog’s behavior. However, medication should only be used as a last resort and under the guidance of a veterinarian.

Overall, consulting a vet is an important step in addressing a dog’s coprophagia. The vet can help determine the underlying cause of the behavior and provide guidance on how to modify the dog’s behavior.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How can I prevent my dog from eating cat poop?

There are several ways to prevent your dog from eating cat poop. One way is to keep your cat’s litter box in a separate room or space where your dog cannot access it. Another way is to supervise your dog closely when it is outside and keep it on a leash. You can also train your dog to leave cat poop alone by using positive reinforcement techniques.

Why do dogs eat cat poop and how can I stop it?

Dogs may eat cat poop for a variety of reasons, including boredom, curiosity, or a nutritional deficiency. To stop your dog from eating cat poop, you should make sure it is getting a balanced and nutritious diet, provide plenty of toys and activities to keep it occupied, and supervise it closely when it is outside.

What are the risks of my dog eating cat poop?

Eating cat poop can expose your dog to harmful bacteria and parasites, such as E. coli, salmonella, and roundworms. This can lead to digestive problems, diarrhea, and other health issues.

Is it bad for my dog to eat cat poop?

Yes, it is bad for your dog to eat cat poop. In addition to exposing it to harmful bacteria and parasites, it can also lead to behavioral problems and make it difficult to train your dog.

What should I do if my dog eats cat poop?

If your dog eats cat poop, you should monitor it closely for any signs of illness or digestive problems. You should also clean up the litter box regularly and keep it out of your dog’s reach.

Can dogs get sick from eating cat litter?

Yes, dogs can get sick from eating cat litter. Cat litter can contain harmful chemicals and additives, as well as bacteria and parasites. If your dog eats cat litter, you should monitor it closely for any signs of illness or digestive problems and contact your veterinarian if necessary.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, dogs eating cat poop is a common behavior that can be caused by various factors. While it may seem disgusting to us, it is important to understand that it is a natural instinct for dogs to scavenge and consume feces.

Pet owners should take measures to prevent their dogs from accessing cat feces, as it can lead to health issues such as parasites and intestinal infections. Some ways to prevent this behavior include keeping litter boxes out of reach, supervising outdoor playtime, and providing plenty of mental and physical stimulation for the dog.

If the behavior persists despite preventative measures, it is recommended to consult with a veterinarian or animal behaviorist to rule out any underlying medical or behavioral issues. With patience and consistency, pet owners can help their dogs overcome this behavior and live happy, healthy lives.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.