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Why Would a Dog Eat Poop? Understanding Coprophagia in Dogs - PawSafe
Dog Behavior

Why Would a Dog Eat Poop? Understanding Coprophagia in Dogs

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Tamsin De La Harpe

why would a dog eat poop

One puzzle many pet owners find particularly unpleasant is why their dog eats poop. This behavior, known as coprophagia, can be alarming and confusing for pet owners who may wonder why their dog engages in such behavior.

Some dogs even manage to find and open up poop bags just so they can eat the poop. Luckily, it is often possible to stop this behavior with the right approach.

If you are a pet owner struggling with a dog that eats poop, it is vital to understand the underlying reasons behind this behavior. We’ve applied information from books like Behavior Problems in the Dog and Cat and poop eating guides to explain why dogs eat poop.

Dogs eating poop is definitely unpleasant to deal with, but it’s not necessarily a cause for alarm. You may have seen this behavior are dogs that can’t resist eating cat poop any chance they get. If this is your dog, our linked article will prove very useful. 

Eating poop in dogs is a pretty common, even expected, behavior among dogs. Most dogs can overcome this behavior with proper management and intervention and lead happy, healthy lives.

However, being common doesn’t make this behavior harmless. There are potential risks and dangers associated with dogs eating poop. It is crucial to discourage the behavior and seek veterinary care if your dog develops any symptoms of illness.

14 Reasons Dogs Eat Poop

Dogs are known to eat poop, which is a common behavior observed in many breeds. However, this behavior can be quite unpleasant for the dog owner, who may want to know why their dog is doing this. Here are 14 common reasons for dogs eating poop:

1. Hiding The Evidence

Dogs that know they shouldn’t be pooping in the house may eat the poop to cover up the accident. This behavior is often seen in puppies who are still being house-trained. They may eat their poop to prevent their owner from finding it and scolding them.

However, even fully house-trained dogs that can’t hold themselves may try to cover up the tracks by eating their waste. This is also one possible reason dogs eat their vomit after puking.

2. Maternal Cleaning Behavior

Dogs are social animals that live in groups, and as such, they have developed behaviors that help maintain social order and hygiene. One such behavior is maternal cleaning, where the mother dog licks her puppies to keep them clean and stimulate their bowel movements.

Maternal cleaning behavior is essential for the survival of newborn puppies, as they are born with immature digestive and excretory systems. The mother’s licking not only cleans the puppies’ fur but also stimulates their anogenital region, which helps them defecate and urinate.

However, some dogs may continue to exhibit this behavior even after growing up. This behavior is more commonly seen in dogs that have been separated from their mothers at an early age or have not had adequate socialization.

When a dog eats feces, they may exhibit a form of maternal cleaning behavior. The dog may be trying to keep its environment clean by eating their feces, just as a mother dog would lick her puppies to keep them clean.

3. Nutritional deficiencies (rare)

Dogs may eat poop due to nutritional deficiencies, which is relatively rare, and is oversold as a reason for this behavior.  Nutritional deficiencies are relatively rare in today’s dogs, as commercial dog foods tend to give excessive amounts of vitamins and minerals in their food to avoid lawsuits. So, nutritional deficiencies are more likely to happen from a badly formulated home diet.

A study of 1552 dogs showed no relation between diet and dogs that eat poop. Additionally, supplementing dogs with coprophagia made no difference most of the time. These results show that nutritional deficiencies are a doubtful reason for dogs eating poop. 

However, if a dog is not receiving adequate nutrition from their diet, it is still possible that they can seek out other sources of nutrients, including feces.

Some of the nutrients that a dog may be deficient in include:

  • Protein;
  • Vitamins (especially B vitamins like thiamin); and
  • Minerals (especially iron and calcium).

If a dog is deficient in these nutrients, they may be more likely to eat poop. However, it is essential to note that nutritional deficiencies are not common in dogs fed a balanced diet.

If a dog is suspected of having a nutritional deficiency, it is essential to consult with a veterinarian. A veterinarian can perform blood tests to determine if the dog is deficient in nutrients and recommend dietary changes or supplements if necessary.

4. Not Enough Mealtimes (Extra Calories and Nutrients)

Some dogs may eat poop because they are not getting enough food throughout the day. If a dog is only fed once a day or has long gaps between meals, they may become hungry and resort to eating feces. 

This reason has to do with hunger in dogs rather than a deficiency in a nutrient, as explained above. This behavior is more common in puppies, who have smaller stomachs and require more frequent meals.

Poop contains undigested food particles rich in nutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, and fats, which can provide a dog with additional energy and help maintain their overall health. This makes dogs feel full after eating the poop, which may encourage them to do it again.

5. Pica & Indiscriminate Eating

Dogs are known to eat almost anything they come across, including poop. This behavior is known as pica, which is the ingestion of non-food items. Pica is a common problem in dogs and can be caused by various factors, including boredom, anxiety, curiosity, and nutritional deficiencies. 

Indiscriminate eating, on the other hand, is a behavior where dogs eat anything and everything without discrimination. This behavior is often associated with pica and can be caused by similar factors. Dogs exhibiting indiscriminate eating behavior may eat poop, sticks, garbage, rocks, or even their feces.

6. Natural Cleaning Behavior

Dogs have an instinct to keep their environment clean. In the wild, they would eat their feces to avoid attracting predators by leaving a scent. This instinct has carried over to domesticated dogs, and some may continue to exhibit this behavior.

Another reason why dogs may eat feces is to clean up their living space, particularly if they poop in their care. Contrary to popular belief, dogs are naturally clean animals and may eat feces to tidy their environment. This behavior is more common in puppies still learning to control their bowel movements.

7. Enticing Scent

Dogs have a heightened sense of smell and are attracted to a wide range of scents. One of the reasons why dogs eat poop is because of the enticing scent. So, here, the poop smells delicious, and the dog simply can’t resist it. Another animal’s poop, like cows, goats, and cats,  is more likely to be enticing in this way.

Dog instinctive relationship to scent is not completely understood. We simply don’t understand everything about dogs. We know they are very aware of bodily waste such as urine or poop as scent markers for territory. Scat often marks territories for predators in the wild and warns other predators to stay away. The fact that feces is an olfactory marker for predators like canines may have something to do with why some dogs interact with it so much, such as rolling in it or eating it. 

8. Instinctive Scavenging Behavior

Dogs are natural scavengers, and their instinctive behavior is to search for and consume food and calories in any form wherever they can find it. In the wild, dogs would scavenge for food to survive, and this behavior has been passed down through generations.

One of the things that dogs may scavenge for is feces. While it may seem gross to us, dogs do not have the same aversion to feces as humans do. In fact, some dogs find feces to be quite appealing.

9. Boredom

Dogs may eat poop out of boredom. If a dog is left alone for long periods, they may become bored and seek ways to entertain themselves. Eating poop may be one way for them to alleviate their boredom.

Providing dogs with plenty of physical and mental stimulation is important to prevent boredom. This can include providing them with toys, taking them for walks, and engaging in playtime with them.

10. Stress

Dogs may eat poop as a response to stress. Stress can be caused by various factors, such as changes in the dog’s environment, routine, or social interactions. Dogs may also experience stress when they are left alone for extended periods.

When a dog is stressed, they may engage in compulsive behaviors that are not typical, such as eating poop. This behavior may temporarily relieve anxiety, but it can also become a habit if not addressed. Solutions include providing more exercise, socialization, or training. In severe cases, it may be necessary to seek the help of a professional dog trainer or behaviorist.

11. Carrier Instinct & Genetics

Dogs have an instinct to carry and transport objects in their mouth. This behavior is believed to have evolved from their hunters and scavengers ancestors. The behavior may also be common among retrieving breeds like Labs, Goldens, and Poodles.

Another reason is likely genetics. It is very likely that, like most behaviors, if a dog eats poop, they probably have a parent or grandparent that did the same thing and passed down the behavior genetically.

This instinct can sometimes lead dogs to carry and eat feces. This behavior is more commonly seen in puppies exploring their environment and learning what is edible and what is not. However, some adult dogs may also exhibit this behavior.

12. Attention Seeking

Some dogs eat poop as a way to gain attention from their owners. This can signify boredom or loneliness, and the dog may feel neglected or ignored. By eating poop, the dog is trying to get a reaction from their owner, even if it’s negative attention. In this case, the dog may stop eating poop if they don’t get a response.

The way this starts is typically when a dog shows interest in poop as a puppy and the owner shouts or makes a fuss. This immediately makes the poop seem like a much more high-value and interesting object that must be important if it elicits such a response from the owner. The added benefit is that by eating poop, the puppy realizes they can get a response from their owner.  This can reinforce the behavior of eating poop.

Owners need to recognize this behavior and give their dogs more attention and stimulation. This can include playing with them, taking them for walks, or even just spending more time with them. Providing toys and puzzles can also help keep a dog entertained and prevent them from seeking attention in negative ways.

13. Dogs Enjoy Yucky Stuff

Dogs are known for their love of things that humans find disgusting. They enjoy rolling in mud, sniffing garbage, and licking their private parts. This behavior can be attributed to their natural instincts and sense of smell.

Dogs have a much stronger sense of smell than humans, and they use it to explore the world around them. They can detect scents that are undetectable to humans, and they are attracted to strong smells. This is why they are often drawn to yucky stuff like poop.

14. Learning From Other Dogs

Dogs are social creatures and can learn from each other. This is why it’s important to socialize puppies with other dogs. When it comes to eating poop, dogs can learn from other dogs that it’s a normal behavior.

If a dog sees another dog eating poop, they may be curious and try it themselves. This is more likely to happen if the dog is young and impressionable.

Additionally, dogs living in environments surrounded by feces, such as in puppy mills or hoarding situations, may learn to eat poop as a survival mechanism. They may not have access to enough food or be fed on a regular schedule, so they resort to eating feces to get the nutrients they need.

It’s important to note that just because a dog sees another dog eating poop doesn’t mean they will start doing it too. Dogs have individual personalities and preferences, and some may find the behavior repulsive.

Potential Risks and Dangers of Dogs Eating Poop

While it may seem harmless, there are potential risks and dangers associated with dogs eating poop. Here are some of the most common concerns:

Health Risks

Dogs who eat poop may be exposed to harmful bacteria, parasites, and viruses that can cause various health problems. Some of the most common health risks associated with eating poop include:

  • Gastrointestinal Issues: Dogs who eat poop may experience vomiting, diarrhea, and other digestive problems.
  • Parasites: Eating poop can expose dogs to parasites like roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms, which can cause various health problems.
  • Disease: Dogs who eat poop may be exposed to diseases like parvovirus, distemper, and coronavirus, which can be life-threatening.

Behavioral Risks

In addition to the potential health risks, behavioral risks are associated with dogs eating poop. Here are some of the most common concerns:

  • Reinforcing the Behavior: Dogs allowed to eat poop may be more likely to continue the behavior in the future, which can be difficult to break.
  • Social Stigma: Dogs who eat poop may be seen as dirty or unclean by other people, which can be embarrassing for owners.
  • Increased Aggression: Some dogs may become more aggressive or territorial when eating poop, which can be dangerous for other animals and people.

Prevention and Treatment of Dogs Eating Poop

Dietary Adjustments

One of the first things to consider when dealing with a dog that eats poop is their diet. If a dog is not getting enough nutrients from their food, they may turn to poop as a way to supplement their diet. To prevent this, it is vital to ensure the dog gets a balanced and nutritious diet.

One way to ensure a balanced diet is to feed the dog high-quality dog food appropriate for their age, size, and breed. It is also important to avoid feeding the dog table scraps or human food, as this can disrupt their digestive system and lead to nutritional imbalances.

Training

Training dogs to stop eating poop is an effective solution covered in our article.  One technique is to teach the dog the “leave it” command, which can stop the dog from eating anything that they shouldn’t. Another technique is to use positive reinforcement to reward the dog for good behavior and discourage bad behavior.

Medical Interventions

If dietary adjustments and training are ineffective, medical interventions can be used to treat coprophagia (the medical term for eating poop). One option is to give the dog a dietary supplement that can help to reduce their desire to eat poop. Another option is to use medication to treat any underlying medical conditions that may be causing the behavior.

It is important to note that coprophagia can also be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as malabsorption or parasites. If a dog is consistently eating poop, it is vital to take them to a veterinarian to rule out any underlying health issues.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I stop my dog from eating poop?

There are several ways to stop your dog from eating poop. One way is to keep your yard clean and free of feces. You can also try using a deterrent spray or adding pineapple to your dog’s poop. Using positive reinforcement techniques, another option is to train your dog to leave poop alone.

What are the health risks associated with dogs eating poop?

Dogs that eat poop can be at risk of contracting parasites and diseases. These can include roundworms, hookworms, and E. coli. In addition, dogs that eat poop may experience digestive issues such as vomiting and diarrhea.

Why do some dogs eat poop?

There are several reasons why dogs may eat poop. Some dogs do it out of boredom or curiosity, while others may do it due to anxiety or stress. Some dogs may also eat poop due to a nutritional deficiency.

Can a dog’s diet affect their poop-eating behavior?

Yes, a dog’s diet can affect their poop-eating behavior. Dogs not getting enough nutrients or fiber in their diet may be more likely to eat poop. In addition, dogs that are fed a high-protein diet may be more likely to eat poop.

What are some natural remedies to stop dogs from eating poop?

Some natural remedies to stop dogs from eating poop include adding pumpkin or sweet potato to their diet, using a deterrent spray made from apple cider vinegar, and giving your dog plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.

How can I train my dog not to eat poop?

You can train your dog not to eat poop using positive reinforcement techniques. This may include rewarding your dog when they leave poop alone or teaching them a “leave it” command. Being patient and consistent when training your dog not to eat poop is important.

Final Thoughts 

While it may seem gross and disgusting to us humans, dogs eating poop is a relatively common behavior. There are several reasons why dogs engage in this behavior, including nutritional deficiencies, medical conditions, and behavioral issues.

If your dog is eating poop, it’s essential to rule out any underlying medical conditions and ensure they get a well-balanced diet. Providing plenty of exercise and mental stimulation can also help reduce the likelihood of this behavior.

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.