No one likes to talk about it, but it happens ALL the time. One of the most popular questions on the internet from concerned (and possibly grossed out) dog owners: Why do dogs eat poop?
Dogs can and will eat poop. Some dogs may do it only on rare occasions. Other dogs may go after their poop, cat poop, and even the poop of their fellow canine housemates and other animals like it is a complete delicacy—Ugh! Even though eating stool is completely disturbing to humans, coprophagia (Yes, there’s a word for poop eating) is something that is quite common as part of canine behavior.
As confusing as this behavior may be to talk about, it’s important to understand your pet’s reasoning for his actions.
Why Is Your Dog Eating Poop?
Believe it or not, there are potentially numerous possible reasons why your dog is eating poop, and sometimes, it can be hard to pin down just one. The reason your four-legged family member has an odd fascination with poo as food could come down to everything from behavioral, genetic, and medical factors.
Behavioral Reasons Why Your Dog Eats Poop
Behavioral factors behind canine feces-eating are possibly the simplest to explain. It’s the easiest factor to tackle when you decide to try to change the behavior. After all, most dog breeds are fairly receptive to behavioral training.
Puppies are a little like small children. They want to explore and learn as much as possible about everything, including how things taste. Therefore, it’s quite common for young dogs to eat poop just out of curiosity. Some puppies also relate the scent of stool to their mother because mom probably spent so much of her time cleaning up after her pups that she naturally had a telltale odor on her breath.
Dogs who don’t have a lot to do to keep themselves entertained may make a meal out of poop sheerly because they’re bored. It is not uncommon for dogs who are left alone all day to eat their own droppings, get into the cat’s litter pan, or otherwise find a tempting treat they really shouldn’t eat.
Likewise, dogs who want attention may go and gobble up a treat from the litter box because it will definitely get your attention. Albeit poo-eating is negative attention, but attention just the same if your dog’s feeling slighted.
Stress or Anxiety
Dogs who are feeling stressed or anxious can portray some fairly peculiar behaviors, right down to consuming poop. This stress or anxiety could stem from a medical issue, so it’s important to pay attention to other signs of stress in your dog, such as hair pulling, whining, and pacing. You can try to combat stress and anxiety with an herbal remedy as well, such as anxiety and stress supplements for dogs.
If you reprimand your dog because he has pooped on the floor, it is entirely possible that they’ll eat poop because they fear being punished for what they’ve done. Instead of getting caught for this, they’re smart enough to figure out that this would prevent them from getting into trouble with you.
Following the Crowd
According to Psychology Today, dogs who live in a household or environment with other dogs or other animals are more likely to be offenders. There could be a few reasons behind this. Something as basic as mimicking behavior or something more serious like being a greedy eater and not wanting other dogs to have anything that closely resembles food.
Medical Reasons Why Your Dog Eats Poop
If your pooch is still lunging after no-no treats like there’s no tomorrow, consider medical reasons as the explanation for their actions.
Dogs who have intestinal parasites in their bodies may be more prone to go after feces as a common meal. Parasites inside his body are eating away the nutrients they should be getting from their food, this makes Fido feel hungry all the time. Therefore, if you catch him in the unspeakable act, it could be a reason to start checking his stool for signs of parasites or visit a vet.
A lot of dogs don’t need a lot of physical encouragement from their body to go after poop as a meal. If a condition is making them feel more hungry than usual, it is possible that accessible stool will be on the menu. Diabetes is an example of an underlying condition that can cause your canine to feel more hungry than usual. A few other examples are thyroid problems or taking certain medications like steroids.
System Enzyme Deficiencies
System enzyme deficiency is an umbrella term that covers things like pancreatic insufficiency. This is a condition that prevents the proper digestive enzymes from being provided in the pancreas. With little or no enzymes in their system, Fido will react physically. They are essentially starving no matter what they eat because nutrients pass through the digestive tract without being absorbed as they should be. Stool eating can be a sign of pancreatic insufficiency and other relative conditions.
Deficiency of Essential Nutrients & Minerals
Dogs may eat stool if they feel the effects of having a nutrient or mineral deficiency. For example, dogs who have a mineral deficiency may go seeking out their stool to get that mineral into their system. If your pet is eating good nutritious food, these deficiencies should not be an issue as long as your canine is otherwise healthy.
Genetic Reasons Why Your Dog Eats Poop
Contrary to popular belief, there is no specific size or age of dog that eats poop. Meaning, that issue is not reserved for dogs that are of mixed-breed bloodlines either. However, there certainly are genetic factors that can cause a dog to eat poop or be more likely to find feces appealing.
Canines Were Once All Scavengers
Nutrients that were not available in available food sources could be reaped by eating the feces of another animal or even the feces of relatives. All dogs were once scavengers, which basically meant they were opportunist eaters who gobbled up whatever they could find because they didn’t know when their next meal would be. Because this scavenging for food is so deeply ingrained in the genetic makeup of a dog, the behavior can still pop up, even if you feed your dog quite well.
Some Breeds Eat Poop More Than Others
There have been few studies done on why dogs eat poop, but there is one study, in particular, that may be of some explanation for certain dog breed owners. Hounds and terriers are more likely to eat feces than other breeds. An even closer examination of specific breeds showed that the Shetland sheepdog is most likely to seek out excrement. Whereas, poodles are less likely to be offenders.
Mother Dogs Naturally Eat Poop
Dogs who are good mothers practice coprophagia, but this is something that they are genetically inclined to do. Right after a new litter is born, the mother dog will stimulate her young’s anal glands to excrete feces with her tongue, and she will eat this excrement. As the puppies grow and get older, she may still continue to eat their droppings for a little while to keep the living quarters clean. According to the AKC, this behavior may go on for at least three weeks after the birth of the litter, and sometimes longer.
How Can You Make Your Dog Stop Eating Poop?
Determining the cause behind why your dog is eating this unsavory snack is going to go a long way toward combating the behavior. A few other things to keep in mind to help your dog break the nasty habit include:
- Feed your dog a well-rounded diet on a good schedule with quality food choices
- Give your playful pooch healthy treats to make their diet more diverse and interesting
- Get regular vet checkups to check your dog for things like malnutrition or parasites
- Keep your pet entertained and give it ample attention—even if you have to hire a walker or sitter
- Make sure poop is as inaccessible as possible by keeping things cleaned up and investing in covered litter pans for cats
As much as it turns your stomach to think about your dog’s odd poo-as-food outlook, it is also important to understand that some dogs simply can’t help it. If you’ve researched medical factors and there are seemingly none, if you’ve tried behavior training to no avail, or if you’ve had no luck with other preventive measures, this may be something you’ll have to deal with for the long term. One out of every six dogs eats some kind of feces on a regular basis with or without cause. The best you can do is keep poop out of reach and do your best to love your canine in spite of his weird snacking habits—and invest in some good canine dental cleaning supplies.
About the Author
Curt Gebers is a widely recognized Cane Corso breeder based in the Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. He has been breeding and enjoying the lives of Corsos since 2003. Gebers is an Approved Breed Mentor by the Cane CorsoAssociation of America (CCAA), and an appointed member of the CCAA 2018 Election Oversight Committee. Corsos owned and bred by Gebers have obtained numerous awards, including 2018 CCAA Western Regional Best Of Breed, 2017 CCAA Puppy Of The Year, and the esteemed award for 2014 #1 AKC CANE CORSO. Find out more about Curt and his champion Corsos at the Red Rock Canyon Cane Corso website.