Seriously… Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?
It may not be a dinner table topic—or maybe it is, depending on your household—but at some point in your pet parent journey you’ve likely wondered (out loud or to yourself): why do dogs eat poop?
We hate to ruin slobbery smooches for you, but you might want to think twice before you allow your dog to give you a kiss on the lips.
As veterinarians, we’re asked questions related to coprophagia (the medical term for this rather unglamorous phenomenon) all the time. Why do dogs eat poop? Why does my dog eat its own poop? What can I do to prevent my dog from eating poop? The list goes on…
Unfortunately, coprophagia is a tricky business. There’s no universal reason why it’s such a common behaviour among dogs, regardless of age, size, or breed.
Today we’re putting everything on the table that we know (or can reasonably assume) about coprophagia to help you make the best of a smelly situation.
Coprophagia: The Facts
As repulsive as we may find dogs’ poop-eating habits, you might take comfort in knowing that it’s something many (we’d even go as far as to say most) pet parents experience.
What are the origins of this behaviour? Like we said, it’s complicated… but there’s a combined effort of nature and nurture at play.
Mother dogs have a biological drive to consume their pups’ feces, which means those pups are introduced to and become familiar with the behaviour from a young age. Why the drive, you ask? From an evolutionary standpoint, this innate inkling is often linked to survival: mothers consume their offspring’s unmentionables to protect them from conditions that might lead to illness or disease.
If you’ve ever welcomed a puppy into your home, you’ll know that puppies will explore just about everything with their mouths, from your fresh-out-of-the-box sneakers to baseboards and, well… poo. Ultimately, mom is committing a genuine (not to mention genuinely gross) act of love.
There are different variations of coprophagia, too. Some dogs will only eat their own poop, while some prefer other dogs’ or other species’ poop, and others will only consume if frozen (hence the term “poopsicles”).
Before we address the more problematic, compulsive cases of coprophagia, it’s important to remember that just because your dog eats poop doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong. As you’ll see, there are clear signs when the behaviour is heading in a maladaptive direction.
Compulsive coprophagia: When poop becomes a problem
In some cases, dogs can develop problematic poop-eating habits to the point that the behaviour would be considered compulsive. There is also the risk that your dog might ingest contaminants such as parasites, e.coli, salmonella, or even residual medications that have been processed and excreted through another animals’ body.
Lifestyle factors that can predispose dogs to compulsive coprophagia include:
- A low-quality or imbalanced diet (translation: your dog isn’t receiving the nutrients they need through their food)
- An irregular feeding schedule (consistency is key!)
- Receiving too little food throughout the day
- Boredom and under-stimulation
- Inadequate attention or supervision
- A mom who compulsively models the behaviour
- Access to poo (the more that’s available to dogs, the more likely they may be to sample)
- Separation anxiety
- Troubles coping with changes to routine (pet parents’ return to the office, for example)
There are also medical reasons why dogs might eat poop:
- Intestinal parasites
- Digestive or gut conditions that hinder nutrient absorption and digestion (IBS, IBD, and EPI or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency are a few examples)
- Dysbiosis (an imbalance of normal, happy gut flora)
- Polyphagia (an underlying medical condition that significantly increases appetite—for example, thyroid disease or diabetes)
- Pica (a condition where dogs eat all kinds of inappropriate things, from poop to rocks, socks, and just about everything in between)
As we mentioned, there’s no need to immediately sound the alarm bells if you’ve noticed your dog occasionally engaging in this behaviour… but if it’s peace of mind you’re after, the good news is your veterinary team is ready, willing, and able to help. An exam, interview, and a few simple blood and feces tests are all that’s needed to create a coprophagia prevention plan.
Coprophagia prevention: What to do when your dog won’t stop eating poo
We need to make an important disclaimer before we talk about prevention tips: there is no guarantee you can completely eliminate your dog’s inclination to eat its own poop. However, there are plenty of tactics you can try to drastically reduce it. Breaking a coprophagia habit is a game of trial and error; the more techniques you have at your disposal, the better.
- Keep it clean. Making a habit of picking up poop in your backyard (or wherever your dog most often goes to do the deed) minimized opportunities for them to eat poop in the first place.
- Bathroom break supervision. Keep your dog away from unsupervised areas by escorting them to a “picked up” or cleaned area for bathroom breaks and remain close by until they’re done.
- High fibre diets. Look for a diet that contains at least 10% fibre. Need a suggestion? Ask your vet.
- Feed smaller, more frequent meals. Remember how we said consistency is key? Keep your dog satisfied by feeding their daily amount across 3-4 meals per day.
- Cut down on canned food. Dry food has been found to be more effective for a number of reasons: kibble is richer in fibre, it takes longer to eat, and dogs spend more time chewing than they would food out of a can.
- Extend eating time. An elevated maze bowl or a treat ball or puzzle will slow your dog down, with an added boost of mental enrichment.
- Regular exercise. Chasing, fetching, chewing… all of these are activities that will engage your dog’s mind and body, keeping them happy, busy, and out of trouble.
- Master recall. If your dog isn’t already familiar with commands like “Leave it” and “Come,” start building those into your repertoire. Contrary to popular belief, dogs are never too old to learn new tricks.
- Choose kindness. If you bust your dog eating its own poop, don’t scream or yell. These explosive reactions can actually have the opposite effect, causing your dog to eat faster to dispose of the evidence.
- Offer mouth-watering meals. A popular home remedy is to add nutrient-dense “extras” to your dog’s dishes. These might include:
- 1-2 chunks of fresh (not canned) pineapple
- 1-2 tbsp canned pumpkin
- ⅛ cup canned spinach
- Vet-approved prebiotics and probiotics
- A few crushed-up breath mints (must be xylitol-free)
If you’re a pet parent struggling with a dog who eats poop, know that you’re not alone. A little patience can go a long way!
At Waggle Mail, our dog subscription boxes are filled with vet-curated products and information designed to meet the needs and nuances of your dog. From high-fibre treat options to mental enrichment mealtime toys, we can help you conquer coprophagia.
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Dr. C. Beck
Registered Veterinarian, Founder & CEO