Why do dogs eat poop?

dog on a leash while human picks up poop

Dogs eating poop is very common, and many dogs do it. Unfortunately, it is a bad habit and unpleasant for us dog owners. 

There is a name for it, and that is coprophagia.

It is gross to humans, but it is common behavior for animals.

Dog sniffing dog poop

Facts about dogs who eat poop

Puppies sometimes eat their feces, a behavior known as coprophagia, AKA poop eating, and is a natural part of exploring their environment and learning its contents. Most puppies are satisfied with a sniff, but just like human children, some puppies like to put everything in their mouths, including poop!

A dog will rarely eat soft, poorly formed stools or diarrhea. They are mainly attracted to hard stools.

Frozen poop is a dog’s favorite.

  • Coprophagia is more common in homes with multiple dogs. In homes with just one dog, only 20% exhibit the habit of eating their feces, but in households with multiple dogs, it is up at 33%.
  • Poop eaters can be trained just as easily as any other dog.
  • Female dogs are more likely to eat poop, and male dogs are less likely.92% of dogs that eat poop want fresh poop, no older than one or two days.
  • 85% of dog poop eaters will not eat their poop, only poop from other dogs.
  • Dogs that steal food off tables-greedy eaters- tend to be poop eaters.

Why do dogs eat poop?

Dogs will eat poop for many reasons. Some of these reasons are normal, and some indicate underlying issues that should be of concern.

It is common and quite normal for dogs to eat the poop of other species. However, it is uncommon and weird to see adult dogs eating their own or other dogs’ poop.

You should warn your dog walker if you have one that your dog may eat poop in case the dog walker gets worried while your dog is their responsibility.

Normal reasons why your dog eats poop

Poop eating is normal behavior in the following scenarios:

They are nursing

Mother dogs eat the poop of their young ones to keep their den clean.

The poop of other animals tastes good to them

Dogs sometimes eat the poop of other species. Another animal’s stool, like a cat or horse, can contain beneficial nutrients to dogs but can also harbor harmful bacteria. As a result, it is best to discourage this behavior from occurring as much as possible.

Small dog standing up, front paws held by a person wearing blue jeans and a black t-shirt

Abnormal reasons why dogs eat poop

They want to get your attention

Some dogs eat poop when they are young because they think it is a game. For example, when pups are young, they explore grabbing their poop with their mouths. When they do this, you will likely run toward them and tell them to “drop it.”

Most of the time, when this happens, the puppies will get startled and never do it again, and other dogs may think you are playing with them, and your shouting is an invitation to play.

These puppies have learned a new way for their owners to “play” with them when it is not a game.

Your dog may not want to play but want to engage with you. This will then carry over when they become adult dogs as the behavior they have learned to get your attention.

It is challenging not to pay attention to a dog eating poop.

They are not feeling well

If your dog is eating poop, it may be unwell.

A dog that eats its own or other dogs’ feces needs to be seen by a veterinarian for an exam. Coprophagia may be associated with diseases of the intestinal tract and possibly other body parts like the liver, brain, etc.

Suppose your adult dog, who has never been a poop eater, suddenly develops this habit and shows signs of disease (weight loss, lethargy, discomfort, other behavioral changes, diarrhea, or vomiting). In that case, it’s time to seek medical attention.

Your veterinarian will perform tests to decide if your dog has an undiagnosed medical issue, such as intestinal parasites, gastrointestinal disease, or nutritional deficiencies.

They have anxiety

Some dogs eat their own feces as a displacement behavior when they are anxious. For example, if an anxious dog is confined, it may defecate and then eat its own feces.

Possible sources that may cause coprophagia are:

  • General anxiety
  • You being away from them (separation anxiety)
  • Worrying about being confined
  • Lack of enrichment activities when confined

They may be scared about being punished for an accident

Some dogs may learn to eat their poop if they realize their owners punish them when they defecate in their house instead of outside.

They do this to hide the evidence because they are worried.

Older dog laying next to younger dog looking worried.

Other reasons for dogs eating poop

living with older or sick dogs

Sometimes a healthy dog consumes the poop of a sick dog in the same household, especially in cases of fecal incontinence.

fun

Dogs always explore with their sense of smell; weirdly, fresh stool seems excellent to them. If your dog is bored, he might eat his poop for entertainment.

Behavioral triggers and reasons they eat poop

There may be some behavioral issues with your dog’s poop-eating. Here are a few reasons for this natural behavior:

  • Cleanliness
  • Scavengers
  • Puppies
  • Boredom
  • Stress
  • Attention seeking
  • Punishment
  • Learning from other dogs

What are the risks of eating poop?

For dogs, the health risks are minimal for eating their own poop. But if your dog is a kisser, you may want to be careful about them passing on bacteria and parasites to you or your family. So if your dog insists on eating its poop, you may want to discourage them from licking people and wash your hands and face if necessary. Teach your kids this as well.

Monitor your dog for parasites if it eats other animals’ poop, especially if it is a wild animal. It is easy to drop a fecal sample at your vet’s.

Your dog may have bad breath from eating poop, so you may want to brush its teeth regularly.

man holding small dog who is licking his face

Should I worry if my dog is eating poop?

Besides the ick factor, dogs that eat poop may be at risk of contracting gastrointestinal worms or experiencing an upset stomach. Coprophagia can also be related to underlying medical issues. Whether medical or behavioral, this issue also disrupts the pet-human bond as no owner wants their dog to lick them with the same mouth they eat poop with.

With all this being said, do not get too upset if you see your dog eating poop. Instead, distract them from it, pick it up, and move on. If you make a big deal out of your dog eating poop, it will likely continue to do so.

Check with your vet if you have more concerns about your dog’s poop-eating habits.

Can poop-eating make them sick?

Common parasites a dog may contract from eating other dogs’ poop or animals’ poop include:

  • Hookworms
  • Roundworms
  • Giardia
  • Whipworms
  • Coccidia

When your dog shows any signs of illness, like vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy, take them to the veterinarian for treatment.

Dogs that eat cat poop

Even though it may be considered normal, you probably do not want your dog diving into a litter box for a snack.

To keep dogs from eating cat poop, try putting up a pet gate or door that allows the cat to use the litter box while keeping the dog away. You can also put the litter box on a table longer than the box to enable the cat to jump onto it.

It’s important to remember that dogs enjoy eating things that taste good to them. Their poop may appeal to their taste buds, so their poop is a tasty treat in a dog’s head.

You can purchase products that discourage dogs from eating poop. These products are believed to change the way poop tastes to them.

Dog poop in a plastic bag sitting on grass

Why do dogs eat their own poop?

Dogs eat their feces, or poop, in the wild to keep the den clean. The behavior is built into their nature because it helps protect the pups from predators. Eating their own poop can be part of this behavior, or it could be from a poor diet or the inability to digest nutrients properly.

How do I stop my dog from eating poop?

Once you have worked out the medical causes or behavioral reasons for your dog’s eating poop, you can figure out how to stop them from eating poop.

These are some ways to help you stop your dog from eating poop.

emphasize cleanliness

If your stool-eating dog lives with other animals, clean up the poop immediately. Keep your cat’s litter box clean too. Doing this will minimize poop-eating opportunities.

Keep your dog active and stimulated

Avoid your dog from being bored with plenty of exercises and mental stimulation. To keep your dog mentally and physically active, offer a variety of games and toys, take them for walks around the neighborhood, or enroll in agility classes. With working breed dogs, this is especially true; they need to be kept extra busy.

Feed a great diet

Feed your dog a nutritious diet of real food rather than commercially manufactured food. This will make a big difference in his health. Give your dog a balanced, whole-food, raw-meat diet to ensure it gets the nutrition it needs. Also, ensure your dog gets enough organ meats in its diet—they’re particularly rich in vitamins and minerals.

Add pre and probiotics and digestive enzymes to ensure they get all the benefits in their food. A dog’s diet is vital.

Do not make poop a big deal

When you punish your dog for eating stool, it will not be effective. So do not make a fuss about them eating poop.

With time and patience, your dog will stop eating poop eventually. But remember, eating poop is normal behavior!

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