Why do dogs eat poop? As gross as poop eating might sound to humans, it's actually fairly common among dogs and especially in puppies. It even has a scientific name: coprophagia. Some dogs are only interested in the stool of other dogs. In contrast, others don't mind feasting on a rabbit, cat, and even horse poop if available.
If you've noticed your dog showing a little too much interest in this, it's time to start asking why. There's always a logical reason behind the behavior, but figuring it out is not always easy and might require some
educated guessing and careful observation of your dog's behavior and his environment.
While dog owners might not like talking about it, a 2018 study conducted by researchers from the University of California, Davis, found that:
While coprophagia is more common in multi-dog households and among females, it can appear in any dog regardless of sex, age, neuter status and how well trained they are.
Scientists aren't exactly sure what causes coprophagia – and it's likely not the same reason for every dog. Still, understanding the cause is key to fixing the problem. Unfortunately, the longer it goes on, the harder it will be to change the behavior.
Many experts believe poop eating is an evolutionary behavior. In the wild, canines eat their puppies' feces to hide smells that could potentially attract predators. It's very possible that puppies imitate the behavior, and some just never grow out of it.
Coprophagia can also be connected to environmental stress and anxiety in some dogs. For example, dogs isolated in small enclosures or living outside on their own are more likely to engage in this behavior, and so are dogs that previously spent time in crowded shelters. Imagine being forced to eat, sleep and go to the bathroom in the same tiny area. For some dogs, the stress of the situation forces them to "clean up" after themselves to create a healthier, more livable environment.
In multiple-dog households, a dog with coprophagia might eat the stools of a sick or elderly canine – this is actually a sign of loving his family and trying to protect the weaker members of the pack from predators.
For many dogs, poop eating could also be a sign of a health problem, from parasites to conditions that increase appetites, such as thyroid disease and diabetes.
Diets deficient in specific nutrients and malabsorption syndromes can also encourage a dog to eat poop in an attempt to obtain the missing nutrition. According to experts, this is often the case in dogs fed highly-processed commercial foods (especially kibble). Because kibble often robs the digestive system of essential digestive enzymes, some dogs might resort to eating feces in hopes of "rebuilding" their intestinal flora. However, dogs with digestive issues will only eat fresh feces in most cases. These contain more enzymes and are potentially more helpful in addressing their problem.
Let's face it: nobody wants kisses from a dog who engages in questionable eating practices. However, if your dog falls into that group, there are several ways you can get him to stop eating poop.
If your dog is still going through the housebreaking process, make sure you keep the living area clean. For example, ensure picking up any stools as soon as your dog goes to the bathroom (and keeping the litter box away from your dog's reach if you also have a cat).
Focusing on positive commands is also essential. For example, teach your dog to "leave it" and always reward him with a treat when he doesn't pick up the offending item from the ground. It's also very important to make sure you're not causing your dog anxiety about the process. For example, suppose you scold or yell at your dog for going to the bathroom in the wrong place. In that case, he might resort to eating the poop to "get rid of the evidence," and you'll be reinforcing the behavior you don't want.
Because dietary or digestive issues can also cause coprophagia, make sure to talk to your vet if you notice any health problems, including diarrhea, vomiting or weight loss.
Do you suspect diet is the culprit? It might be time to switch to something healthier, such as customized fresh food. Scientists suspect a prime reason for coprophagia is that dogs might be missing some nutrients in their diets and looking for them elsewhere. Enzyme or vitamin supplementation is an excellent place to start. Still, it would be best if you also looked closely at what you're feeding your dog and whether he's getting the proper nutrition.
If you switch to a clean, wholesome, fresh diet and you notice your dog slowly changing his poop-eating habits, chances are food was the culprit.
Fresh food specifically made for your pup ensures that all of their requirements are considered when their food is formulated and balanced. Often, this can help in stopping coprophagia.