Dogs have all kinds of cute habits. They also have all sorts of not-so-cute habits. Dogs love to give kisses and cuddle and play with their humans. That’s cute. The not-so-cute stuff is when those kisses come from the same mouth they just used to drink from the toilet, clean their bottoms, and eat poop.
Yep, eat poop.
This behavior is known in medical terms as coprophagia. It is a behavior that stems from both behavioral and physiological motivations. Actually, eating poop is quite common for canines. In ancient times, dogs were scavengers and ate whatever they could find, whether they found it on the ground, in the trash, or on the dung pile.
Though eating poop seems gross and offensive to humans, dogs don’t see it the same way. It is thought that eating poop may stem from a survival behavior passed down by their ancient ancestors, to help them cope with periodic times of starvation.
When food is not readily available, you eat what’s there or go hungry. But why do dogs eat poop even when they are not starving? You feed your dog a healthy, regular diet, he isn’t ill, he gets frequent exercise, he’s provided plenty of fresh water, and he may even get snacks and treats.
And still, he eats poop.
There are a variety of possible reasons, some of them potentially more serious than others. While some dogs may eat poop merely because they are bored, other times there can be some underlying health reason. As their human, it’s up to you to play detective to find out what that underlying issue may be.
Why Do Dogs Eat Feces?
There are two main underlying motivations for a dog to eat poop. Some of those reasons fall under the behavioral category. Other fall under the canine nutritional deficiency category. Here are some of a dog’s possible behavioral motivations.
We’ve already discussed dogs exhibiting scavenging behavior. It’s believed that this behavior originated in ancient times. Back then, it was natural for dogs to scavenge. They would look for enticing scents and go where their nose took them. Sometimes the smells prompted them to eat what they found.
They’ve Been Punished
Sometimes, dogs that are punished for using the house as their toilet, may learn to eat their poop as a way to avoid punishment. Canines can be sneaky little creatures, and eating their poop is their way to hide the evidence of their wrongdoing.
They’re from a Puppy Mill
Dogs that are found in puppy mills are often raised in poor conditions with minimal care. They may not get enough food, or they may live in a crate for a long period of time. Because of these conditions, they may develop a poop eating habit.
They Live with a Sick or Elderly Dog
Sometimes a dog that eats poop may do so out of instinct, especially if they are eating the poop from a weaker member of the household. It is speculated that this was a way for dogs to help protect the pack from potential predators in ancient times.
They’ve “Learned” to Eat Poop
Some dogs learn behaviors from other dogs, especially in the case of younger dogs watching older dogs. Ever heard the term monkey see, monkey do? In much the way children mimic their parents to learn new things, puppies will mimic the behavior of older dogs. Sometimes, even older dogs can pick up bad habits from their fellow canines, especially if it isn’t nipped in the bud quickly.
This one helps answer the age-old question of “Why do puppies eat poop?” The simple answer is that puppies are like children. They are highly curious creatures, and they want to explore the world. They will sniff and taste everything, including their own poop and even another animal’s poop.
Thankfully, most puppies will grow out of this, usually by age nine months if not earlier. Unless that is, they have learned the behavior from another dog. In that case, some retraining may be necessary. In most instances, puppies eating their own poop is benign.
Sometimes though, puppies will eat the poop of other animals, and this can cause problems with their health. Other animal droppings may be contaminated with unhealthy things like toxins, canine parasites, and parvovirus in puppies.
They’re Stressed or Bored
Sometimes dogs eat feces because they are stressed or bored. This behavior could be because they are left home alone for long periods of time, or they are left in their kennel frequently. When they are bored or anxious, they will look for a way to relieve their stress or entertain themselves, and it turns out, eating poop may be one way to do it if a dog is stressed.
They’re Clean Freaks
This point is especially valid if they are mothers with pups. Female dogs that have just had a litter of puppies will often eat her puppies’ poop to help keep their area clean. They will also lick their puppies to help them go to the bathroom as a way to stimulate the urge, typically around the first three weeks of life.
It is a natural instinct and could explain why some dogs continue to eat poop later in life. They have a natural drive to keep their little corner of the world clean and poop-free, instilled in them by their mom.
They Are Confused
Because mothers will often clean their puppies’ bottoms and clean up after them when they go in their bed, puppies could get confused. When they smell their mom’s poop breath, they think it’s a normal scent to eat. Also, mothers sometimes regurgitate food for their pups. It could be mixed with puppy feces, and he could inadvertently “inoculate” their appetite and set them up to eat feces in the future.
They Want Attention
Sometimes a dog eats poop as a way to act out and gain attention, even if it is negative attention. It is much like a child who feels ignored, if they are feeling that way, they will misbehave to get the attention they’re seeking. In a dog’s mind, eating poop seems to be a great way to do that!
Dogs eat poop for more than just behavioral reasons. Their habit could also be tied to something medical, like an underlying health condition, or a nutritional deficiency that your dog is instinctively trying to make up for. It is possible your dog may:
Have a Deficiency or Malabsorption Problem
Before dogs were domesticated, they lived in the wild. When they ate, they would eat the whole carcass, guts included. This naturally provided everything a dog needed to help digest their food. However, domestic dogs are often fed a diet of canned or dry dog food.
This is food that has been highly processed and is often missing key nutrients and ingredients. Even dogs that are given a mostly fresh diet will still be missing important enzymes. These digestive enzymes are what helps your dog digest and absorb their food properly.
When they are not getting these critical enzymes, or when their bodies are not making enough of them, they will poop out all of the nutrition they just ate without absorbing any of it. This is what could prompt them to turn around and then eat what they just expelled. This is because their instincts are telling them that their body needs those nutrients.
A dog can also suffer from other deficiencies, such as a hydrochloric acid deficiency, which is related to a poor diet and age. Hydrochloric is what helps a dog’s digestive system break down protein. Additionally, other nutrients can be poorly absorbed, which can prompt poop-eating behavior.
Sometimes, dogs that are suffering from malabsorption may even eat cat feces. Many dogs may even find that cat poop is tastier than their own!
They May Just Be Hungry
Sometimes a dog will eat poop simply because they are hungry. If you aren’t feeding them enough, no matter what kind of diet it is, they will look for food elsewhere. Remember they are natural scavengers, so if they are hungry, they will go on the hunt and may wind up eating things that aren’t good for them.
Make sure you feed your dog on a regular schedule, and that you are feeding them enough. If they appear to be losing weight, you may need to feed them more, or change the type of food that you’re giving them.
They May Have an Underlying Health Issue
Sometimes a dog may suffer from health conditions like thyroid problems, Cushing’s disease, or diabetes. If your dog has a health condition that requires steroid treatments, those types of drugs can also stimulate their appetite. If their appetite is being stimulated too much, they might decide to eat feces as an attempt to relieve their hunger.
They Could Have Parasites
If you are giving your dog a healthy, well-balanced diet, on a regular feeding schedule, yet they still seem to be hungry, they’re still losing weight, and they’re still eating poop, you could be dealing with a parasite problem. Intestinal parasites may be stealing all of the nutrition in your dog’s food, and it could prompt them to eat their stool in an attempt to regain those missing nutrients.
They Could Have EPI or Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
This condition can become very serious. Essentially, your dog’s pancreas isn’t making enough digestive enzymes, if any. Because of this, if left untreated, a dog will slowly starve to death.
Some of the symptoms you might notice include weight loss, diarrhea, and… eating their feces. This is because once again, they are trying to regain those missing nutrients that their body is instinctively craving.
Fun Facts About Dogs That Eat Poop
Here are a few fun facts to
help further answer the question of, “Why do dogs eat poop?”
These stats are courtesy of the American Kennel Club. Though a dog eating poop is a fairly common occurrence, and though it is considered a natural and often instinctive behavior, one funny quirk is:
- Dogs usually won’t eat soft stools, or diarrhea. They prefer to eat stools that are hard instead. They particularly love frozen stools! Although how that fact came to be known really makes one wonder.
- Coprophagia appears to be more common in dogs from a multi-dog home, with 33% of canines developing a poop-eating habit.
- A whopping 92% of dogs will only eat feces that is 1 to 2 days old. So, no old poop for them! They only want the fresh stuff.
- 85% of dogs that eat poop, will not eat their own poop, they will only eat the feces of their fellow canine friends.
- Female dogs are the most likely poop-eating culprits, whereas intact males are the least likely to eat poop.
- Also, despite what you might think, a dog isn’t any harder to house train if they eat poop.
- Additionally, greedy dogs, like those that steal food off tables and countertops, are more likely to eat poop than their less greedy counterparts. Who knew?
Ways to Stop Your Dog from Eating Poop
Try supplementing their diet with vitamins and enzymes. Or you can try taste aversion products to discourage them from eating feces. Be sure to keep your dog’s living space and play area clean and free of fecal matter and keep any cat litter boxes out of reach.
When you walk your dog, supervise them closely and pick up their poop before they can eat it. You can also try training them and rewarding them with a treat each time they go to the bathroom. By doing this, they will learn they get something tasty from you, instead of from the ground.
Finally, remember that dogs eating poop seems to be a natural inclination in canines, so don’t despair if you can’t seem to break the habit. As long as you are keeping them away from poop that’s not their own, they should remain relatively safe.