Why Do Dogs Eat Their Poop?

Pet owners can curb this habit once they know the root of the problem.

Dog sniffing dirt
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Much to dog owners' dismay, up to 16% of dogs eat their own or other dogs' poop on a regular basis, and 23% have been seen eating poop at least once. There are many reasons for this fairly common behavior, and two main theories. One states that coprophagia, or the consumption of feces, is a behavior linked to developmental and environmental circumstances. The other theory is that this is an evolutionary behavior passed down from dogs' wolf ancestors who ate their own feces to avoid bringing intestinal parasites into their dens. According to research, the behavior is not the result of being separated from the mother too early, nor does it necessarily mean your dog is emotionally scarred.

Whatever the reason behind your dog's unpleasant new habit, the good news is that there are techniques available to minimize the behavior. While it may be tough to eliminate the behavior altogether, understanding the root of this issue first can help.

5 Reasons Dogs Consume Poop

Different dogs seem to eat feces for different reasons that depend in part on their age, breed, and living circumstances. Dogs that are big eaters (as opposed to picky eaters) are more likely to develop this behavior. In addition, according to one study, terriers and hounds are more likely to be coprophagic while poodles are least likely. Generally, these are some of the most common causes.

1. Medical Issues

If your dog is not properly absorbing nutrients or is receiving a nutrient-poor diet, they may turn to their feces. Some medical issues can also cause a dog's feces to contain large quantities of undigested food. When this happens, the dog or other dogs in the household may eat the stools simply because they smell tasty. Dogs can also develop coprophagia as a result of parasites. If you notice this behavior in your dog, or if your dog is eating a great deal but still consistently hungry, it's a good idea to visit a vet.

2. Stress or Anxiety

Stress and anxiety can lead to coprophagia. Dogs that live in especially confined quarters or in isolation are more likely to eat feces than those that have more freedom and more social engagement. This is particularly true of dogs that have spent a lot of time in a shelter or have been neglected before adoption.

If a dog is afraid of being punished for pooping in the house, it may eat its poop as a way to hide it. This is usually the case when the consequences for "mistakes" are, or were at one time in their lives, extreme enough to make the dog afraid or anxious.

3. Mother Love

Puppies are particularly prone to coprophagia; because they are just starting to explore their world, everything is fascinating and unfamiliar. In addition, nursing puppies are drawn to their mother's smell—which is very prominent in her poops. Mother dogs also clean their puppies with their tongues, which means that their breath may smell like feces.

4. Attention-Getting

Sometimes, all dogs want is attention. If your dog is trying to get you to notice them, they may eat their feces to send a message: Look at me. Doesn't matter if you're frustrated or grossed out—some dogs will take whatever attention they can get.

5. Location of and Access to Food

If your dog's food bowl is near dog or cat feces, your pet may learn to associate eating with the smell of feces. In addition, if your dog has to compete for food with other dogs, it may resort to coprophagia.

How to Stop Your Dog From Eating Poop

There is no universal treatment for this problem, but there are a number of ways you can address coprophagia effectively. The good news is that, in most cases, the behavior can addressed and changed with a few care tips.

Medical and Nutritional Interventions

Before taking any action on the issue, it's very important to have your vet examine your pet to determine whether and why there is a nutritional deficit. If this is the case, enzymes and probiotics may be prescribed, as can a more digestible diet. In some cases, coprophagia will disappear when your dog is treated for an underlying issue such as parasites.

Accessibility Interventions

Because many dogs, puppies in particular, eat poop because it's available and it smells good to them, you should quickly clean up dropping whenever and wherever they occur. If you have one or multiple cats as well as a dog, be sure that cat feces are not available either. This is a particularly important action to take for puppies so they can avoid learning the behavior early on in life.

Behavioral Interventions

There are several other ways curb the coprophagic behavior:

  • Start by being sure your dog has enough space and attention to alleviate any underlying anxieties. If you've done all you can and your dog is still anxious, you may wish to consult a dog behavior specialist.
  • When your dog poops, and before you clean up, stop the behavior in its tracks. Give a quick command to come, and give your dog a treat. This will distract your dog and, in the long run, will become a habit.
  • Work with your dog to be sure they learn the commands "leave it" and "come." Again, use treats to reinforce positive behavior.
View Article Sources
  1. Hart, B.L., Hart, L.A., Thigpen, A.P., Tran, A. and Bain, M.J. (2018), The paradox of canine conspecific coprophagy. Vet Med Sci, 4: 106-114. https://doi.org/10.1002/vms3.92

  2. Hart, Benjamin, et al. "The Paradox of Canine Conspecific Coprophagy." Veterinary Medicine and Science, vol. 4, no. 2, 2018, pp. 106-114, doi:10.1002/vms3.92

  3. "Dog Behavior Problems - Corprophagia." VCA.