By TB Thompson DVM
Ashley usually enjoyed being awakened by her puppy Charlie’s morning kisses. It was so nice to be loved and appreciated. Then one day, she noticed a bad smell when Charlie licked her face. She realized he had been eating poop! After she stopped scrubbing her face and screaming, she made an appointment to see Charlie’s vet and asked, “Why does my dog eat poop?”
For dogs, coprophagia (eating poop) is actually a normal behavior. It’s something mother dogs do for their puppies to keep the den clean. Young puppies may eat stool in order to populate their GI tracts with healthy microorganisms. When the behavior persists past early puppyhood, there could be a problem. For sure, it’s an unwanted behavior for the people who live with these dogs.
Things that might cause a dog to eat their own poop (or the poop of another dog)
- Copying the behavior of another dog
Don’t believe sensationalistic online sources claiming dogs who eat poop are seeking some enzyme or micronutrient that is available in some special supplement. There is no scientific proof to back up this claim.
Dogs who are extremely hungry due to a medical problem might eat poop to satisfy their hunger. Eating poop can cause vomiting and diarrhea, only making the problem worse.
Ashley was on the right track when she sought the advice of Charlie’s veterinarian. A vet can test for diseases that cause malabsorption or mal-digestion of food. These diseases are often treatable but can lead to serious problems if not detected early.
Why Do Dogs Eat Cat Poop?
Dogs may eat cat poop for the same reasons they eat dog poop. Cat food is also high in fat and protein, so their feces are higher in fat and protein. Cat poop is even more attractive to many dogs than canine feces. Cat feces can cause a pretty severe digestive upset in dogs due to the high-fat content.
How to Stop Your Dog from Eating Poop
- Get a full vet checkup including lab tests. There are diseases that can cause a dog not to absorb the nutrients in his food. Most of these are fairly treatable, but you need a diagnosis first. Don’t put off a checkup since treating a disease could make a big difference to your dog’s health in the long-term.
- Always attend dog when outside or in his potty area. Whether your pup goes outside or uses potty pads to go number 2, you need to watch him like a hawk to prevent him from eating his own poop. If he’s going outside, it’s best to have him on a leash so you can guide him away as soon as he’s finished defecating. Think of this as a training exercise—you probably won’t have to do it forever, but for a time you need to concentrate on being as perfect as you can about watching out for coprophagia.
- Pick up feces immediately. Since you’re always attending to your dog at potty time, go ahead and clean up the poop immediately. By doing so, you decrease the chances of the dog making a mistake.
- Redirect pet’s attention away from feces. Some dogs are so quick to turn around after they’ve defecated that you don’t have time to clean up. For these dogs, be ready to redirect their attention as soon as they’ve finished defecating. Try using a simple obedience command like sit or down and give a treat while you clean up. Another option is to take a toy your dog loves outside and let her play with it while you play janitor.
- Train pet to“leave it." A simple obedience command like “leave it” might save your dog’s life, or at least keep him from having potty breath! Find out how to train this command from dog trainer Victoria Stilwell’s great video here: https://positively.com/dog-behavior/basic-cues/leave-it/.
- Food additives to alter the taste of feces. Several products are available that are to be added to a pet’s food to alter the taste of their feces. One popular brand is Forbid. Some people use pineapple, but results may vary. If your dog is eating another dog’s feces, you must add the product to the other dog’s food, too. Don’t depend on these products to break your dog of coprophagia. Most dogs will go on with the habit once they get used to the taste of the food additive. Think of food additives more as an aid to the main strategy of training.
- Improve diet with a higher protein, highly digestible so fewer feces are passed. Get your vet’s advice in choosing a highly digestible, good quality food. If your dog is feeling hungry because he’s not digesting low-quality food well, he will be more motivated to eat poop.
- Decrease stress/improve quality of life. If your dog is left alone for a large part of the day, get a friend or dog walker to take him out for a walk at lunchtime. Make it a priority to play with and walk your dog outside on a daily basis. Boredom is a form of stress and can make problem behaviors worse.
- Have your dog wear a basket muzzle when outside or in potty area. If you’ve tried all of the previous suggestions and your dog is still at it, try using a basket muzzle when he goes outside to deter coprophagia.
Training is Key
So, why do dogs eat their poop? The vast majority are doing it for behavioral reasons rather than physiological reasons. There is no magic pill that will cure the stinky habit. The biggest action you can take is training your dog not to eat poop.