Whether your pooch prefers their own stool, or would rather dine on another animal’s dung, it’s a nasty habit that can be tough to break. This condition is so common in animals, it has a special name to describe poop-eating behavior—coprophagia. If your furry pal engages in coprophagia, don’t despair just yet. There are ways to discourage this gross behavior while you avoid your pooch’s kisses. But, let’s first discover the reasons behind coprophagia to help you determine the best long-term solution.
Eating Poop is Natural for Dogs
Although it’s an unpleasant behavior, eating poop is an entirely natural activity for dogs. While dogs don’t perform this behavior to gain vital nutrients like some species, such as rabbits, it can be a necessary activity. For example, mother dogs clean their puppies, removing fecal waste and urine. Once puppies switch to solid food and their stool firms up, the mother may not eat the poop anymore, but the puppies might, since everything goes in a puppy’s mouth as they explore their world.
Some dogs find other animals’ poop tasty, especially feline feces. It can be a challenge to keep a dog from searching out tootsie roll-shaped treats in a freshly stocked litter box. Although it’s disgusting, eating their own poop does not pose a serious health risk to dogs, but they can pick up intestinal parasites and diseases from other animals’ feces. To avoid potential disease transmission, it’s best to nip this behavior in the bud.
Facts About Dogs Who Eat Poop
While poop-eating is a natural behavior in dogs, there are some stats that indicate it is more likely to occur in certain situations. Take a look at the potential for an increased chance of your dog being coprophagic:
- Coprophagia is more common in multi-dog households. Only 20% of dogs in single-dog homes displayed this behavior, while that number rose to 33% in homes with three dogs.
- Female dogs, particularly intact females, are more likely to eat poop than male dogs.
- 92% of dogs who eat poop prefer fresh feces that are only one to two days old.
- 85% of dogs will not eat their own feces, only that of other dogs or animals.
- Dogs who are counter-surfers are also more likely to eat poop.
Medical Reasons Why Dogs Eat Poop
It’s much simpler to diagnose and treat medical reasons for coprophagia in dogs. As with most issues, medical reasons are ruled out first before turning to behavioral instigators. Some of the most common health issues a dog may eat poop include:
- Intestinal parasites — A common issue with puppies, intestinal parasites can leach away nutrition, despite a high-quality diet, which forces a dog to eat its own stool or that of other animals. Puppies are often born with roundworms or can pick them up through their mother’s milk, so an appropriate deworming protocol is vital for eliminating parasites who steal your pet’s nutrition, vitamins, and minerals.
- Nutrient-deficient diets — Poor-quality diets fail to provide your dog with the proper nutrition needed to thrive, which can lead them to eating stool in a desperate attempt to find enough vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. To ensure your pooch’s food contains the necessary nutrients for optimal health, search for a product that meets the standards set forth by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
- Malabsorption diseases — A digestive enzyme deficiency, also known as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, can create malabsorption issues in dogs. This disease is characterized by loose, foul-smelling stools and weight loss, and can be diagnosed through relatively simple blood tests.
- Endocrine disorders — Cushing’s disease, diabetes, or thyroid disease can cause an increase in appetite, leading to coprophagia.
- Drugs that increase appetite — Steroid use in dogs tends to cause an impressive appetite increase, which can lead to coprophagia.
Most medical issues that lead to coprophagia are fairly easy to diagnose, whether through parasite screening, blood tests, or a thorough history.
Behavioral Reasons Why Dogs Eat Poop
If your dog eats poop because of a behavioral reason, it can be more challenging to diagnose and manage. Medical reasons are often first ruled out, leaving these potential behavioral reasons for coprophagia behind:
- Natural behavior — As mentioned, it’s perfectly natural for mother dogs to ingest the feces and urine of their puppies, while older dogs simply like the taste of other animals’ stool.
- Anxiety — Coprophagia linked to anxiety is often caused by harsh punishment for inappropriate elimination, forcing the dog to hide the evidence of defecating indoors.
- Restrictive confinement — Dogs who are confined in small areas or isolated for long periods of time may turn to coprophagia to keep their tiny enclosure clean, gain nutrition, or simply out of boredom.
- Lack of training and supervision — Puppies commonly eat their own stool or that of their littermates as they explore the world. If they’re confined to a whelping box or exercise pen, they may investigate, play with, and eat stool. Since coprophagia tends to attract a lot of attention, although it’s negative, the behavior may be reinforced.
Early intervention of behavior-caused coprophagia can help prevent this activity from becoming a bad habit.
How to Stop Your Dog from Eating Poop
Discovering the reason behind your dog’s coprophagia is the first step in proper management. Once a diagnosis has been achieved, you can begin the appropriate treatment to stop this unpleasant behavior. Treatment may include:
- Diet change — A change in diet to one that is more digestible, or with a different protein source, may help some dogs gain proper nutrition from their food, preventing them from turning to coprophagia.
- Digestive enzyme supplementation — For dogs with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, adding digestive enzymes to their food will break down the food so their bodies can properly digest it.
- Aversive products — Adding a taste-aversion product to your dog’s food can make stool less appealing.
- Good hygiene — By picking up stool in your yard immediately after your dog defecates eliminates the possibility for coprophagia.
- Training — Teaching your dog to “leave it” or “drop it” can help dissuade your pooch from grabbing a snack while out walking. You can also train your dog to come indoors and wait for a special treat immediately after defecating, so they learn to come for a treat, rather than finding their own.
If you’re still struggling to get your dog to stop eating poop, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a thorough physical exam and comprehensive diagnostic work-up to rule out any underlying medical reasons.