You can’t believe what you’ve just seen. Out in the garden, you’ve just caught your dog eating poop. It’s not the only disgusting habit people find baffling – toilet drinking, rolling around in the mud, and sniffing butts all seem a little strange.
But no question is as puzzling as to why do dogs eat poop?
Far from disgusting, this unusual habit actually displays a fascinating and insightful look inside our dogs’ minds. And may even be a symptom of a broader underlying condition.
Below we’ll explain everything you need to know about why dogs eat poop and what you should do about it.
Why do dogs eat poop?
Eating poop, also known as coprophagia [kop–ruh-fey-jee-uh], is a common behavior in animals. Indeed, a study of over 1,500 dogs discovered almost a quarter (23%) ate poop at least once in their lifetime.
But, it’s not just the “delicious” taste and texture they’re after. There are numerous reasons why dogs eat poop: some normal, some less-so-normal.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the normal reasons dogs eat poop:
- They enjoy it
Strange as it sounds, some dogs just love eating poop. In the study of 1,500 dogs, 16 percent were “frequent stool eaters.” Yum…
For people, it’s hard to wrap our heads around the concept. But dogs don’t perceive the world the way you or I do. Their sense of smell and taste is vastly different from our own. Meaning they can taste undigested fats, proteins, and other foodstuffs seemingly invisible to our lackluster tastebuds.
There’s also the texture – dogs show a preference for firmer, fresher stools (less than two days old).
- They’re nursing
When nursing, female dogs will often eat their young’s poop to keep the den clean and free from diseases and parasites. They’ll also lick their newborn pups to encourage them to go to the toilet.
In turn, young pups follow mum’s lead instinctively. If mum is cleaning up poop one mouthful at a time, her pups will do so too.
But, as they grow up and become a little more independent, they’ll often grow out of this behavior. Some won’t, however, forever remaining poop eaters.
Abnormal reasons why dogs eat poop
Sometimes a dog eating poop isn’t just bizarre; it’s a sign of an underlying issue. Although most cases of coprophagia are unlikely to be abnormal, it’s still important to look for medical or behavioural causes.
- They’ve got a medical condition
Numerous medical conditions increase the likelihood of a dog eating poop. From medications to dietary deficiency, speaking to your vet should uncover why your dog has suddenly started eating poop.
Potential causes include:
- Medications like steroids
- Digestion difficulties
- Dementia and other neurological conditions
- Diseases that increase appetite, like diabetes, thyroid disease, and worms
- Illnesses that alter the smell or texture of their poo to make it more appealing
- They’re hungry, bored, or anxious
Hungrier dogs or so-called “greedy eaters” are more likely to eat poo. It may just be that they love eating it. But it’s also important to ask if you’re feeding your dog enough and whether you’re sticking to a regular feeding schedule?
When is your dog most likely to eat poop? Before or after mealtimes?
Dogs also eat poop when stressed, anxious, or bored. If your dog spends long periods alone at home, eating poop might be the only thing to do. The solution is to provide mental stimulation or consider hiring a dog walker to keep them company during a long day.
Punishing your dog will only make matters worse if they’re eating poop because they’re stressed. Instead, you may need to speak to your local vet or behaviorist to understand what’s going on.
- They want your attention
Like small children, dogs can act up to get attention. They learn that when they eat poop, you immediately run towards them shouting, “drop it.”
Soon, it becomes a game. They eat poop; you come running. And on and on it goes.
Not every dog responds this way, but it’s not uncommon. It’s a learned behaviour to get their owner to play with them. If reinforced, it will carry over into adulthood, making the behavior extremely hard to train out.
Then again, ignoring your dog as they eat their own poop is easier said than done.
How to stop a dog from eating poop
If you suspect a deeper reason for eating poop (or your dog regularly does so), speak to your local vet or behaviorist for advice.
There are a couple of things you can try at home:
- Train them to “leave it” upon command when they see poop out on a walk. It’s critical to stay patient and to use treats and rubs to reinforce the command.
- When they don’t eat poop, you should give them plenty of positive reinforcement: praise, attention, treats, and more.
- Keep note of when you spot your dog eating poop, and try to see if it relates to mealtimes. If so, stick to a meal routine and consider increasing your dog’s food. You may also want to find foods that fill them up for longer.
- Give your dog more attention throughout the day. Playing keeps them stimulated and active and reduces any thoughts of eating poop.
- Make sure to clean up your dog’s stool if your dog goes to the toilet when they’re out.
- Use a toy or ball to occupy their mouths and keep them distracted.