Dogs eat poop sometimes. It happens. It’s a gross habit, but it’s more common than people might think. In a 2012 study, one in every four dogs got caught eating feces—and one in six did it more than five times. It’s most common in multi-dog households where one canine learns it from others.
In the wild it is also part of canines' scavenging instincts and hunting behaviors. For domesticated dogs, particularly rescues or those that have experienced food insecurity, if they have fed on a kill before and consumed an animal's 'gut content' the behavior may be a bit more hard-set.
Eating poop isn’t necessarily dangerous if it’s their own, but dogs can get themselves into trouble if they eat other animals’ droppings. Many pet parents ask how to stop a dog from eating poop. It may be one of the weirder dog behavior questions out there, but there are several behavioral and even nutritional strategies pet parents can try.
Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?
Poop-eating is particularly common in puppies as a way of exploring the world around them. Also, mama dogs often clean up their puppies’ poop by licking and eating it. In fact, puppies will sometimes mimic this behavior, or smell the poop on their mother’s breath and mistake the scent for food. Either way, most puppies grow out of this by the time they’re about nine months old.
If adult dogs are still eating poop, the reason is usually nutritional or behavioral. Here are some reasons why a dog may be eating poop:
- Medical conditions or drugs that boost appetite
- Nutritionally deficient diets
- Problems with nutrient absorption
- Learned behavior (typically from adult dogs or mothers)
Medical or behavioral reasons a dog may be consuming animal poop in the yard or on their walks:
Attention-seeking - If a pet parent yells at a dog for eating poop, they might do it more often, just to get some interaction.
Anxiety - Stressed-out dogs tend to make unwise snacking choices. Poop falls squarely into that category.
Safety - Some dogs may consume feces instinctually to remove the scent from the area so any apex predators don’t linger.
Confinement - Dogs in confined spaces like shelters and puppy mills are more likely to eat poop.
Punishment - Dogs who are punished for eliminating indoors as part of house training may start eating poop to “get rid of the evidence.”
An online vet consult can be the easiest way to find out if a dog is eating poop for concerning medical or behavioral reasons. An in-person vet visit, if available, will allow vets and pet parents to rule out any medical condition that could be causing the dog's compulsion to consume poop.
Otherwise, there’s usually some kind of environmental or developmental cause for this dog behavior. These may harder to figure out, mostly because no one can sit down and ask a dog directly, but dog psychology offers a few possible explanations:
How to Stop a Dog From Eating Poop
If the poop-eating doesn’t have a medical cause, a dog behavior and training solution will usually be the way to figure out how to stop a dog from eating poop.
Remove the Temptation
Pick up the dog’s poop as soon as they go to the bathroom, even if they go in the yard. On walks, keep a lookout for left-behind poops and draw the dog away before they can see or smell it.
Train the Dog to “Leave It” and “Come”
The “leave it” command can keep a dog away from poop and other no-no’s, from chocolate to Grandma’s Christmas turkey. Adding “come” helps when the dog is across the yard or the dog park, and makes sure they don’t succumb to temptation.
For this to work against serious temptations, the dog has to be solidly and reliably trained.
Try a Taste-Aversion Product
One would think that dog poop would taste bad enough to deter a dog, but that’s clearly not the case. For some pet parents, it helps to add a taste aversion supplement. These dog health care products make a tempting “treat” taste like something the dog doesn’t want—pepper or garlic, for example.
Some of these products are specifically made for poop-eaters. They’re marketed as “coprophagia deterrents,” coprophagia being the scientific name for poop-munching.
Keep the Dog Active
Sometimes, dogs eat poop just because they’re bored—the same way people eat potato chips and ice cream, but just a little more disgusting. Add an extra play session to the dog’s day, and make sure they have plenty of toys to keep them entertained when they’re alone.
What Should Dogs Eat?
Some scientists believe that dogs eat poop because their systems crave some nutrient that’s missing from their diet. For some dogs, the answer to the poop-eating problem might be as simple as switching to a better dog food. Many of the bargain brands available in grocery stores are packed with fillers and are the equivalent of potato chips.
Another possible solution is to add supplements to a dog’s diet—which supplement to add will depend on what the dog eats daily. Talk to a vet about what the dog eats and what might be missing from their diet.
Have More Dog Behavior Questions?
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