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Why Do Dogs Eat Their Own Poop? and how to stop them

why do dogs eat their poop

Dogs are known for their quirky and odd habits. One of the strangest is their propensity to eat their own poop and others. This revolting behavior can have a variety of causes, from nutritional deficiencies to psychological issues. Fortunately, there are ways to stop your dog from eating poop. Why do dogs eat their own poop? And how should you stop them from doing it? Let’s find out!

How Many Dogs Eat Poop?

It’s not very common for dogs to eat their own poop, but some do. According to studies, approximately 24 percent of dogs eat poop. About one out of every six dogs (16 percent) are serial poop eaters, meaning they eat their own poop at least once a week. There is even a specific term for the practice: coprophagia (or coprophagy).

What is Coprophagia?

Coprophagia is a term used to describe the behavior of eating feces. This can happen if a dog has access to feces from others, or it’s eating its own fecal material. Coprophagia is a problem because it can lead to the development of intestinal parasites, like roundworms and hookworms. These are typically transmitted when a dog ingests its own feces.

Coprophagia can also cause diarrhea, or it can make a dog sick if they eat something toxic. In some cases, coprophagia is caused by a medical problem like an inflamed colon or an inability to absorb nutrients.

While this may gross out most people, it’s actually a quite common behavior in dogs.

Normal Reasons Why Dogs Eat Poop

Dogs who exhibit coprophagia (the consumption of faeces) may have behavioural or physiological reasons for doing so, or often a combination of both.

Herbivore poo (rabbit, sheep, horse, cow etc) has some nutritional value, whereas an interest in their own or other dog’s poo may be due to medical reasons, nutritional imbalances, or have an underlying behavioural cause.

Dogs are scavengers by nature and herbivore poo is pretty much just well-digested grass and a lot of dogs find it tasty. However, excessive amounts or obsessive consumptive behaviour can be indicative of a problem.

Dogs eating their own poop is a normal behavior that can be observed in many other different species of animals. It is most commonly seen in nursing female dogs who eat their youngsters poop to keep the den clean. In addition, eating other animals’ or another dog’s poop can be beneficial or harmful, depending on what they eat. For example, if a dog eats the feces orufff another animal that has eaten a poisonous plant, they could become poisoned as well.

If your dog has never been a poop eater and suddenly starts eating it, make an appointment with your vet. There are a number of possible reasons for this change in behavior, such as intestinal parasites, nutritional deficiencies, or gastrointestinal disease. If your dog eats their own poop for no apparent reason and is lethargic or uncomfortable, they may have an underlying medical condition and should be seen by a veterinarian.

Why do dogs eat their poop?
Why do dogs eat their poop?

What are the main reasons dogs eat their own poop?

There are a few different theories as to why dogs engage in copraphagia. Some believe that it’s simply a holdover from their days in the wild when they would need to consume all available nutrients in order to survive. Others believe that it may be a way for dogs to self-medicate, as certain types of feces can provide relief from gastrointestinal issues. Whatever the reason, copraphagia is generally considered to be a normal dog behaviors. However, if your dog is engaging in this behavior excessively, it could be a sign of an underlying health issue and you should consult your veterinarian.

Missing nutrients in their diet

Dogs eat their own poop for a variety of reasons, the most common of which is that they are trying to get some nutrient that they are missing from their diet. Some dogs might have a history of poor nutrition or starvation which caused them to eat poo for survival. If your dog is not getting enough protein, fat, or vitamins, he may start to eat his own feces as a way of supplementing his diet. 

When it comes to dog poo, however, there is no nutritional or behavioural benefit for a dog to eat it, other than a mother dog cleaning up after her very young puppies.

You can give your dog probiotics to help improve his digestive health and reduce the urge to eat feces.  

Anxiety and stress

Dogs that are crated or have anxiety or separation anxiety often engage in coprophagy because they feel anxious. This behavior can become a habit when it’s reinforced by those in charge of the puppy. Dogs with anxiety will often eat their feces because it helps get their owners’ attention, which is what they want to feel calm and safe. Others may have been punished for toileting in the house so started to eat their poo in an attempt to hide it.

It’s a game because they are bored

There are a number of reasons why dogs may eat poop when they are bored. For one, they may be looking for something to do.so they create their own entertainment and poop eating feels like it’s a game. They may even enjoy doing so.

When a dog is bored, they may start to explore their environment and look for anything that catches their interest. This includes sniffing and licking things that they normally wouldn’t consider eating, like poop. In addition, some dogs may eat poop as a way to get attention from their owners.

If a dog sees that their owner is busy or distracted, they may try to get their attention by doing something naughty, like eating poop. Finally, some dogs simply enjoy the taste of poop. While this may seem gross to us humans, it’s important to remember that dogs have a different sense of smell and taste than we do.

Parasitic infection

Dogs may not be feeling well and may be experiencing other symptoms associated with diseases of the intestinal tract. If they have been infected with a parasite that causes them to crave the taste of their own excrement.

If your dog suddenly develops the habit in association with symptoms of disease, but has never been a poop eater,  make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Learnt behaviour

Many adult dogs have learned to eat their poop. Some people think this is because they are imitating their mother’s behavior, but others believe it is just a matter of convenience. Either way, there are a few reasons why this may be beneficial for them. First, eating their poop helps them to consume all of the nutrients that they would otherwise miss. Second, it helps to keep their living environment clean and free of potential health hazards. Third, it may help to prevent them from becoming overweight or obese. Ultimately, eating their poop is just one of the many ways that adult dogs can take care of themselves.

Eating poop as a puppy

It’s a common behavior for puppies to eat poop, and there are a few reasons why they may start doing it when they are weaned from their mother’s milk. For one, puppies are exploring the world and trying to figure out what is edible and what isn’t. Eating poop may simply be a part of this exploratory behavior. Additionally, puppies learn a lot from their mothers, and eating poop may be something that they pick up from watching their mother do it. Some experts believe that eating poop helps puppies to develop beneficial gut bacteria. However, it’s important to note that this behavior should be discouraged, as it can lead to health problems later on in life. If you notice your puppy starting to eat poop, the best course of action is to immediately remove the feces and provide your puppy with a chew toy or another form of stimulation.

What are the health risks of dogs eating their own poop?

Unfortunately, eating poop can pose a serious health risk to both dogs and their owners. When dogs eat their own feces, they can contract a number of bacterial and parasitic infections including salmonella, E. coli, and giardia. In addition, coprophagy can also spread bacteria from the dog’s anus to its fur and skin, which can then be transmitted to humans. For these reasons, it is important to discourage your dog from eating its own poop and to seek veterinary care if your dog does show signs of illness.

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Why do dogs eat cat poop?

It’s not exactly clear why dogs eat cat poop, but there are a few theories. One possibility is that they’re simply curious and are drawn to the unique smell of cat feces. Another possibility is that they’re seeking out certain nutrients that are found in cat poop but not in their regular dog food. It’s also possible that eating cat poop is just a nasty habit that some dogs have picked up and can’t seem to break. Whatever the reason, it’s important to remember that cat poop can contain harmful bacteria that can make your dog sick. 

What should I do if my dog or puppy starts eating poo?

The first stage is to visit your vet – they will look at potential physical reasons for the poo eating and discuss things such as diet with you. They might want to do some investigations such as faeces or blood tests.

It is important to remember that it is normal for puppies to investigate things – they are inquisitive and learning about the world around them. They don’t have hands or opposable thumbs, and they navigate their world through scent, so it makes sense that their nose might lead them to a stinking pile of poop, and that they might put some of it in their mouths to find out more about it.

When the human responds to this behaviour with quite an intense reaction and physically pulls the puppy away, they are communicating with them that that pile of poop was a BIG DEAL. The subsequent deprivation leads them to conclude that next time they come across similar smelling stuff they had better get to it quick and ingest it rapidly before the human has a chance to remove them – because that stuff must be super valuable given the human’s reaction!

So, what we to do instead, whenever a puppy goes to investigate or picks up anything that might be dangerous to them (or valuable to you) is to call the puppy away from the item (don’t physically remove the puppy from the item OR the item from the puppy – this can exacerbate guarding and undesirable eating behaviours).

Move away from the puppy rather than towards them and make sure you have something amazing to reward them with when they respond to you calling them – delicious food that you can scatter on the floor or their favourite toy that you can throw. They will naturally spit out whatever is in their mouth in order to eat the food or pick up the toy.

Of course, you will need to practice getting your puppy to respond to you calling them (and rewarding them heavily) at other times when they are NOT distracted by poop!

How can you stop your dog from eating his own poop?

It’s natural for dogs to eat their own poop, but it’s definitely not something that we want them to do. Not only is it unhygienic, but it can also be dangerous as they may ingest parasites or other harmful bacteria. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to discourage your dog from eating his own poop and make sure he doesn’t develop this bad habit in the first place. 

Another important thing to keep in mind is always picking up your dog’s stools quickly and keeping them on the lead when outside. This will help prevent them from coming across any feces while out walking and being tempted to eat it ( if your dog is a scavenger, then read this!)

Positive reinforcement training is the best method if your vet has ruled out medical reasons for the habit – see below for one idea that will help.

Finally, remember that mental stimulation is just as important as physical stimulation so remember to play games with them or think about new activities for you and your dog to do together, such as obedience, agility, rally or flyball.

How can I train my dog out of the habit?

If physical causes have been ruled out by the vet, you then want to work on a really solid recall – this means being able to reliably call your dog away from anything, including poo!

Start off where there is no poo around. Decide what your recall cue is going to be (e.g., “Rover, come!”) and have your dog’s most favourite thing (either delicious food or a favourite toy) on you. With your dog near you to start with and not distracted, say “Rover, come!” and immediately produce the reward, regardless of what your dog is doing.

Introduce this game in the house to start with, until the dog is delighted when they hear you say the magic words “Rover, come!”. Repeat in the garden and then on walks when there are no distractions around and the dog is nearby. Only increase the difficulty in terms of distractions and the distance the dog is from you when they are reliably responding with great enthusiasm when they hear the magic words. It is vital that every time you use the recall cue, you produce something amazing.

The next stage is introducing food in a tub that the dog is unable to access (they might see you put food in the tub and then put the lid on it, or you might want to make some small holes in the lid of the tub so the dog can smell the food). Place it on the floor and when your dog shows an interest, call “Rover, come!”. Reward them heavily if they respond. If they don’t immediately respond, let them work out that they can’t gain access to the food and reward them when they make the choice to leave it and come to you. Repeat this until the dog is instantly coming away from the tub of food – you can even return to the tub together to get the reward out of the tub!

Practice with poop on the ground but the dog on a lead so that they cannot reach the poo – use your recall cue and reward heavily when they choose to come away from the poo and come to you.

You can also use your recall cue as soon as your dog has done a poo, so that they build a habit of pooping and running straight to you (rather than turning round and eating their mess!). Keep it positive so that your dog loves this new game and the value of eating poo should reduce.

Products that help your dog stop eating poop

To help this training process try COPRO-NIL, a faecal taste modifier which, when used with appropriate behavorial training, can help to break the pattern of behaviour.

Home remedy myths about stopping poop eating in dogs

There are many home remedies that you’ll find on the internet. They may or may not work as there is no scientific evidence to support them…. 

The pineapple method

There is no scientific evidence to support this method, but people believe that pineapple prevents coprophagia in dogs. Some people believe that if you give your dog a small chunk of fresh pineapple, which will make their faeces taste unpleasant and deter them from consuming it.However, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim.

The courgette method

There’s only anecdotal evidence to support the method.  Try putting small chunks of fresh courgette into your dog’s food. The theory is that the raw courgette makes their faeces taste less palatable and they won’t consume it anymore.

In conclusion

Dogs eat their own poop because they are hungry, not just for the nutrients but also for calories. The best way to stop a dog from eating feces is through positive reinforcement and training with rewards like food or toys. If you have tried these methods without success, there are other steps that can be taken such as using COPRO-NIL which  is a faecal taste modifier. There are also home remedies that you can try, but there is no scientific evidence to support their effectiveness.

So don’t dispair, you can stop your dog from eating poop!

References


Hart BL, Hart LA, Thigpen AP, Tran A, Bain MJ. The paradox of canine conspecific coprophagyVet Med Sci. 2018;4(2):106-114.
 Boze BGV. Correlates of coprophagy in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris) as assessed by owner reportsJ Appl Companion Anim Behav. 2010;4(1):28-37.
 Hutchins RG, Messenger KM, Vaden SL. Suspected carprofen toxicosis caused by coprophagia in a dogJ Am Vet Med Assoc. 2013;243(5):709-711.
Shadwick SR, Ridgway MD, Kubier A. Thyrotoxicosis in a dog induced by the consumption of feces from a levothyroxine-supplemented housemateCan Vet J. 2013;54(10):987-989.

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