If you are a dog owner, the likelihood is that you have seen your dog eat poop at some point, because as disgusting as it might seem to us, many dogs just like to eat poop – and it doesn’t even have to be their own! Dogs will eat other dogs poop, cow pats, horse manure, cat poop and fox poop. The technical term for eating poop is coprophagia and there can be many reasons why your dog may indulge in this behaviour which we will discuss in this article. Eating poop could be bad for your dog’s health (and unpleasant and embarrassing for you!) so should be discouraged and in this article we will also be looking at ways in which you can try to prevent it.
The reason why dogs eat poop has been a topic of debate for many years and nobody is yet to come up with a definitive answer, because dogs actually eat poop for a number of reasons. It could indicate a problem with their diet, a medical condition or a behavioural issue.
The domestic dog’s wild ancestor lived on a diet that contained more animal protein and less carbohydrates and plant proteins than today’s modern dog foods, and their digestive systems would have contained a specific mix of enzymes to deal with this diet. There is some evidence to suggest that our canine companions’ digestive systems are still better equipped to deal with their ancestors’ diet than the processed dog food we usually feed today. Some animal nutritionists believe that dogs eat poop to replenish some of the enzymes which break down carbohydrates, helping them to digest the food we are feeding them. It is also believed that some dogs eat poop because they are lacking certain nutrients in their diet. A lack of vitamin B is often said to be a cause of coprophagia.
There are many medical conditions that are believed to cause a dog to eat poop and if your dog suddenly starts eating poop more than normal it is important to get them checked by your vet. Here we will take a look at some of the more common medical reasons.
Some medical conditions can result in an enzyme deficiency. Enzymes break down the nutrients in your dog’s food so if your dog is lacking enzymes, they won’t be able to absorb all the nutrients they need from their food. The poop your dog excretes contains undigested nutrients which the enzyme deficient dog is then tempted to eat to replenish its digestive system. This creates a cycle which continues until the cause of the enzyme deficiency is identified and resolved.
Internal parasites could be absorbing the nutrients that your dog needs from its food, leading to a nutrient deficiency, which your dog tries to rectify by eating nutrient-filled poop.
Some medical conditions such as diabetes can cause your dog to be extremely hungry and they may eat poop to satisfy their hunger. Some medications, such as steroids can also increase your dog’s appetite.
Poop eating often begins as a natural behaviour and then becomes a habit. There are many natural behaviours which could lead to your dog eating poop.
- A mother with pups will instinctively eat poop to keep her den clean and reduce any scent which could attract predators.
- In multiple dog households, submissive dogs will sometimes eat the poop of the more dominant dogs.
- Stress, anxiety or boredom can all cause a dog to eat poop.
- If your dog feels that there has been a change in the amount of attention you have been paying them, they may start to eat poop for a reaction – even a negative reaction is better than nothing.
- Dogs are quick learners and don’t like being punished. If your dog has been punished for having an accident inside the home, they may try to “dispose of the evidence” next time.
- Dogs like to copy. If your dog watches as you clean up after them, they may try to copy you and pick up after themselves. They may also learn the behaviour from watching other dogs eat poop.
How Can We Stop It?
Dogs are naturally scavengers, and the dog’s wild ancestor commonly fed on the waste of other animals. Poop eating may just come naturally! However, it is quite unpleasant for us to see, and it can cause health issues, so it is best to try to prevent it if we can and here are some tips.
- Keep your house and garden clean and clear up any poo before letting your dog into your garden
- If you also have a cat, keep the litter box tidy, and ideally out of the dog’s reach
- Pick up your dog’s poop straight away
- Teach your dog to “leave it”
- Check for poop on walks and try to spot it before your dog. Good recall training ensures that you can call your dog back to you before they are tempted by the poop
- Don’t react if your dog eats poop or is just about to – this can make your dog more excited and reinforce the unwanted behaviour
- Avoid punishment, especially during housetraining, as they may try to “destroy the evidence”. NEVER “rub your dog’s nose in it”.
- Ensure that your dog is receiving enough attention and isn’t feeling neglected or bored
- Ensure that your dog is fed the correct amount of a good quality, complete dog food at regular mealtimes
- Ensure that your dog is regularly treated with a good quality anti parasite treatment
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Although embarrassing and stomach churning for us, poop eating for dogs is not unusual. The best way to prevent it is to remove the opportunity for your dog to do it and ensure that it doesn’t become a habit. In some cases, poop eating can indicate an underlying medical issue so if it begins suddenly, or if your dog is showing any other signs of being unwell, you should get him checked out by your vet.