Ultimate Dog

By Kelly Rowett - Reading Time: 10 minutes
dog poop eating

The Real Science Behind Why Dogs Eat Poop

While many of our four-legged friends indulge in behavior that seems downright strange, there is none quite as off-putting to us humans as poop eating.

Even if you consider yourself to be a laid-back dog owner, the mere sight of your dog eating poop is sure to turn your stomach, especially if your pup tries to give you a big sloppy kiss afterward!

If your dog is partial to some poop, a habit known scientifically as coprophagia, then rest assured that this behavior is quite common. Poop eating has many potential causes; some require veterinary attention to rectify, while others can be fixed with some targeted behavioral training.

Reasons Why Dogs Eat Poop

In many cases, there are clear-cut reasons behind your pooch’s poop consumption.

But on occasion, the behavioral and instinctive urges that make your dog indulge in poop eating can be trickier to diagnose and resolve.

Let’s take a look at the most common reasons why your dog eats poop and what you can do to stop them.

1 Nutrient Malabsorption

Nutrient malabsorption is a common cause of coprophagia.

If your dog cannot absorb what he or she needs from their food, then attempting to supplement their diet with poop is a frequent scenario. Malabsorption may be caused by medical conditions or a poorly digestible diet that leaves your dog hungry.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency or EPI is one such condition that causes inadequate production of digestive enzymes, thus leaving your dog unable to fully digest their food and potentially more partial to poop. 

Solution: Raise your concerns with your holistic vet, even if your dog is not known to have any current medical conditions.

If your dog is suffering from malabsorption or diet deficiencies, your holistic vet will be able to prescribe the appropriate medication and provide advice about dietary changes or supplementation. Your dog should stop eating their poop once these changes have been made.

2 Trace Element Deficiency

If your dog regularly eats poop, as well as dirt or plastic, then it could be a sign of trace element deficiency. This means your dog is deficient in certain vitamins and minerals.

While this is less likely with high-quality pet food or a well structured raw diet that is specially formulated to meet your dogs’ needs; if you have recently rehomed a rescue dog or taken in a stray, this could well be the cause for their behavior.

Solution: Have your dog checked out by a holistic vet to ensure that their diet meets their nutritional requirements. Supplements may be given to increase certain trace elements such as oral supplementation of vitamin B12. If such deficiencies directly caused your dog’s stool eating, you should see an improvement once their nutritional needs are met.

3 Overly Rich Diet

We get it, you love your dog and want to feed them the very best. However, some modern pet foods and fancy dog diets are overly rich in protein and fats. If all of this rich food is not fully digested, your dog’s poop becomes, in effect, a second meal, as disgusting as that sounds.

Solution: Have a chat with your holistic vet about your dog’s diet and, if necessary, try out other dog foods or a different diet. Remember to transition to another food type progressively and wait to see if there is an improvement in your dog’s behavior over the course of several weeks.

4 Parasites

Your dog’s poop preference could also be down to a parasitic infestation. 

Even if they eat well, dogs with parasites will be left feeling hungry and may turn to poop to help make up for the calories that the parasites in their gut are consuming. Also, when your dog eats other dogs’ poop, there is a high risk of him picking up more parasites and even diseases.

Solution: If you suspect your dog is suffering from an infestation of worms, we recommend talking to your holistic vet about natural solutions to rid them of these unwanted guests. They will be able to suggest certain foods, herbs, and homeopathic remedies that are best suited to combat the particular species of worms that is causing your dog’s tummy troubles.

Furthermore, make sure your dog is getting adequate probiotics in their diet. This will help to keep their microbiome balanced, combat worms, and reduce the risk of infestations occurring in the first place. 

5 Other Medical Conditions

Parasites aside, other medical conditions can increase your dog’s hunger levels. Conditions such as thyroid disease or diabetes can cause your dog to feel a strong desire to eat more, even when they’ve just been fed.

Solution: Even if your dog has not been diagnosed with any medical conditions in the past, it is still important that you get him checked out. Should you find out that your dog has developed a condition over recent months, your holistic vet will be able to advise you on how to treat it and resolve any poop-eating related issues.

6 Greedy Eaters

Some dogs are quite simply more greedy than others.

Rather than a medically induced increase in appetite or their perception of hunger levels, naturally greedy dogs are much more likely to eat feces, as stated in this study on Canine Conspecific Coprophagy. 

So, if your dog just cannot take no for an answer when food is around or steals your meal off the table the second your back is turned, chances are this could be related to their insatiable appetite.

Solution: There is no straightforward solution, apart from keeping a close eye on your dog and trying to remove the ‘temptation’, as well as reinforcing basic ‘leave’ commands.

It can be helpful to distract your dog with a treat or a favorite toy once he has defecated. If you do this every time, your dog will turn to you afterward rather than straight to his poop, and you will have more time to scoop while he is distracted by the prospect of an upcoming treat.

It goes without saying, you should keep your dog’s living quarters as clean and poop-free as possible. Walks away from common dog walking routes will be beneficial, especially while you are putting the above treat routine into place.

7 Puppyhood 

Just as mum cleaning up after her young is considered to be natural, most dog experts would agree that it is also natural for young pups to be interested in their poop – to the point where they may try out how it tastes.

In most cases, this can be put down to pure curiosity. So, if your pup tries his poop once or twice, then there’s no cause for concern. However, if this behavior continues into adulthood, then you may have a problem.

Solution: This behavior is normal in puppies and should fade by the time your pup reaches nine months old. If you have any worries, or your dog excessively devours his own feces, then you should bring up the matter with your holistic vet. This will rule out any possible underlying problems and help to put your mind at ease.

8 Stress & Anxiety

Dogs from puppy farms, shelter adoptees, or those who have been neglected in the past may eat their poop due to stress. 

If your dog has spent some time in restrictive confinement, or a stressful environment, he may have started to eat his poop as a coping mechanism. This behavior can become so ingrained into their mind that it becomes a habit and continues automatically, even when the dog has been resettled into a loving home.

Furthermore, coprophagia may result from bad house training, especially with over sensitive dogs who may feel the need to “hide the evidence” of their accident before they’re told off.

Solution: If your dog fits into this category, it can be challenging to prevent them from continuing this behavior.

You must try to treat the cause – stress, rather than just the poop eating. Making your dog feel safe and secure will help a lot. You could also ask for advice from your holistic vet or a canine behaviorist to try to find ways to help to alleviate your dog’s stress. This, in turn, should help to stop their unsavory habit.

If your dog messes in the house, punishing or shouting at your dog is not going to solve the problem, it will just make matters worse.

Ensure that your dog has plenty of toilet breaks, especially if they do not have easy outdoor access. Revisit the basics of toilet training with your dog and be sure to praise them when they “go” outside.

Changing your dog’s daily schedule so that they go outside at set times will help to avoid any accidents and should resolve the issue. If you work long, varied hours and can’t get home to let them out during the day, recruit a friend, family member or local dog walker to help.

9 Boredom

Bored dogs are often misjudged as problem dogs.

If your dog is kept outside alone for long periods, he may resort to making his own entertainment, such as eating your plants, digging holes, or even eating his own poop.

Solution: Once this habit has set in, it can be difficult to stop.

Some dogs need a lot of stimulation, whereas others are quite happy to nap for several hours while waiting for their owner to return. If your dog is alone for long stretches of time, you could try enlisting a friend or local dog walker to pop over to play with them, take them for a walk or simply provide some company.

There are also plenty of new generation cameras that allow you to monitor and even speak to your dog remotely. Using one will enable you to identify when your dog’s behavior becomes problematic, thus giving you a better idea of when to plan for any visits or walks to break up their day and stop them from eating their poop.

10 Elderly or Sick Companion 

Dogs are pack animals and instinctively look after one another.

If your dog lives with an elderly or sick dog, they may eat this dog’s poop as a way of “protecting” them. In the wild, doing so would help to protect the pack from predators, who would undoubtedly see that individual as an easy meal.

Solution: There is very little you can do here to change your dog’s natural instinct, so you’ll have to work on strategies to ensure that you pick up after your dog straight away.

If your dogs are kept outside while you’re away from home, you may want to consider separating them. If your dog does this when you’re out walking, keep them on their leash until your other dog has done its ‘business’ and you’ve cleaned it up.

Conclusion

Whether you believe your dog’s taste for poop is behavioral, instinctive, medical, or a combination of the above, it’s important to get your pooch checked over by a holistic veterinarian. Aside from mothers with young pups, or curious puppies, coprophagia is often misunderstood and can be difficult to resolve.

Once your holistic vet has ruled out any medical conditions that could be causing this behavior, it is essential to try to reinforce basic ‘leave’ commands using praise or treats when your dog obeys. Anxiety, boredom, and stress can also be responsible for poop eating, so examine your dog’s daily routine and try to make positive changes to help them overcome this behavior. Consulting a local dog behaviorist can help, as well as enlisting a local dog walker, friend, or family member if you work long hours away from home.

Coprophagia may be disgusting to us humans, but to our dogs, it’s often a cry for help. Once you understand the root cause of your pups’ poop eating, you’ll be able to take the appropriate steps to resolve this distasteful behavior.

Sources:

Morgan, Jessica, DVM et.al. A quick review of canine exocrine pancreatic insufficiency”, https://www.dvm360.com/, 09/01/2009

Toresson, L. et. al. “Oral Cobalamin Supplementation in Dogs with Chronic Enteropathies and Hypocobalaminemia”, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/, 12/09/2015

AKC Staff, “Dog Parasites”, https://www.akc.org/, 4/17/2015

Diniz Gonçalves Coêlho, Matheus et.al, “Probiotic Therapy: A Promising Strategy for the Control of Canine Hookworm”, https://www.researchgate.net/, 12/2013

Horwitz, Debra. DVM, DACVB, et. al, “Dog Behavior Problems – Coprophagia”, https://vcahospitals.com/

Benjamin L. Hart, et. al. “The paradox of canine conspecific coprophagy”, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/, 01/12/2018


Kelly Rowett

Kelly Rowett is an animal lover and experienced full-time writer who’s passionate about creating high-quality content. When she’s not typing away at her laptop, you’ll find her hiking the coast path or playing endless seaside fetch with a pair of energetic Spaniels.

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