Coprophagia is the relatively common dog behavior of eating feces. Most often, they consume their own dog poop, but they can also eat the poop of other dogs or eat cat feces right out of the litter box. Gross right?
Dogs may also eat cow excrement and the feces of other animals, and even of humans on rare occasions. So your dog only eats its own feces? Well that’s one positive thing going for you.
In this article, you are going to learn about some possible causes of dogs eating feces and how to stop a dog from eating poop.
Table of Contents
- What is coprophagia?
- Why is your dog or puppy eating poo?
- Rule out medical problems
- Is your dog constantly hungry?
- How do you stop your dog from eating poo?
- Involve a professional dog trainer
- How to stop a dog from eating poop summary
What is coprophagia?
Coprophagia is simply where a dog is a poop eater. A 2008 study found that 28% of dogs have a poop eating habit. It’s interesting to note that dogs normally poop outside of their den or home, so there is some aversion to being around it. Further, Dr. Benjamin Hart from the University of California, Davis in research presented in 2012, found that one in six dogs demonstrated serious poop eating behavior (meaning they were caught at least 5 times).
Hart presented his findings to the annual conference of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior:
“Our conclusion is that eating of fresh stools is a reflection of an innate predisposition of ancestral canids living in nature that protects pack members from intestinal parasite present in feces that could occasionally be dropped in the den/rest area.“
So it’s not your imagination, dogs instinctively eat poop.
Why is your dog or puppy eating poo?
To stop the undesired behavior of poop eating, you should first identify why your dog is eating feces:
- Cleanliness and evidence disposal. Consuming their own feces is a common behavior of many animal species. Cleanliness around the nest ensures that other animals won’t detect it and limits bacterial and fungal growth. Dogs who were scolded for accidentally pooping in the house may have learned to dispose of the evidence.
- Increased appetite. Hunger can prompt dogs to eat literally everything that remotely resembles food, including feces. While distasteful to us, a dog sees it’s stool as undigested dog food.
- Play behavior a puppy. Puppies consume poop as part of their normal development. It helps them explore the world around them and learn valuable lessons (including that feces taste like well, poop).
- Taste preference. Go figure! A dog may simply find the taste of it’s poop appealing. Say no more.
- Health disorders. Illnesses often cause weird eating habits. Metabolic, nutritional, and gastrointestinal disorders can cause coprophagia in dogs. You should have your dog checked out by your vet.
- Normal maternal behavior. For several reasons, mothers will eat the feces of their newborn puppies. This is completely normal and will stop on its own as the puppies grow.
Rule out medical problems
While most dogs who eat poop are healthy, medical problems should be ruled out first. Applying behavior modification when there is a medical explanation can be harmful.
To start, check for yourself if your dog’s feces are normal in consistency, size, and frequency. Increased urination can also point to medical problems associated with coprophagia.
Also, check that your dog’s body condition is normal. A dog with a nutritional deficiency may have an increased appetite for anything, including poop. Additionally, their feces may contain partially digested nutrients, making their poop palatable. Our 2nd dog had a big poop eating habit. She was healthy and happy, but we kept her on a diet to keep her slim. This was because she had arthritis in her elbows which started when she was a puppy so keeping a healthy weight was important for her joints. As such, she was always hungry and found the fecal matter of her brother delicious.
Your dog should be visually assessed by a veterinarian. Stool, urine, and blood samples must be taken to rule out any medical origins of coprophagia. If your dog eats the feces of another dog, they should both be examined.
If your doctor finds any health problems that could be causing coprophagia, you should follow your veterinarian’s directions.
Only if no medical problems or undernourishment is found should you proceed with the other methods described here.
Is your dog constantly hungry?
A dog can eat feces for the same reason that they eat anything else.
If your dog is underweight, they are likely not getting enough food. This would explain why they are trying to get some extra nutrients from whatever is available. Talk with your veterinarian about your dogs weight, your dogs diet, and what should be done.
If your dog is well fed and a medical problem has been ruled out, the most probable cause is that there isn’t much else to do. Yes, they may just be bored. Learn more about increased appetite in dogs here.
You can try giving your dog their meals through playing exercises or use so-called slow feeders and food puzzles. You can also split your dog’s daily amount of dog food into several smaller meals.
As with any behavior problems stemming from lack of stimulation, you can start providing additional walks, playing, or other forms of activity and owner attention which are tremendously helpful.
How do you stop your dog from eating poo?
In many cases, the best solution to the problem is to physically restrict your dog from having access to feces. This is especially useful if your dog happens to like the taste.
NOTE: There are all kinds of food additives on the market that claim to make the taste of your dog’s poop unappealing. We tried many to understand what might work for us as well as our patients. We found they are a waste of your money. Scientific studies show no more than a few percentage points success rates, and many customer reviews on online stores claim they are not effective. Solid reasoning: can you really make dog poop less palatable? We tried everything to test the effectiveness of such additives. From sprinkling crushed red chili pepper flakes on their poop to all the other additives. Didn’t make a difference in our little girls stool eating habit.
If your dog eats poop in the yard, your best shot is to keep it clean. Scoop up any feces you can find and throw it out in the trash. We found that having the pooper scooper handy everytime we let our little girl out, kept her poop eating down to a minimum.
If your dog eats his own poop right after defecation, you must pay close attention. Normally, dogs defecate two to three times a day, usually after eating or exercise. Wait for your dog to finish and immediately call them to you. If they respond, praise them, direct their attention elsewhere, and scoop up whatever you can.
If you are away during the day, keep your dog indoors ( no more than 10 hours at a time ) and your dog will do their business before you leave and upon your return only. If your dog is healthy, they’ll have no problems holding it.
During a walk, if your dog loves to enjoy the feces of strange dogs, it absolutely must be prohibited. You don’t know if that dog is healthy or may have parasites. Keep your dog on a leash, and whenever they show interest in feces, Give the command “No!” and direct them away. Don’t be aggressive, just control the situation. Praise your dog if he or she responds. We used the phrase “Off!” to direct our dogs to stop whatever they are doing and sit. It saved our males life as he once bolted after a cat from our car, we yelled “Off” and he stopped and sat. Thankfully it worked as a car drove right by which likely would have injured him.
Walks also initiate bowel movements, and most dogs defecate during them. As a considerate dog owner, you only have to keep a pack of plastic bags with you. Command your dog to sit and clean up.
If you let your dog off the leash, putting on a muzzle is an option. Each time you see your dog showing an interest in feces, call them to you and give the sit command. As always, give your dog praise and even a treat when they obey your commands.
If your dog eats out of a litter box, you can either direct their attention to somewhere else every time they wanders in its vicinity or keep the litter box out of reach. You can put the box behind a baby gate or cat door which only works if your dog is a large breed, or place a hood on top of the litter box.
Keep in mind though, that any measure you implement to keep your dog out of the litter box will also create an obstacle in your cat’s way. Make it balanced so your cat does not start to avoid the box altogether.
Involve a professional dog trainer
Coprophagia is a complicated matter in dogs. First, you must make sure there is nothing wrong with your dog as there can be multiple causes. Further, the circumstances in which it all happens can vary greatly.
Engaging the help of a skilled professional can help stop your dog from eating poop, a behavior problem with which many pet owners struggle with.
How to stop a dog from eating poop summary
Now that you understand some possible causes of dogs eating feces and how to stop a dog from eating poop, you can take the appropriate steps towards resolving this. And make no mistake, this will definitely make you happy.
This will go a long way towards a happy life for you and your dog. And keeping your Pet Happy is what we all want.