Why Does Your Dog Eat Poop? And How To Stop It

If your dog eats poop, you are not alone. A 2012 study from the University of California, Davis showed that 1 of every 6 dogs were “serious” stool eaters and 1 in 4 dogs had been caught doing this at least once.

But what is repulsive to us as humans, apparently had a survival advantage for our dogs’ ancestors. Dr. Benjamin Hart, the lead researcher on the study reflected that “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 parasites present in feces that could occasionally be dropped in the den/rest area.” 

Other canine researchers speculate that eating feces may have also been a survival strategy when food was scarce. By the way, of course there is a scientific name for this and it’s called coprophagia (say kop-ruh-FAY-jee-uh.) 

Puppies tend to exhibit this behavior as part of their developmental process and will also eat the feces of other animals, including cats and other dogs. Eating their own excrement is not harmful, but they could possibly pick up parasites or viruses from the stool of other animals. 

But what about the adult dog who starts to eat his own feces or the feces of other dogs? What could be causing this behavior?

First of all, if your adult dog starts to engage in this, there may be a medical reason behind it. These include:

Malabsorption syndroms

Medications, such as steroids

Diseases such as thyroid disease that cause an increase in your dog’s appetite

Nutritional deficiency

Parasitic infestation

You should consult with your veterinarian to rule these out.

Behavioral reasons include”

Attention seeking. And ask any dog owner whose dog starts eating his own feces. This will certainly get the owner’s attention. So don’t overreact.

Anxiety. This is often brought on by harsh house training by an owner who punishes the dog for a mistake in the house. The dog then eats his feces to get rid of the evidence, is punished and then spirals down into a vicious cycle.

Isolation. Dogs who are kept alone, particularly in a basement or other area in which they have little stimulation, will often develop coprophagia. Also dogs who have been kept in a very confined space are prone to developing it as well.

So, how do you stop this behavior?

Some veterinarians recommend vitamin supplementation as there has been some research showing dogs that are deficient in B vitamins are more prone to develop feces eating.

Some people have had success with giving their dogs papain, an enzyme derived from papaya and found in meat tenderizer. Consult with your vet before giving this.

Taste aversion products have also been developed to make the feces less appealing to your dog.

Other things you can do are to keep the dog’s yard picked up and free of feces. If you also own a cat, keep the cat’s litter box out of reach of the dog.

When you walk your dog and he relieves himself, clean it up right away.

When your dog does eliminate feces, train him to come to you immediately afterward by offering a treat. He will be much less likely to turn to what’s on the ground.

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By Ellen Britt

Dr. Ellen Britt has loved dogs since she was a child. She is particularly fond of the Northern breeds, especially Alaskan Malamutes. Ellen worked as a PA in Emergency and Occupational Medicine for two decades and holds a doctorate (Ed.D.) in biology.

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