We all know Labradors have some disgusting habits, but one of the worst has to be chowing down on a nice fresh poo. While not all Labs indulge in this filthy habit, it is surprisingly common amongst the breed and dogs in general.
Why Does My Labrador Eat Poo?
There are a whole range of different reasons why your Labrador may have a habit of eating poo (coprophagia), with the main two reasons being behavioural and physiological. We are going to go into a bit more detail about why Labs eat poo later in this article along with ways you can discourage them from doing so.
Is it Common for Labradors to Eat Poo?
We already mentioned that it is quite common for Labs to eat poo, but just how common is the habit? While we do not have specific information for just Labradors, a study was carried out in 2012 led by Dr.Benjamin Hart, from the University of California, that found the following:
- 24 percent of the dogs in the study were found to be poo eaters
- 16 percent of dogs were classed as “serious” faeces diners, which means that they partook in the activity five times or more.
Dr. Hart concluded 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 faeces that could occasionally be dropped in the den/rest area. The only way that wild canids can remove faeces before infective larvae hatch is by consuming them.”
The study carried out by Dr. Hard consisted of a couple of different surveys that were sent to around 3,000 dog owners.
Is Eating Poo Bad for My Labrador’s Health?
While us humans find it completely disgusting to eat poo, it’s really not that bad from a dog’s point of view. They have evolved over millennia as scavengers, eating anything they find on the ground and poo is just one of these survival behaviours that canines have developed to cope with starvation. Labradors have had this behaviour passed onto them from their ancestors.
What this all means is that eating poo doesn’t really have any adverse effects for your Labrador, apart from rather smelly breath. Most vets will also confirm that poo eating is perfectly fine and shouldn’t do any harm to your Lab.
Facts About Labs Who Eat Poo
Coprophagia is generally considered a normal process or habit for Labrador puppies who are starting to explore the world around them. While most will be happy with a sniff, some will Labrador puppies will develop a taste for it. Here are some facts about poo eating Labradors:
- A Labrador will usually eat hard poo and not soft, poorly formed poo or diarrhoea.
- Poo eating Labs should be no different to train than those who do not conduct in the habit.
- Poo eating Labs are usually greedier (although we all know the Labrador breed is greedy in general).
- Female Labs are the most likely to eat poo, with healthy males being the least likely.
- 85 percent of poo eaters will only eat another dogs poo, not their own.
- 92 percent of dogs will only eat poo that is one to two days old.
Specific Reasons Why Your Labrador Eats Poo
11 Behavioural Reasons Why a Lab Eats Poo
To start with we are going to look at some of the behavioural reasons why a Labrador might eat poo. If your Lab seems healthy, consider the following:
Labs and dogs in general love attention, whether it is good or bad. If your Labrador is feeling like they are being left out or ignored they may try to get themselves into trouble so they can get your attention. Chomping down on a nice poo is a sure-fire way to get your attention, especially if they know it annoys you. If you notice your Labrador eating poo try not to make a big deal out of it.
If your Labrador spends a lot of time alone it may be the reason why they like to eat poo. Several studies have shown that dogs who are kept alone in basements, outside or in kennels are much more likely to develop a taste for faeces than those who spend a lot of time near their owners.
They See Another Dog Doing It
One of the most common reasons why a Labrador eats poo is because they see another dog do it. We experienced this with our two Labs. The older girl Daisy has a habit of eating poo and our younger boy Winston started mimicking her.
This sort of ties in with being kept alone and attention seeking. If your Labrador is bored they will be much more likely to develop a habit to keep themselves entertained. Poo eating is one of these habits, so if you have to leave your dog alone for long periods of time make sure you clean up their faeces before you head out.
We always recommend that you use reward based rather than punishment-based house training methods. Punishing your Labrador to teach them that pooing in the house is bad has a whole load of downsides with one of them being coprophagia. The reason why they start to eat faeces is because they associate the poo with being told off, so they try to hide the evidence by eating it.
Female Labradors will often eat the poo of their puppies to keep the area they are in clean. This cleaning up process can last for weeks and many puppies engage in the behaviour as well. In some cases, the habit will carry on as the puppy ages.
They Are a Puppy
Lab puppies are inquisitive beings that love to explore the world around them. Part of this inquisitive behaviour is to eat and smell everything within reach of them. Lots of Labrador puppies may try a little bit of poo and then decide that they like it. Most puppies will eventually grow out of the habit, but some can continue to do it into adult life.
Association with Real Food
If you feed your Labrador close to where they go to the toilet they may start to associate the smell of food with poo.
Living with an Elderly or Sick Dog
Healthy, younger Labradors may develop poo eating habits when there is a sick or elderly dog in the household. This is especially the case if the dog suffers from faecal incontinence. It is believed that this may be related to the instinct of dogs to protect the pack from predators.
Smelling It on Their Mum
It is possible for a Labrador puppy to get confused if they smell faeces on their mother’s breath after they clean up their mess. Additionally, sometimes a Lab’s mum may regurgitate their dinner which may be mixed with a little bit of puppy poo. These two things can then lead to the puppy developing a taste for poo.
They Are Scavengers
Dogs are naturally scavengers and they are attracted to a whole range of different scents. Unlike you, your Labrador doesn’t find faeces disgusting and if they are hungry or greedy enough they may just take a bite.
Medical Reasons for Why a Lab May Eat Poo
With the behavioural reasons out of the way, lets look at some medical reasons that may lead to coprophagia in a Labrador.
There are a whole range of different forms and types of parasites and eventually they will all start to impact the health of your Labrador. Intestinal parasites can drain all of the important nutrients from your Lab’s food before they properly digest it. This can make your Lab hungry and sick, which may lead to coprophagia.
If your Labrador has been on steroids did the poo eating start around the same time? Steroid use can lead to an increased appetite and poo eating.
Digestive enzymes are an important part of the digestive process for a Labrador. Without the correct enzymes your Lab will have trouble fully absorbing their food. In the wild, dogs tend to get all their essential digestive enzymes from their prey, however, it is slightly different for a domesticated Labrador.
Most household Labradors are fed highly processed kibble diets. In some cases, these processed foods can be lacking in essential digestive enzymes, which can lead to your dog developing a number of health issues. With less nutrients being absorbed, your Labrador may try to find alternative methods and food sources to get what they need. Faeces still contains nutrients, so they see it as a great food source.
Anything from thyroid issues to diabetes and Cushing’s Disease (CD) may cause an increase in appetite in your Labrador. This increased desire for food can cause them to find food in all sorts of world places, including faeces.
This condition is also known as Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI). It is a condition where your Labrador fails to create or creates very little digestive enzymes in the pancreas. Like we mentioned above, these digestive enzymes help to absorb nutrients, so if they are not there your Lab may starve. Common symptoms of this medical condition include diarrhoea, weight loss, and coprophagia.
Any other conditions not on this list that may lead to inadequate nutrient absorption can make your dog develop a poo eating habit. Your dog may even begin to eat other animals faeces, along with their own, to get the nutrients they desire. Different animals have different amounts of nutrients in their faeces, so you may be able to use this to determine which condition your dog has.
In some cases a lack of hydrochloric acid can lead to poor digestion and ultimately poo eating. A Lab may become deficient in hydrochloric acid through a bad diet or even old age. The digestive process uses hydrochloric acid to break down protein. Trace mineral deficiencies are linked to stool eating, as well as consuming of other even more unsuitable substances like plastic.
Lack of Food
Does your Labrador get enough food? Its usually the opposite for most Labs, but in some cases owners do not feed their dogs enough food. It is also important to make sure that your Labrador’s feeding schedule is kept regular. A hungry Lab will look for other sources of food, including poo.
How Do I Stop My Lab from Eating Poo?
Now you know most of the common causes of poo eating for a Labrador, let’s look at some ways to fix the problem.
Make Sure Your Labs is Happy & Mentally Engaged
A bored Labrador is going to get into all sorts of trouble, so make sure you take them out for regular walks, play games with them, and give them lots of attention. You should also make sure your Labrador has plenty of toys to play with and you can even leave the TV or radio on for them. Another great method to really stimulate your Lab’s mind and body is to do agility training with them.
Clean Up Their Area
While its not always possible you should try to pick up your Labrador’s poo as soon as they have done it. Don’t give your Lab the opportunity to taste that delicious chocolate log that has just dropped from their behind. Additionally, if you have another dog or another pet, make sure you clean up their mess as soon as possible as well.
Give Your Lab Some Doggie Vitamins
As a lack of important nutrients may be the cause of your Labrador’s poo eating habit, try to give them some doggie supplements. Vitamin-B deficiency is a common problem for dogs and it has been linked to coprophagia. Consult your vet before you rush out an buy a whole load of supplements as every Lab has different needs.
Enzyme Supplementation for Labs
As we have already talked about earlier in this article, the modern canine diet is a bit different to that of their ancestors. Modern food is higher in carbohydrates and lower in meat-based fats and proteins. Try supplementing papain or some probiotics into your dog’s diet; however, you may need to mix it up with some other food items.
Feed Your Labrador Some Raw Food
Raw food contains the digestive enzymes that are important to a Lab’s heathy digestive system. Try to introduce some raw food and protein into their diet. A great place source of digestive enzymes is green tripe.
Give Them Some Kelp or Apple Cider Vinegar
If your dog is suffering from a lack of trace minerals, you can add some kelp. Additionally, if your Labrador has a hydrochloric acid deficiency, a little bit of apple cider vinegar might do the trick (1 tsp per 11.3kg or 25 pounds in their food). This may help your dog’s digestive system mimic the missing acid and help their body compensate for the deficiency.
Make the Poo Taste Bad
While us humans probably can’t think of anything that would taste worse than poo, dogs are different. A common method for stopping dog coprophagia is to spray, sprinkle or place a certain substance on the faeces that will make it unappealing for your Labrador.
Specific products for this problem tend to have ingredients such as chamomile, pepper derivatives, yucca, garlic, parsley and monosodium glutamate. While this method may work for you, a study at the University of California, Davis found that they typically only work two percent of the time.
Check for Parasites
Make sure you check your dog’s stools for any signs of parasites regularly.
Work On Your Training
A big part of owning a Labrador is being able to train your dog. The “leave it” and “come” commands are especially usually for those with a poo eating problem. Teach your Labrador to come after they have done poo and give them a nice, tasty treat as a reward. Clean up the poo as soon as possible to stop your Labrador from going back to it.
A study that involved 1,500 dog owners that was conducted at the University of California, Davis found that punishment was an entirely ineffective form of training. It is best to just flat out ignore your dog when they are eating poo, rather than punishing them.