Dogs can have some disgusting habits, from drinking out of the toilet to licking other dog’s bums, but nothing can top when they decide to chomp down on a nice poo. While it’s incredibly gross to humans, coprophagia (eating poo) is actually a very common habit of many dogs. It is such a problem for some dog owners that it is a common reason for people to re-home their dog or even attempt euthanasia.
Why Do Dogs Eat Poo?
There’s a whole host of different reasons for dogs to eat poo and we are going to explain them below, however, it really boils down to two reasons – behavioural and physiologic issues. If your dog has a penchant for dining on faeces, don’t despair. While the poo eating problem hasn’t been researched extensively, there are ways to discourage your dog from eating poo.
How Common Is Dog Poo Eating?
We wrote above that poo eating is a common occurrence for dogs, but what are the numbers? In 2012 researches led by Dr.Benjamin Hart, from the University of California presented a study at the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior annual conference, that found that:
- 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.
It was concluded by Dr. Hart 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.”
Dr. Hart’s study consisted of a couple of different surveys that were sent to about 3,000 dog owners. While humans find it utterly disgusting to eat poo, it’s not really a bad thing to do from a dog’s point of view. Canines have evolved as scavengers, eating anything they find on the ground and eating poo is one of several survival behaviours that they have developed to cope with starvation.
Facts About Dogs Who Eat Poo
Coprophagia is generally considered a normal process or habit for puppies who are starting to explore the world around them. While most will be happy with a sniff, some will develop the habit of eating poo. Here are some facts about poo eating dogs:
- Dogs typically eat hard poos and will not usually eat soft, poorly formed poos or diarrhoea.
- Poo eating dogs are no harder to train then other canines.
- They are usually greedy dogs who love to steal food.
- Female dogs are more likely to be poo eaters, while healthy males have the lowest chance of developing the habit.
- 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.
Reasons Your Dog Eats Poo
11 Behavioural Reasons for Dog Poo Eating
First we are going to start with the behavioural reasons of why dogs eat poo. If your dog seems to be in healthy condition, consider the following:
Dogs love to crave attention, whether it is good or bad. If your dog is feeling like they are being ignored they may try and get themselves into trouble, because then they will have our attention. Sneaking into the garden and munching down on a nice poo lets them get an afternoon snack, while receiving our attention. If you notice your dog eating poo, try to not make a big deal out of it.
If you keep your dog alone during the day or night, it may be the reason why your dog likes to feed on faeces. Various studies have shown that dogs who are kept alone in basements, outside or kennels are much more likely to eat poo than those who live close to their owners.
They See Another Dog Doing It
Younger dogs may develop the habit after observing another dog doing it.
Dogs who are kept alone all day with not much to do may develop a new habit to keep themselves entertained. If there is poo within your dog’s reach and you typically leave your dog alone during the day, make sure you clean up the faeces before you head out.
Interestingly, dogs who have received harsh punishment or housetraining methods for pooing in the house can develop a poo eating habit. This is because they associate poo with being told off, so they try to hide the evidence by eating it.
There is a time when dogs will eat poo and it is actually a very natural thing to do. Female dogs will clean up after their puppies to keep the environment they are in clean. This can last a number of weeks and puppies may also engage in this behaviour as well. This poo cleaning process can be carried over to other dogs.
They Are a Puppy
Puppies love to explore their surroundings and part of this is eating or smelling everything within reach of them. Many puppies may decide to have a nibble of poo as part of them exploring the world. Puppies will usually grow out of this habit, however it can be carried over to adult life.
Association with Real Food
If you feed your dog close to where they go to the toilet it may be a reason for their faeces eating habit. Dogs may make an association between the smell of real food with those of poo.
Living with an Elderly or Sick Dog
Healthy, younger dogs 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
In some cases, dogs may get confused by smelling faecal odours on their mum’s breath after she has cleaned up their mess. Additionally, mum dogs may also regurgitate their dinner that may be mixed with a little bit of puppy poo. This can cause the puppy to develop the habit as well.
They Are Scavengers
Dogs are scavengers and they are attracted to a whole host of different scents. They do not find faeces disgusting and if the right opportunity presents itself, they may just take a bite. Additionally, if your dog is feeling hungry, a quick nibble on a poo can fill their stomach.
8 Medical Reasons for Dog Poo Eating
Now that we’ve gone through the behavioural reasons for why your dog may be eating poo. It is now time to talk about the possible medical reasons for the habit.
Parasites can take a number of different forms, however, they all have one thing in common; at some point the parasites inside your dog will begin to impact your dog’s health and comfort. Intestinal parasites can soak up all the important nutrients your dog needs from their food. This will in turn make them hungry, which could be a reason for the faecal feasting.
If your dog has been on a case of steroids, they may begin to develop the habit of eating poop. This is because some steroids can increase their appetite
Digestive enzymes are a key part of your dog’s digestive process, and without them they cannot fully absorb their food. In the wild, dogs get all the essential digestive enzymes they need from their prey. Domestic dogs are a little bit different however.
Most domesticated dogs are fed highly processed, kibble-rich diets. Sometimes these processed foods can be lacking in these digestive enzymes, which can cause your dog to develop a number of health issues. Due to the lack of nutrients being absorbed, your dog will begin to try and find them in different places, and that includes in poo. Faeces still contains nutrients, so dogs only see it as a good thing.
Anything from thyroid issues to diabetes and Cushing’s Disease (CD) may cause an increase in appetite in your dog. This increased desire for food can cause them to find food in all sorts of world places, including faeces.
Also known as Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI), this condition is where your dog fails to create, or creates very little digestive enzymes in the pancreas. A lack of these digestive enzymes will mean your dog will not be able to absorb the required nutrients and they will starve. Symptoms of this condition can include weight loss, diarrhoea, and of course, poo eating.
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.
A lack of hydrochloric acid that is brought on through old age or a bad diet can lead to poor digestion. This itself can then lead inadequate nutrient absorption, which may mean your dog turns to faeces to find the nutrients they need. 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
Your dog’s poo eating escapades may be simply down to a lack of food. If your dog is on a healthy, whole diet and is losing weight, it may be time to feed them more. Also make sure you keep to a regular feeding schedule, as a hungry dog may start to scavenge for other sources of food. If believe this is the case, it may be worth talking to your vet or checking the recommend food amounts for your size and breed of dog.
So How Do I Stop My Dog from Eating Poo?
We’ve now run you through some of the many possible causes of your pup’s fondness for faeces, now we are going to give you some ideas on how to fix it.
Keep Your Dog Mentally Engaged and Happy
Bored dogs can get themselves into all sorts of trouble, and that includes poo eating. Make sure you take them out for regular walks, play plenty of games like fetch or tug, and give them some attention. Also make sure they have plenty of toys to play with during the day and maybe even leave the radio on for them if you plan to be out a long time. Agility training is another great way to stimulate your dog’s mind.
Keep Their Area Clean
Just like you should ‘flush it down, if it’s brown’, you should pick up your dog’s poo immediately after they have done the deed. Don’t give your pup the opportunity to sample the delicious looking turd. Additionally, if you have any other pets make sure you clean up after them and if you’re a cat owner keep their litter tray out of reach from your dog as well. By keeping their area spotless, your dog won’t have the chance of munching on any poops.
Supplement with Dog Vitamins
Seeing as some dogs eat faeces due to them missing out on important vitamins and minerals, a supplement may be what is needed. Vitamin-B deficiency, in particular, has been linked with the habit. Talk to your vet about what vitamin supplement will be right for your dog and remember that all dogs will have slightly different requirements when it comes to supplements.
Enzyme Supplementation for Dogs
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 Dog Some Raw Food
Raw food contains those digestive enzymes your dog needs to help the digestive process. Make sure your dog gets their protein and raw food from a variety of places. 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 dog 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
As a human I can’t imagine any taste worse than that of poo; however, dogs are different. One way to stop dogs eating poo is to spray or place a certain substance on the faeces that makes it unappealing for them. Many of these products will include ingredients like 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 dog ownership 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 dog to come after they have done a number two, rather than reaching straight for that fresh poo. A tasty treat will be more to your dog’s liking than faeces, so make sure you use them when training your dog.
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.
Wrapping Up the Dog Poo Eating Problem
What you would think is a simple problem is clearly a bit more complicated than first seems. Your dog poo eating problem can be caused by a whole host of medical and behavioural reasons. We’ve tried to give you a good rundown of what problems may be causing your dog’s poo eating habits, and some potentially solutions. As always, if you are unsure take a trip to the vets, especially if it is medically related.
Tell us in the comments below if you have had any other successful methods to stop this dog poo eating problem.