There is one dog behavior that leads many dog owners to ask, “Why do dogs eat poop?” This behavior can be unsettling, as people would never consider doing the same. There are several different reasons that dogs do this, going back to their ancestors, the wolves.
Dogs have certain instinctive behaviors that can be triggered in the modern world. Read on to learn why your dog might be eating poop and what you can do about it.
This behavior of dogs eating poop is typical enough that there is a scientific name for it: coprophagia. In fact, there are both behavioral and physiological reasons that dogs eat poop.
Fortunately, there are ways of discouraging this behavior should you view it as undesirable. Some instinctual behaviors no longer serve domestic dogs anymore, and in this case you should be able to teach your dog to stop engaging in this poop eating behavior.
Dogs were bred to be hunters and scavengers, and they ate whatever they could find. In the Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Steven R. Lindsay, an animal behaviorist, discusses the possibility of this habit developing “to cope with the periodic adversity of starvation.” When dogs couldn’t find food, poop served as a source of nutrition.
Another theory is that this behavior developed as an effort to protect the pack from intestinal parasites. Wolves and other wild dogs would eat the fresh feces to protect their den-mates.
Whatever the reason, this behavior continues in some dogs today. Take a look at common reasons that dogs eat poop today.
They Learn to Eat Poop From Their Moms
At certain stages of life, poop eating is a normal dog behavior. When a mom has puppies, she will often eat the puppies’ poop to keep the “den” clean.
She also licks the puppies to encourage them to go to the bathroom. This usually lasts for the first three or four weeks of their lives, and puppies pick up this habit from their moms.
Puppies only know what they have experienced, and this experience leads them to think that eating poop is normal. You can discourage your puppy from stopping by ignoring it and cleaning up after your puppy as soon as it goes to the bathroom.
Don’t make a big deal about the behavior because you don’t want to reinforce it. Your puppy will eventually stop doing it.
Dogs Can Eat Poop to Clean Their Environment
If you don’t clean up the dog poop in your yard, your dog’s instincts may set in. It may start cleaning up the poop for you by eating it. This is more likely in female dogs than in males.
The same thing will happen if your dog is confined to a kennel for long periods of time. Rather than lying in the poop, your dog might eat it to clean its enclosure.
It is even more likely for this to happen when you have multiple dogs in the same family. Having a “pack” can trigger their instincts to clean out the yard or to make sure that feces with parasites isn’t left lying around.
The best way to prevent this behavior is to clean up after your dogs. If there isn’t any poop in the yard for them to eat, you won’t have this problem. It’s a good idea to do this before eating poop becomes a bad habit.
Other Reasons That Dogs May Eat Poop
When dogs experience anxiety or when something is bothering them, they find ways to cope. They might dig in your backyard, chew furniture or other household items, bark, or lick excessively. They might also start eating poop. In addition, dogs may eat poop for the following reasons:
- They have intestinal parasites
- Your dog is bored
- They are stressed
- Your dog may be seeking attention
- They like it
- They are hungry
- They are avoiding getting in trouble for having an accident
- Your dog have bad digestion
- They have an underlying condition such as thyroid disease, diabetes, or Cushing’s
Whatever the reason is, you will need to observe your dog understand why. If your dog is pooping in a small area and eating it, it could be to keep the area clean.
Should your dog makes a mistake, you can teach your dog where it needs to go to the bathroom, but your dog shouldn’t fear getting in trouble.
If your dog is bored, you can increase its exercise. Add in another walk during the day or spend time outdoors playing with your dog. You can distract your dog from this behavior by finding other things to do.
Sometimes dogs eat poop because they aren’t getting all of the nutrients they need. When a dog lacks essential nutrients, it will instinctively try to find them.
Your dog may eat its own poop, or it might eat other poop as well.
You should make sure that your dog is eating a balanced diet, so they receive all of the nutrition it needs. You can talk to your vet. He or she will be able to help you make sure that you are feeding the dog as it needs to be fed.
Isolation and Confinement
If your dog spends a lot of time alone in a cage or confined to a small room, it may be more likely to eat poop. Dogs are social animals, and they are most content when they live with the family.
When the dog is kept away from everyone in isolation, it can become stressed and pick up neurotic behaviors. It may start eating poop for entertainment, or it may be trying to keep its space clean.
You should do anything you can to let your dog be around you as much as possible. Take your dog outside for frequent walks, and be sure to pick up after it.
If you eliminate the poop, your dog will not be able to eat it. Eliminating the source of the problem will give your dog time to get out of this bad habit.
Living with a Sick or Older Dog
Living with a sick dog or puppy is another scenario that can bring out a dog’s instinct to eat poop. In the wild, canines live in packs, and they all work together to protect the pack.
If there is an older or sick dog, it can draw predators. Dogs will eat the infirm dog’s poop to make sure that this scent is unavailable to predators.
The best way to deal with this situation is to clean up any dog poop as soon as possible. If the poop isn’t there for your dog to eat, it may not develop this habit.
Make sure that you address it as soon as it starts so that your dog doesn’t have a chance to make it a part of its everyday life.
How to Get Your Dog to Stop Eating Poop
If your dog is eating poop, you will want it to stop. There are several ways to accomplish this, but first, you need to determine what is triggering this behavior.
If it is behavioral, there are steps you can take. First of all, you should keep the dog’s living area clean. This includes the yard. Start by making sure that you pick up any dog poop right away so that your dog can’t eat it.
If you have a litter box, you need to make sure that your dog can’t get to it. Initially, you might need to keep a closer eye on your dog and take it out on the leash so that you can pick the poop up right away. You also should train your dog with simple commands.
After your dog poops, use a keyword like “here,” and reward your dog with a treat. The treat may be enough of a distraction that your dog forgets about eating the poop.
If you think the problem might lie in the food and your dog isn’t getting the nutrients it needs, you might try an alternative dog food brand. Sometimes dogs eat poop from a vitamin B deficiency, and you should talk to your vet to make sure your dog is getting what it needs. You can also buy supplements to add to the dog food.
You can also increase your dog’s exercise time. Your dog might be bored or restless, and having extra time playing outdoors or going for a walk could cure the problem.
Most importantly, if your dog is eating poop, and you notice weight loss, discomfort, watery diarrhea, or other abnormal feces, you should talk to your vet. This may be the sign of something more serious that your vet can address with you.
If you have discovered that your dog is eating poop, you may start to question, “Why do dogs eat poop?” The answer is usually more straightforward than it appears. Eating poop isn’t nearly as offensive to dogs as it is to people, and they will do it for different reasons.
If your dog is bored or wants to keep its space clean, you can solve the problem by cleaning up the poop as soon as your dog goes to the bathroom.
When in doubt, consult with your vet to make sure that there isn’t an underlying problem. Generally speaking, it is normal for your dog to eat poop, but with a little training, you can teach them to stop this undesirable habit.