Why Does My Dog Eat Poop: Reasons and Prevention Tips

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Dog Eating Poop in Grass

We witness our dogs performing behaviors from time to time that may leave us scratching our heads, or even feeling downright disgusted. Why do dogs eat grass? Why do dogs eat their own poop? Why do dogs eat other dogs’ poop? Why do dogs scoot their bottoms? The list of similar questions I get on a regular basis could go on for pages. Sometimes there is a straightforward answer and sometimes, as owners, we are still left scratching our heads after hearing the possible causes for such behaviors.  

The scientific term for eating poop is coprophagia. While there are more benign reasons for this behavior, there are also some medical reasons that should be addressed. In general, it is considered normal for a dog to want to eat another species’ feces, but abnormal to ingest their own—except in few specific situations.  

Normal Reasons Why Dogs Eat Poop 

Although distasteful, eating poop is a common behavior among our canine companions. Reportedly, around 25% of dogs eat poop. Some dogs may just enjoy the taste, but it is theorized that this is an instinctual behavior that comes from their ancestors, the wolves. Wolves typically reside in dens and prefer to keep this area free of waste, which would cause filth and potentially spread intestinal parasites. 

It is normal for a dam to eat the feces of her litter. Again, this is to keep their area or their “den” clean. Mother dogs lick their pups to urge them to urinate and defecate and then clean up after them by eating their waste. This takes place for the first 2-3 weeks of the puppies’ lives. As puppies explore their environment with their mouths, they may be more apt to try eating poop as well. 

Abnormal Reasons Why Dogs Eat Poop 

Health Reasons 

While it is common for dogs to eat poop, it is not recommended, and is less than desirable to witness. If your dog has not been one to eat poop in the past and develops this as a new behavior, there could be an underlying health issue such as intestinal parasites, nutritional deficiencies, or other gastrointestinal disease. It is important to rule these out with a parasite screen and a visit to your veterinarian, especially if accompanied by other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or weight loss. 

Psychological Reasons  

Some dogs may see eating feces as a behavior that provides them with some attention from their owner. When we see our dogs eating poop, we rush to them, and may tell them to drop it or distract them with a game. This can condition them to associate getting attention with this behavior, making them more likely to repeat it. It can also be a sign of boredom or stress. Pets who are kenneled or home alone during the day, especially if left outdoors, may be more apt to consider eating feces. 

A Way to Hide Evidence 

Poop eating can also be a conditioned behavior in the face of an accident. If we punish and scold our pets when they have a fecal accident in the house, they may fear getting in trouble again. To avoid punishment, they might resort to eating the feces in an attempt to hide the evidence. Positive reinforcement during potty training is the best way to prevent this behavior. 

Dog Eating Poop in Grass

How to Stop a Dog from Eating Poop 

Depending on the suspected underlying cause of coprophagia, the prevention and deterrent of this behavior may vary. Ultimately, it is important to rule out underlying health issues first and foremost. If worms or a nutritional deficiency are present, they will need to be addressed with appropriate deworming or diet change. Ensuring your pup is on a balanced diet for their life stage is essential to managing growth and weight, while avoiding deficiencies.  Once ruled out or treated appropriately, focusing on three factors can help break this gross habit. 

Limit Their Access 

The easiest and surest way to prevent your pup from eating poop is to limit their access to waste in the first place. This may involve regular clean up, even picking up the waste directly after elimination. If your dog enjoys seeking out other pets' waste, consider keeping them on a leash during walks for closer monitoring. Additionally, modifying their environment to restrict access to other animals’ feces can be helpful. This could involve using a baby gate to block entry to a room containing a litterbox. 

Provide Mental Stimulation and Playtime 

In cases of boredom and stress, ensuring your pup is properly entertained and enriched should be your focus. Taking them for a walk or playing fetch to allow for a release of excess energy can be a gamechanger. Leaving them with a puzzle feeder containing a few treats and plenty of toys can help distract and entertain them while you’re at work. If they really just have severe separation boredom or anxiety, consider taking them to a doggy daycare. 

Positive Reinforcement and Redirection 

Lastly, you can try to train or condition them to stop eating feces. I recommend avoiding negative reinforcement when possible, as it can create other behavioral issues. Distraction and positive reinforcement after a bowel movement is recommended. For example, after your pet defecates, have them run back to the backdoor and give them a treat. After repeating this a few times, your pup will be sprinting back towards the door for a treat a treat that's far more appealing than their previous post-potty snack. If training alone does not seem to help, there are coprophagy deterrents intended to make fecal material taste bad to break the habit. These are not intended to be given long term, but rather just to condition the behavior away and then be discontinued. These products must be given to the pet whose feces are being eaten, whether that is the culprit themselves or another pet in the home. 

Why Dogs Eat Poop 

Dogs may have a different idea than us of what constitutes a tasty treat. Their natural curiosity can sometimes lead them to ingest something less than ideal, whether that's poop, a toxin, or a foreign object like a sock or toy. Health insurance for dogs creates a cushion of financial stability in the event your pup ingests something unexpected. With up to 90% of veterinary expenses due to injury and illness reimbursed, Embrace offers comprehensive coverage for those pups with the most unique and unexpected appetites. 

Knowing what your pup can and can't safely eat is another layer of protection, preventing a potential scare if they get into something off-limits. Can dogs have blueberries? Are oranges good for dogs? 

Stop Your Dog from Eating Poop 

Keeping a close eye on your canine companion is important for their health and wellbeing. The sudden onset of new behaviors such as eating poop should prompt investigation into a possible underlying cause, and if not evident, a veterinary consult is recommended. Once underlying health issues are ruled out, consistent training and reinforcement is key to conditioning your pup out of this not so delightful behavior. 

Our furry friends are endlessly curious, sometimes to our amusement and occasionally to our bewilderment. Understanding why they engage in behaviors like poop-eating can deepen the special connection we share. With patience and love, and perhaps some guidance from your veterinarian, you can help your pup overcome this quirk. Remember, their desire to please you is deeply ingrained. By creating a positive and enriching environment filled with love and play, you can gently guide them towards better behaviors.