Let’s face it, dogs do some pretty gross stuff sometimes. Particularly when it comes to what they’ll put in their mouths. It’s not all that strange that dogs like to chew and bite everything in sight. After all, their mouths are one of their primary means of interacting with their environment and the world around them. They eat, play, speak, lick, and clean with those mouths, so they come into contact with a lot of things that humans would never dream of sinking our teeth into. One of those oddball eating behaviors is consuming poop.
Called coprophagia in your vet’s vocabulary, the behavior of eating poop can be the result of several different causes and can occur at varying stages in your dog’s development. While this habit might crop up for a wide range of reasons, they will all ultimately fall into one of two explanatory categories. That is to say, it’s either a question of behavioral or nutritional issues on your pup’s part. Doggy Advice can help you figure out what’s up with your pup eating poop. Whether the cause is behavioral or nutritional, we’ve assembled everything you need to know about coprophagia in canines to help you understand what’s behind the habit and how to break it for good.
Is It Normal For Dogs To Eat Poop?
The answer to this question is really yes and no. Discovering the distinction between ordinary poop eating and a potentially problematic pattern is key to helping your pup kick the habit if they’re eating poop. Here are some instances in which it’s probably normal enough.
Normal Reasons Your Dog Is Eating Poop
Motherly Instinct – This may seem totally gross, but it’s actually a question of cleanliness on your pup’s part. Not even dogs want to sit around in a stinky, messy space filled with feces. That’s why, for a nursing mother of a litter of pups who can’t clean up after themselves, Mama dog will take up the slack by eating the waste her babies produce until they get big enough to go farther from home for bathroom breaks.
Roly-Poly Puppies – Just like human babies, brand-new fur babies get to know the world around them by trying to put it in their mouths. Thankfully, human babies don’t seem to share precisely this same tendency, but puppies are likely to explore the strong scent of poop when it’s present. Sometimes it will be their own and sometimes another animal’s droppings.
In either instance, the behavior needs to receive an emphatic no from you any time you observe it so that your pup understands from the get-go that poop eating is a no-no. Generally, puppies will grow out of this behavior. You can help them move past it by providing consistent negative responses and by cleaning up any pet messes promptly and regularly to remove the temptation, so to speak.
Abnormal Reasons Your Dog Is Eating Poop
Coprophagia in adult canines is certainly less than common. Whether they’re eating their own poop or another dog’s droppings, if your adult doggo starts up with this habit outside of one of the above circumstances, you’ll want to identify the why so you can get straight to work on how to stop it.
Attention Seeking – If your dog is an adult, you’d better believe they’ve learned over the years how best to command your attention. Maybe they plop themselves in your lap when they want petting and pampering, bring you a favorite toy as an invitation to play, or stand by the door when it’s time to go out. Canines are smart cookies, and we all know we can engage in intentional training with our animal companions. But did you realize you can inadvertently encourage a behavior in your dog too?
When your dog does something you don’t necessarily want them to do, and you respond in an elevated way, your dog notes that they’ve got your attention. Most of the time, a negative response will result in your dog dropping a behavior. Sometimes though, the cues get mixed up, and your dog only senses what they may perceive as excitement. Even though for you, that “excitement” may really be anxiety about what your doggo’s doing, for them, they simply see that you’re engaged and active with them. If they’re feeling like they need extra attention, they may keep returning to the unwanted behavior in an effort to gain your attention.
The solution is fairly straightforward here, give your pup some extra TLC when they’re doing the things you do want them to do, and/or carve out some additional quality time for the two of you. Keeping their environment clean and free of waste is another great way to discourage this behavior. Pick up your pup’s poop immediately after they go, and they won’t be able to eat it.
Neat Freak – Speaking of cleaning up, this could be the overall ultra-simple solution. Dogs like to live in a clean environment just as much as humans do. To you, it may seem like the backyard is big enough that your pet can avoid his messes, but to them, their playspace may seem cramped and crowded with poop. Cleaning up immediately after your doggo does their thing in the yard can entirely eliminate the issue.
Anxious Animal – As mentioned above, stress can cause your canine companion to display strange behaviors. It could be the case that your dog is eating their poop out of worry when you’re gone or when they’re confined. Separation anxiety is something many pups experience. They stress when you’re not there because their doggo brains can’t wrap around the idea that you’ll return, and they fear that you’re gone for good.
If they’re confined while you’re gone in a crate or the like, they may be removing any evidence of accidents by eating their poop. They may also have anxiety about potential punishments for making a mess where they know they shouldn’t, and this may cause them to eat the evidence.
It could also be a case of confinement anxiety in pups who are crated while their humans are out of the house. PetMD says that it could be as simple as a bigger crate, a quieter location for their crate, or more puzzle toys to occupy their alone time. You may also look into letting your doggo roam free in your backyard if you have the space and live somewhere where the weather permits. If those options have been exhausted without success, you can also consider a doggy daycare or a conversation with your employer to see if it would be possible to bring your pet along. Finally, for doggos who suffer from extreme anxiety, you can seek out a veterinary or certified animal behaviorist.
General anxiety can also occur in dogs, and if coprophagia is a new behavior for your canine, you should seek to identify what may be triggering their anxiety. Factors such as a move to a new home, a change within the household like a new baby or new pet, or a loss or change of what they perceive to be their personal space. If you can identify the source of their stress, you can work on solutions from there. Consulting with your vet can be a great starting place for helping to calm your anxious pet. Also, companies like Only Natural Pet offer natural homeopathic stress solutions like CBD and flower essence therapy for your canine companion.
Nutritionally Deficient – As strange as this may sound, your dog may actually think eating poop tastes good. If your dog is eating the stool of other animals, it may also be because they recognize it as nutritionally beneficial and thereby find it tasty. Eating other animal’s poop is a way of getting vitamins and minerals they may be missing out on by consuming the leftovers from other species’ different diets.
However, it’s not a great idea to let them do this since feces contain bacteria and lots of other yuck that your doggo definitely doesn’t need. This is also a great indicator that you should look at your pup’s nutrition and consider changing foods or checking in with your vet to see if they’re not getting what they need nutritionally from their regular diet.
If your dog is eating their own poop, it could also be because they aren’t absorbing all the nutrients from the food they are consuming. That can result in stool that is nutrient-dense, and your dog may consider it a food source.
Finally, medical conditions like diabetes and thyroid disease can cause doggo’s appetites to skyrocket, which may cause them to consider coprophagia. Additionally, medications like prednisone can also up your pup’s appetite.
How To Stop Your Dog From Eating Poop
If your canine has started up with coprophagia, you’re probably most concerned with how you can stop the behavior. Overall, keeping your pup away from poop is the best deterrent. Putting practices into place that prevent access, cleaning up in a timely manner after pet messes, and addressing the behavioral roots of the habit are all ways you can help break the habit. A visit to the vet is definitely in order to discuss options for treatment of coprophagia. Here are some solutions your vet may discuss with you.
Stool Eating Deterrents
These are supplements that discourage your doggo from continuing with coprophagia. Chewy.com has a wide selection of products that work in varying ways. Many of the products contain natural ingredients like yucca and parsley designed to help diminish stool odor and freshen your pup’s breath, respectively, as well as digestive enzymes that can help your dog to receive better nutrition from their food. Complex B vitamins can help to address vitamin deficiencies, and glutamic acid is another common ingredient found in coprophagia deterrents that can cause your dog’s stool to taste less appetizing.
Dogs Who Eat Cat Poop
Fortunately, if your pup is using the kitty litter box as a snack bar, the easiest solution is to close up shop, so to speak. That is to say, move the litter box to a place where your doggo can’t access it. That could mean moving it into another room or putting a fence or gate around the area.
Retrain The Behavior
There are various doggo training devices available that can help you help your pup kick the habit. Head collars, basket muzzles, and foxtail field masks are all options that can keep your canine from consuming poop. You’ll have to try out the different devices to see which one works for your doggo. The devices aren’t fool-proof, however, and your pup can undoubtedly outsmart them, so you’ll need to keep a close eye out to make sure your doggo isn’t out-maneuvering the mechanism to get to the poop.
You can also work with your furbaby to change the behavior through new routines. You’ll need to accompany them on potty breaks (yes, every single time) and start establishing the habit of leaving the poop alone. If they keep trying to go back to consume the poop, you can literally put them on a leash and lead them away as soon as they’ve finished up. Once they’ve done their business, you can call them to you, offering a treat or a toy to chomp on instead of the poop. Up the ante by using a special treat that they only receive under these circumstances. And remember to offer praise aplenty when they do choose to leave the poop alone.
Offer Your Attention (And Some Extra TLC)
If coprophagia has become an attention-seeking behavior for your pup, it’s possible that you can help to curb their appetite through lots of puppy love and attention. And really, upping your quality time together is a pretty big win-win for both of you, so it’s worth the effort to offer some additional attention and affection. Plus, best-case scenario, it could make your canine drop their coprophagia habit.