Dogs are no stranger to eating their own poop, though this behavior never fails to be disgusting and mildly concerning — especially when your pup continues doing it well into adulthood. Many pet parents have found themselves wondering why their dog is eating poop, and have been unable to find a solution. Fortunately, though there are several ways to curb this fecal fondness — you just have to be patient and have a strong stomach.
Why do dogs eat poop?
According to PetMD, it’s actually considered normal — even common — for dogs to eat the droppings of other non-canine animals. But, it's relatively unusual for adult dogs to eat their own poop. The scientific term for poop eating is coprophagia. In some circles it’s seen as a habit, while in others, it’s considered a disorder.
Whatever you call it, so-called “normal” coprophagia happens for a variety of reasons: For mother dogs, eating their puppies’ poop is a way to keep the "den" clean. When it comes to eating the poop of other animals, like cats or horses, dogs do it because... it tastes good to them. It sounds like a stretch, but according to PetMD, those divergent droppings can contain beneficial nutrients the dog isn’t getting otherwise, though they also contain harmful bacteria.
Why do dogs eat their own poop?
When dogs start eating their own poop, the reasons could be a sign of abnormal or worrying behavior. Some dogs eat poop when they are young because they think it’s a game, though most dogs grow out of it.
Dogs might eat poop because they are anxious — either from being separated or from being confined in a crate. Without toys or other enrichment opportunities, dogs may just wind up finding another, far more disgusting way to occupy themselves. If your dog is commonly yelled at for pooping in the house, eating their poop could be a way of getting rid of the evidence. No poop means no yelling.
Should I worry if my dog is eating poop?
Coprophagia could be harmless or behavioral, but it might also be a sign of some underlying health conditions in adult dogs. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), dogs who eat their own poop may have a parasite, either in their intestinal tracts, liver, or brain. Their body might not be absorbing all the necessary nutrients, so they are going back for a second chance at anything their digestive system might have missed.
Signs of weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or other behavioral changes that accompany the coprophagia should be answered with an immediate trip to the vet. They will likely check for nutritional deficiencies, gastrointestinal diseases, parasites, or underlying medical conditions like diabetes.
How to stop your dog from eating poop:
According to the AKC, one of the best ways to stop your dog from eating poop is to ensure that their area is free and clear of temptation at all times. If they go outside in the backyard or on their walk, pick it up and dispose of it immediately. If your cat has a litter box, make sure it's cleaned or out of your pup’s reach at all times. You should also reinforce behavior that encourages you to leave that poop alone.
A good way to facilitate this is to reward them with an actual treat whenever they make a poop. That way, the dog will be more apt to come to get the real food rather than waste time with their mess. Your vet might also recommend vitamin supplements that contain vitamin B, which some believe is often missing in the diet of dogs with coprophagia.
Lastly, you could try spraying the dog’s food or treats with flavor aversion products, but chances are good that if they don’t mind the taste poop, they probably won’t mind the taste of garlic, pepper, yucca, MSG, or parsley. Therefore, the treat reward, or simply picking it up, might be a better option.