- Dogs, especially puppies, commonly eat poop — this habit often simply reflects natural dog instincts.
- Dogs may be more likely to eat poop when they’re stressed or not getting enough nutrients.
- Training, using a leash, and providing enough exercise and playtime can help prevent poop-eating.
It turns out the biggest problem with a dog eating poop is the ick factor for their humans.
Dogs, especially puppies, eat many things they shouldn’t, and this often includes feces — theirs and that of other dogs and even other animals.
Gross as it may seem, dogs eating poop is pretty common.
Why do they do it?
“The science isn’t completely clear on why dogs or puppies eat feces, which is known as coprophagia,” says Gary Richter, DVM, a veterinary health expert with Rover and owner and medical director of Montclair Veterinary Hospital.
“Assuming the dog is eating an appropriately balanced diet – meaning basically any commercially available brand – nutritional deficiencies leading to coprophagia are very unlikely. In truth, feces is almost exclusively a behavioral issue rather than a physical one,” says Richter.
Russell Hartstein, Certified Dog Behaviorist and Trainer in Los Angeles and founder of Fun Paw Care, agrees, adding that while there’s no conclusive evidence that points to any single reason why dogs eat poop, it is totally natural.
That said, here are some reasons why your dog might eat poop.
“It’s part of a dog’s genetics. Dogs are omnivores that scavenge, forage, and love carrion smells/tastes such as vile, pungent odors and stuff to play with and eat. Dogs eat lots of things with zero nutritional value for fun or because it seems interesting to them,” says Hartstein.
According to a 2018 study, coprophagia may be an inherited tendency from dogs’ ancestors, wolves.
Wolves defected outside their dens because their feces contained parasite eggs. If a wolf was too sick or injured to go do their business elsewhere, it would eat the poop in order to protect the pack.
The researchers pointed out that because parasite eggs can become infected after a couple of days. This may also explain why dogs generally eat poop that’s no more than a day or two old.
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), poop eating is a natural behavior at certain stages of a dog’s life.
For instance, mother dogs lick their puppies as a way to urge them to do their business. They also clean up after their puppies by eating their feces for the first three weeks after birth.
Puppies naturally mimic this behavior by eating their own poop and other dogs’ poop.
3. Nutritional deficiencies
As Richter already pointed out, nutritional deficiencies are likely if your dog is eating a balanced diet.
That said, it’s still important for dog owners to watch for signs of a nutritional deficiency, which could stem from diet or malabsorption issues caused by an underlying medical condition.
The signs of a nutrient deficiency depend on which nutrients are lacking, but most often include:
- Dull or brittle coat
- Dry, scaling or flaking skin
- Being under- or overweight
- Skin issues, such as itching, inflammation, and sores
- Frequent infections
4. Certain medical conditions or medications
and Cushing’s disease are some conditions that can increase hunger in dogs and lead them to eat their feces.
Drugs, such as steroids, benzodiazepines, and some antihistamines can also cause increased hunger as a side effect.
5. Stress and other behavioral triggers
Though it hasn’t been scientifically proven, some experts believe coprophagia in dogs may be triggered by chronic stress, anxiety, and boredom.
Isolated dogs, or those who spend too much time in a crate or other confined space are more likely to eat poop.
Anxiety from harsh training methods or punishment can also trigger the behavior, according to the AKC.
Can it make them sick?
“In terms of risks, on top of the obvious ‘gross’ factor, eating feces can transmit parasites to your dog,” says Richter.
Common parasites a dog may contract from eating other dogs’ or animals’ poop include:
If your dog is showing signs of illness, like diarrhea, vomiting, and lethargy, a visit to the vet is in order.
How to break the habit
If your puppy’s mowing down on poop, the good news is they’ll probably stop doing it by the time they’re about 9 months old.
If your puppy continues to do it or you have an adult dog that does it, the following tips may help break the habit:
- Potty train your dog. “Teach your dog to defecate and urinate on cue. This is one of the goals of potty training, and if your dog is pooping on cue it makes your job much easier,” says Hartstein.
- Ensure your dog is eating a balanced diet. Your veterinarian can offer more guidance on the best diet for your dog’s nutritional needs. But typically, if you’re feeding your dog the appropriate serving size of a commercial brand of dog food, they should already be getting those necessary nutrients.
- Be vigilant about cleaning up after your dog. “Coprophagia is a crime of opportunity,” Richter says. If there’s no poop around for them to eat, then it may break them out of the habit.
- Always keep your dog on leash. “A leashed dog is much less likely to eat feces,” says Hartstein. Having your dog on a leash on walks or a lead in the yard helps you control where they go and what they get into.
- Have your dog wear a head harness. Harststein recommends a head harness because you have more control and can guide your dog’s head away from the feces, or anything else you don’t want them snacking off the ground.
- Train your dog. “Dog training can and should be used in conjunction with all other protocols. For example, teach your dog to Leave It, or use a strong Recall and reward them heavily with their favorite dog treats when they listen to you. Remember the dog treats must be MORE rewarding than eating poop. It shouldn’t be a hard hurdle to get over,” says Hartstein.
- Supervise your dog. “Don’t allow your dog to roam around off-leash in the backyard, or anywhere there is dog poop,” says Hartstein.
- Give your dog regular exercise and enrichment. Regular exercise and enrichment can help a dog burn off energy and combat boredom that can lead to poop eating and other unsavory behaviour. Keep walks interesting with different routes, play fetch, and try enrichment games and puzzles.
There’s no one specific reason why dogs eat poop, but most of the time it’s normal and not a problem — at least not for the dog.
“The most effective way to get your dog to stop eating poop is management. However, there are many other methods and factors to consider that may help with dog poop eating, such as dog training, behavior modification, enrichment, exercise, and nutrition, says Hartstein