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Why do dogs eat poop? We asked a vet…

why do dogs eat poop
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 Have you ever found yourself wondering 'why do dogs eat poop'? It’s a disgusting habit, at least to us humans, but it seems to be quite enjoyable to some dogs!

 Many dog owners worry that their dog’s coprophagia, or eating poop, is caused by a nutritional deficiency. Fortunately, that is rarely the case. In puppies, coprophagia is a normal part of learning to explore the environment with their mouth.

 In older dogs, coprophagia may have nutritional or behavioral causes. It’s not usually risky for dogs to eat their own poop or feces, but dogs that eat the feces of other animals may develop intestinal parasites, so it’s best to try to prevent this behavior.  

 Nutritional Causes of Coprophagia 

A chocolate lab getting the best dog nutrition from her food

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In some cases, dogs eat feces because they’re hungry. If your dog has a voracious appetite for a variety of items, including food, feces, trash, and other items, this may be the case. Excessive hunger in dogs can have a number of potential causes. 

Perhaps your dog is simply not being fed enough calories in a day. Check the label of your dog’s food to be sure that you are feeding according to the label recommendations. If your dog is highly active or athletic, he may even require more food that the label recommends. If your dog currently eats one large meal per day, consider splitting the food into two or three smaller meals, so your dog has a shorter gap between meals. 

Some dogs are constantly hungry, despite receiving an adequate quantity of food. If this appears to be the case, talk to your veterinarian. This is especially important if the increased hunger is a new problem in an older dog. 

Your veterinarian can help you evaluate your dog’s diet to ensure that it is nutritionally complete, while also performing laboratory tests to rule out medical causes for your dog’s constant hunger. While coprophagia is rarely due to an underlying medical condition, it can occur, especially in older dogs. 

 Behavioral Causes of Coprophagia 

why do dogs eat poop

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If your dog does not seem to be overly hungry, behavioral causes may be at the root of his coprophagia. Coprophagia can arise as a result of boredom, caused by lack of physical activity or mental stimulation. For example, dogs that are left out in a small fenced enclosure for prolonged periods of time may resort to coprophagia to keep themselves entertained. 

One of the easiest ways to prevent boredom is to ensure that your dog gets at least two long walks per day. While the length of these walks may vary, depending on weather, your health, and your dog’s health, you should strive to tire your dog out with a long walk twice daily. 

Don’t just take your dog outside to go potty and then come back inside; walk for half an hour or an hour, giving your dog an opportunity to enjoy the sights and smells of your neighborhood. Change your walking route up regularly, to provide even more mental stimulation. 

Look for opportunities for play and other engagement during the course of your dog’s day. Many dogs enjoy a good game of fetch, which is a great option if you have access to a fenced yard.

 Ensure that your dog has access to several high-quality chew toys, which will hopefully be more appealing to chew on than feces! Consider feeding meals out of a puzzle feeder, which elevates mealtimes from a passive activity to an exercise in problem solving. If you work long hours, hire a dog-walker to provide midday play and stimulation. Provide as much mental and physical stimulation as possible, to minimize boredom that may result in eating feces.  

 Other Measures to Treat Coprophagia 

why do dogs eat poop

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In some cases, even dogs with perfect nutrition and plenty of exercise still eat their own feces. It’s difficult to say why these dogs developed this habit; fortunately, there are still tools that can help. 

The first approach is to alter the taste of the feces. Forbid is a product that has been specifically developed to taste okay when dogs eat it, but have a foul taste when it comes out in the feces. If your dog is eating his own feces, or that of a housemate, feeding Forbid may prevent coprophagia. 

If your dog is eating the feces of animals that you are not responsible for feeding, you will need to take a different approach. Put some hot sauce on a pile of feces that your dog is likely to eat when walked or let out into your yard. 

Regardless of which additive you use, the goal is to convince your dog that feces no longer tastes good. You will need to be consistent, ensuring that your dog only has access to “yucky” feces for several days. 

(This means picking up all of the feces in your backyard before starting this process, so your dog isn’t rewarded for finding an unflavored “yummy” pile of feces!) After several days of sampling “yucky” feces, your dog should (hopefully) be broken of this habit. 

If flavor additives don’t work, you will need to limit your dog’s access to feces. Keep your yard clean and pick up your dog’s feces immediately. 

If your dog often finds feces from other animals in your yard, consider using a basket muzzle when outside. This style of muzzle limits your dog’s ability to eat feces and other items off the ground, while allowing him to safely pant and drink water. Alternatively, leash-walk your dog on a short leash and keep him away from animal feces or other items that you may encounter on walks. 

Finally, teach your dog a command such as “drop it” or “leave it.” If all of your efforts fail and your dog picks up a piece of feces, this command can be used to prevent ingestion of the feces… as long as you’re nearby and paying attention!

 There’s No Need to Panic  

Close up of Boxer dog looking at camera

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As a veterinarian, I encounter many clients who are extremely concerned about why dogs eat poop. I get it; it’s a gross habit and finding the underlying cause may help us eliminate that habit! 

Unfortunately, there often isn’t an identifiable cause. Dogs simply have different tastes than us. When we share our lives with dogs, it’s almost inevitable that we will encounter the occasional disgusting behavior!

 Still, given the parasite risk that eating the feces of other animals can present, it is best to break this habit if possible, addressing possible underlying causes and using other tools to discourage coprophagia.