Why Do Dogs Eat Poop? The Truth About Coprophagia

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7 min read
7 min read

Updated - Mar 30th, 2023

Ah, the age-old question that has puzzled dog parents for years: Why do dogs eat poop?

Is it just a gross habit? Or is there a deeper reason behind it? Let’s uncover the truth behind this phenomenon.

Why do dogs eat poop?

No matter how much we love our dogs, they still gross us out with behaviors like rolling around in the dirt, picking up a dead animal, or the one that turns most owners’ stomachs – eating poop.

Poop eating, aka coprophagia, is very common amongst dogs, but also many mammals. Elephants, rodents, beavers, and non-primate species also eat poo.

The question is, why do they do it?

A study led by veterinarian Benjamin Hart surveyed 3,000 dogs and found: 

  • 16% of dogs (one in six) were considered serious stool eaters, meaning they were caught eating poop at least five times.  
  • 24% of the dogs in the study (one in four) were observed eating poop at least once.   

All of this is to say that coprophagia is not as uncommon as you may think. Dogs are natural-born scavengers with noses that can sniff out even the slightest scent. So, what might stink to us could actually smell sweet to your furry friends. It’s a stinky situation, but it’s a part of their instincts.

Reasons dogs eat poop

So, whether they’re munching on cat poop or chowing down on rabbit droppings, here are a few reasons your dog may be eating poop.

They like the taste

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, so when they smell poop, it’s thought that they can sense what the animal has eaten and find the scent appealing. 

This is especially true if your dog gets into the litter box. Cat food contains more protein than dog food, so the scent of the protein really comes through in their poop.

They’re hungry

Does your furry friend have an insatiable appetite? Well, research shows that “greedy eaters” are more likely to indulge in a poop-eating pastime. It could be a sign of hunger or simply wanting more calories. Plus, steroid treatments like prednisone can increase your pup’s appetite and make them more likely to munch on anything in sight – including feces.

They’re bored

Like humans, dogs get bored when kept in a kennel alone or confined in a crate. While puppy crate training is great for your dog, being cooped up too long can cause your dog to be under-stimulated. 

When dogs get bored, they might resort to eating poo or tearing things apart. So, keep your pup entertained with plenty of exercise and play.

They’re anxious

Daily stress from your dog’s environment or separation anxiety can cause a host of unacceptable dog behaviors. Anxious dogs resort to whatever they find comforting, and poop-eating may fill that void. It’s sort of like people who eat for comfort – but for a dog, if there’s no food to dive into, they may eat whatever is there – such as their poop!

Intestinal parasites

Intestinal parasites can be a real pain for your pup. These buggers can rob your dog of important nutrients and cause inflammation and malabsorption. This can ultimately lead to an intense need for nutrients, leading them to resort to coprophagia.

Medical Issues

If your furry friend suddenly starts to eat feces, it may be a sign of underlying medical conditions. Conditions like Cushing’s Disease, diabetes, and even hypothyroidism can cause an increased appetite. 

Malabsorption diseases like EPI (Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency) can also lead to coprophagia. This disease happens when your dog’s pancreas can’t digest food as well as it should. The pancreas makes enzymes that break down the fats, carbs, and proteins your dog eats. If this isn’t happening, your dog may eat poop to replace needed nutrients.

Nutritional deficiencies

Dogs may eat poop due to nutritional deficiencies. Sometimes, they may be missing essential nutrients in their diet or unable to absorb certain nutrients during digestion. For example, this study shows that thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency can cause coprophagia. Nutritional deficiencies are rare in dogs fed commercial pet food but more common in those fed raw or homemade food.

It’s in their genes!

Dogs have an innate desire to scavenge and forage, meaning they’ll eat almost anything, including poop. In fact, studiessuggest suggests that coprophagia could be a genetic trait passed down from wolves.

In the wild, sick wolves that couldn’t poop outside their den would eat the poop to protect the pack from parasites. Dogs may have inherited this behavior and tend to eat fresh poop. This could be because parasite eggs can become dangerous after a few days. So, if your pup is gobbling up poop, it may just be their primal instincts kicking in.

How to stop your dog from eating poop

If your furry friend has an unsavory habit of snacking on poop, here are some ways to curb this behavior:

Clean up their poop ASAP!

The most fool-proof way to break the unpleasant habit of stool eating or coprophagy is to clean up your dog’s poop as soon as they do the deed. If poop isn’t there, your dog can’t eat it.

Prevent access to the litter box

If you find your dog snacking inside your cat’s litter box, use gates to block it off or keep the litter box in an area that’s hard to reach. 

Train your dog to avoid eating poop

Dog training may come in handy here! Teach your dog to leave poop alone by introducing the “leave it” cue. Combine this command with positive reinforcement for lasting results.

Avoid boredom with mental enrichment

Dogs need more than just physical exercise to stay happy and healthy. Try increasing your dog’s mental enrichment to prevent boredom and reduce poop eating. Engage their senses by providing them with brain games and puzzle feeders that require chewing, licking, and sniffing.

Give your dog quality food

High-quality, nutritionally balanced diets provide all the nutrients your dog needs to thrive. If poop eating is due to dietary deficiencies, this may be the most effective solution.

Speak with a veterinarian

If your dog continues to eat poop, it’s important to check with your vet. Your vet might recommend some blood work to rule out medical problems. They may also suggest dietary changes, and supplements,  or even recommend a dog behaviorist to help address this behavioral issue.

Facts about dogs eating poop

Remember the study led by veterinarian Benjamin Hart? Here are some interesting facts they determined in the surveys. 

  • There’s no evidence that related coprophagy to dog’s diet or age.
  • Coprophagic dogs were likely to be described as aggressive or eager eaters.
  • Ease of house-training was not related to eating poop.
  • Females were more likely to eat poop. Intact males were the least likely to eat poop.
  • 85% of poop eaters don’t eat their own poop.
  • Dogs overwhelmingly preferred feces that were under two days old. (This may be because of the parasites present. Eggs are killed in the digestive system. Once hatched, they can take up residence in the intestines.)
  • Home remedies and commercial products aimed at making poop taste bad or aversion/deterrent products were ineffective in controlling the behavior.
  • Some small and friendly dog breeds are more prone to coprophagia than others, with terriers and hounds being most likely and poodles least likely.
  • Coprophagia is more common in multi-dog households.


How can I make my dog stop eating poop?

  1. Consistently clean up your dog’s poop immediately after they finish.
  2. Provide them with mental and physical stimulation through toys and exercise to avoid eating out of boredom.
  3. Train them to “leave it” when they approach poop and limit their access to areas where they can find it. 
  4. Consult with your veterinarian if the behavior persists or if you have concerns about your pet’s health.

Can my dog get sick from eating poop?

Yes, dogs can get sick from eating poop. Consuming feces can spread bacteria, parasites, and viruses, leading to gastrointestinal issues, vomiting, diarrhea, and even infections.

What can I do after my dog eats poop?

If your dog has just eaten poop, the best action is to monitor them for any signs of illness or abnormal behavior. Ensure they have access to clean water and observe them closely for the next 24-48 hours. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice any symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or lethargy.

If you’re struggling to stop your dog from eating poop, you might want to consider using a deterrent. But before trying any product, talk to your vet first, especially if your dog is on medication. Remember, many products and home remedies claim to stop dogs from eating poop, but they are often ineffective.

  • Staff, A. (n.d.). Why Dogs Eat Poop And How To Stop It. Retrieved from https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/why-dogs-eat-poop/
  • Hart, B. L., Hart, L. A., Thigpen, A. P., Tran, A., & Bain, M. J. (2018). The paradox of canine conspecific coprophagy. Veterinary Medicine and Science, 4(2), 106–114. https://doi.org/10.1002/vms3.92
  • Hiney, K., Sypniewski, L., Rudra, P., Pezeshki, A., & McFarlane, D. (2021). Clinical health markers in dogs fed raw meat-based or commercial extruded kibble diets. Journal of Animal Science, 99(6). https://doi.org/10.1093/jas/skab133
  • Schmidt, M., Unterer, S., Suchodolski, J. S., Honneffer, J. B., Guard, B. C., Lidbury, J. A., . . . Kölle, P. (2018). The fecal microbiome and metabolome differs between dogs fed Bones and Raw Food (BARF) diets and dogs fed commercial diets. PLOS ONE, 13(8), e0201279. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0201279
  • Read DH, Harrington DD. Experimentally induced thiamine deficiency in beagle dogs: clinical observations. American Journal of Veterinary Research. 1981 Jun;42(6):984-991. PMID: 7197132.

Lynn Guthrie

Lynn Guthrie

Writer, Mom of a Fab Fur Fam of Five
Lynn is a writer and long-time Learning & Development Manager at a large PNW retailer. She's also mom to 3 dogs & 2 cats!
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