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Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?

Written By
10 min read

Updated - May 21st, 2021

Dogs can be fierce defenders of their humans, our trusted confidants, and well-loved quirky members of our families. Yet they gross us out with behaviors like rolling in small bits of dead anything (like a worm or dead rodent), and – the big one that really turns our stomachs – eating poop.

Poop eating is called coprophagia, and it’s more common than you’d think. If you Google dogs eating poop, you’ll find a plethora of home remedies claiming to solve the problem. However, studies have proven this isn’t usually true. In fact, there’s not much scientific information about this nasty habit, just that it’s pretty common and may be deeply ingrained in your dog’s DNA.

That doesn’t help much if you’re trying to solve this problem in your own dog, so let’s look at some reasons dogs MAY eat poop and then proven ways to solve the problem. The answers may surprise you.

Coprophagia

The scientific term of the behavior of eating feces is coprophagy, also known as coprophagia. It just means an animal eating poop. Many mammals, not just dogs, exhibit coprophagy behaviors. Elephants, rodents, beavers, and non-primate species are all guilty of it.

Common beliefs are this behavior results from a diet lacking in either digestive enzymes, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, or the result of parasitic infestations in the intestinal tract. Some of that may be true, so before you start a deterrent plan, always consult a vet to eliminate any medical issues or parasitic reasons for poop eating.

So let’s get into it.

There are three different types of coprophagia. None are acceptable behavior if your dog wants kisses, but fear not: There are ways to minimize their fascination with the delicacies of digestive waste. We’ll look at all of them.

Types of coprophagia: 

Auto-coprophagy: Eating one’s own feces

Intraspecific Coprophagy: Eating other dog’s feces (this is common in multi-dog households)

Interspecific Coprophagy: Eating other animals’ feces (rabbits, birds, deer) 

Why do they do it?  

A study done in 2018 by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior surveyed 3,000 dog owners 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.   

These numbers prove that coprophagia is not as uncommon as you may think. But we need to remember that dogs are scavengers, with a more powerful sense of smell than humans. What we turn our noses up at, a dog will find some small scent that’s appealing. This might apply to poop as well.   

They like the taste: As mentioned above, dogs have a superior sense of smell. When we smell a pizza cooking, we just smell the overall scent of the pizza. Dogs can smell the onions, sauce, wheat, fats, cheese, olives, pepperoni, sausage, and everything else on the pizza. When they smell poop, they smell what the animal has eaten and find the scent appealing. 

This is especially true if your dog loves “Kitty Roca” from the litter box. Cat food is higher in protein than dog food, so their poop smells like the protein, making it especially pleasing to your dog’s pallet.

Intestinal Parasites: These guys feed off the enzymes, nutrients, and probiotics in your dog’s gut causing a nutritional imbalance. They may eat poop to replace those nutrients.

Many believe coprophagy results from deficiencies in digestive enzymes, vitamins, or minerals. Blood or hair samples can determine if this is the problem and narrow down the supplements your dog may benefit from, to solve the poop slurping.

Stress or anxiety: Daily stress from your dog’s environment or separation anxiety can cause a host of unacceptable behaviors. Dogs who are anxious 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 resort to eating whatever is handy – poop or your couch cushions.

Under stimulated or boredom: Dogs isolated in crates or left alone for long periods of time get bored just like we do. This leads to poop eating or destructive behavior. Making sure your dog has plenty of exercise and mental stimulation will solve those behaviors by leaving them more tired and relaxed during periods of inactivity.

Pleasing you: Have you ever wondered how dogs feel about seeing us cleaning up their poop and storing it in plastic bags? Do they think it’s valuable, and must eat it to save it? Probably not, even so, we wonder, right?.  

Our dog’s ancestors ate the poop around their dens to eliminate the scent that could attract predators. This is true for mother dogs too. They lick the anus of the pups to have them eliminate and then eat the waste. This keeps the “dens” and the pups clean and safe from predators. The wolves also ate the poop of sick or aging dogs for the same reasons.

It stands to reason then that adult dogs may eat poop to clean up after themselves. It’s a nice thought that my dog would clean up after herself, but I’d rather she picked up her toys.

Curiosity: Puppies explore their world with their noses and mouths, with no discriminating taste. They will commonly try to eat poop and, thankfully, most grow out of it. There’s also the fact that they are used to smelling it on their mother’s snout, so it’s an acceptable scent to their noses that may smell like their mother dog’s milk.

Diet: Feeding too little, or low-quality food can cause dietary and nutritional deficiencies sending your dog searching to replace the nutrients they’re lacking. Switching to a higher quality balanced food provides the nutrients your dog needs.

Medical: Malabsorption diseases like EPI (Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency) happen when your dog’s pancreas can’t digest the foods as well as it should. The pancreas makes the enzymes that break down the fats, carbs, and proteins you eat. If this isn’t happening, your dog will eat poop trying to replace needed nutrients.

Thyroid problems can also cause unintentional weight loss, causing your dog to search out food and nutrients in other sources like poop or the waste of other animals.

Some medications like steroids can increase your dog’s appetite. Seeking food can be a reason to eat a poop nugget, especially if it’s cat poop smelling like a tasty protein.

Punishment: We frequently don’t consider punishment a reason for this bad habit. However, dogs are attention-seeking creatures that don’t distinguish between good or bad attention. If you make a big deal over every accident, your dog may think it’s a game and something to look forward to.

Another problem in the punishment category is the long-held and incorrect practice of rubbing a dog’s nose in their poop when potty training. This sends a mixed message about poop being on its face and in its nose. The best way to solve the issue is to quietly pick up the mess, making no fuss. Then take your dog outside to poop or pee, rewarding the good behavior and ignoring the unacceptable behavior. Positive reinforcement training is very effective when training dogs.

Fun Facts About Dogs Eating Poop

Remember the study from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior? Here are some interesting facts they determined in the surveys. 

The first survey included 3,000 dog parents, the second survey was narrowed down to just those dogs from the first survey that ate poop. 

And this is what they found:

FUN FACTS ABOUT POOP EATERS
There’s no evidence that related coprophagy to 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’re able to take up residence in the intestines.)
Home remedies and commercial products aimed at making poop taste bad or aversion/deterrent products were NOT effective in controlling the behavior.
Some 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 you stop a dog from eating poop?

There are some common household products out there that claim to help stop poop consumption. They rarely work, and actually just eliminate the symptoms, not the underlying behavioral reasons. Here are some that you may have heard of and why they aren’t a good idea.

Pineapple: Contains bromelain believed to make the poop bitter. Pineapple is a wonderful treat for your dog but may send mixed messages if you don’t want them eating poop.

Chili or hot sauce: The bitter taste may not be pleasant to your dog, causing them to avoid or turn down the tasty poop nugget, but it could cause burns to the mouth or digestive upset.

Yucca: Makes poop taste bitter and dogs rarely like it.

Bitter Spray: Again, makes the poop taste bitter

Brewers Yeast: High salt content and full of vitamin B, and makes the poop taste bitter. There’s a belief that dogs that eat poop lack vitamin B, so if that’s what you’re after, there are better ways of providing it.

Meat Tenderizer: Many add it to their dog’s food to stop poop eating. However, it contains way too much salt for your canine. It contains bromelain as well, making the poop taste bitter.

Best Ways To Stop A Dog From Eating Poop

Health Check: Eliminate any medical problems such as malabsorption diseases like thyroid problems or EPI with a visit to the vet and some blood work.

Parasite control: Parasites can suck the nutrients out of your dog’s body and is very common, especially during the summer months. A fecal test by the vet should be one of the first steps in eliminating stool eating.

A well-balanced diet: High-quality, nutritionally balanced diets provide all the nutrients your dog needs to thrive. If poop eating is because of dietary deficiencies, this may be the most effective way to solve the problem.

Supplemental digestive enzymes, vitamins, and minerals: If there’s a deficiency in your dog’s diet, supplementing the missing nutrients may solve the problem of poop eating.

Consistent Feeding Schedule: If your dog is hungry, or worried about eating, take the hunger and anxiety away by feeding on a schedule. This also makes the pooping schedule regular, easier to supervise and clean up.

Supervise Poop Time: Taking your dog to poop on a leash, or supervising the time and distracting them away from the waste works well. Then quietly clean it up and go on with positive reinforcement and playtime!

Exercise and enrichment: Exercising your dog on a regular, consistent schedule eliminates stress and calms their brain. A calm dog is less likely to get bored and submit to poop-eating urges or destructive behaviors.

If your dog is alone for long periods of time during the day, leaving toys and swapping them out with new toys often, keeps them entertained and reduces boredom.

Providing enrichment with trick and agility training, or even brain-teasing toys is just as effective as exercise in calming your dog and eliminating bored behavioral problems. You can also contact a dog behaviorist to discuss ways to enrich your dog’s environment.

Leave It Command: Teaching your dog the “leave it” command is an effective way to keep them back when they go in for the poop nugget. Being able to distract them and reward the response of “leaving it” creates that positive reinforcement dogs crave.

Clean up the poop! The most effective way to break the unpleasant habit of coprophagy is cleaning up the area as soon as your dog finishes pooping – if the poop isn’t there, your dog can’t eat it. 

Is anything foolproof?

There are dozens of products on the market and even more home remedies that claim to eliminate or reduce the nauseating habit of our dogs eating poop. None of them have been completely effective and, in fact, have proven to be useless in most cases. 

If you read the science available, poop eating may be deeply ingrained in our dog’s DNA leaving us few successful deterrent methods. 

The most effective way to deter a poop-eating dog is to look for underlying issues and tackle those. 

Best practices like providing a well-balanced diet, making sure they get regular exercise, cleaning up the waste as soon as your dog has finished his business can eliminate the problem without the hassle and expense of useless products. The results will show a healthy, calm dog without poop breath that you’ll be willing to shower with kisses.

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!