Why do Dogs Eat Poop and How to Stop It
The practice of eating feces is known as Coprophagia, and it’s fairly common for dogs of all ages and breeds. In 2012 Dr. Benjamin Hart of UC Davis presented a study to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior in which he and his team examined a pool of over 3,000 pet dogs.
- 1 out of 4 dogs have eaten feces only once
- 1 out of 6 dogs have eaten feces at least five times
- 85% of coprophagial dogs only eat other dogs’ poop
- 92% of poop eaters won’t eat old dog poop – only fresh!
5 Reasons Dogs Eat Poop
In other words, at least 25% of all dogs have eaten poop one or more times in their lives. So this behavior is not uncommon. But why do they do it? Here are five reasons.
1. Stress And Anxiety Overload
One reason many dogs eat their poop is that they are stressed out. Dogs who are frequently punished for pooping will sometimes eat their own poop, likely as a way of hiding the evidence to avoid being punished. When these dogs are caught in the act and yelled at for eating poop, that stresses them out even more and causes them to attempt to gobble up their poop even faster to avoid further punishment.
Dogs who are kept isolated, confined to small spaces or kept in kennels crowded with other dogs also behave this way more frequently. Dogs in shelters suffer from high levels of stress and often exhibit this and other unwanted behaviors, many of which go away once the dogs find their permanent homes and are able to relax.
2. Confusing Fecal Odors With Food Aromas
Puppies often eat their own poop, because their moms do it too!
Actually, mothers will lick their puppies’ private parts to stimulate bowel movements as well as to train their them to bathe themselves. But mothers will also eat their pups’ feces, and when the pups smell poop on their mother’s breath, it may encourage them to indulge in the behavior as well. Fortunately, most puppies stop eating their poop within 6-10 months without needing to be corrected by their humans.
Adult dogs sometimes eat their poop because they get the scents of food and poop mixed up. This happens more often when dogs are kept in small spaces where they both eat and poop.
3. Cleanliness And Protection From Predators
Many dog breeds and other animals are known to be very territorial. In the wild, dogs may eat their own feces as a way of covering their tracks to avoid attracting predators and scaring away prey.
Domesticated dogs may engage in this behavior out of instinct too. But many times, dogs will eat their poop as a means of keeping their living area clean.
4. Scavenging As A Survival Instinct
Dogs in the wild don’t have anyone else to feed them, so they have to fend for themselves. In some areas at several times of the year, food sources may be scarce, so dogs may resort to eating their own poop as a way to get nutrients back into their bodies.
These survival instincts still exist in domesticated animals, so sometimes dogs will eat their poop if they’re feeling hungry or if their bodies are lacking in nutrients.
5. Lack Of Good Parasites
Dogs need to have a particular level of micro-organisms in their stomachs to properly digest the food they eat. In the wild, dogs will often eat their prey whole or scavenge off carcasses of dead animals. The intestines of their dead prey contain feces and high levels of these good parasites that the dogs need for their digestive health.
So if their diet of modern, processed dog food leaves them lacking these healthy parasites, some dogs will eat their poop to get the digestive organisms they need.
How To Make Your Dog Stop Eating Poop
If you can recognize the underlying causes of your dog’s poop-eating behavior, then correcting the problem becomes much easier. There is no step-by-step cure for all situations, because the conditions may be different for every dog. But if you’re having a hard time figuring out why your dog is doing this, here are some things you can try to see if they eliminate the problem.
- Take your dog out for walks or to dog parks every day.
- Don’t keep your dog confined without social interaction for long periods of time.
- Don’t keep food and water bowls in the same area where your dog poops and urinates.
- Get your dog checked for nutritional deficiencies.
- Make sure your dog is fed enough food to avoid excessive hunger.
- Remove your dog’s poop as soon as possible and keep her area clean.
- Provide new chew toys and daily playtime to prevent boredom and stress.
- Avoid overreacting and punishing your dog – this usually just makes things worse.
Roughly 1 out of 4 dogs have been known to eat poop, so it’s a fairly common behavior. If your dog has been eating poop, it may be a fairly harmless quirk that will work itself out without doing any damage. But there may also be some underlying health problems or circumstances that are causing this behavior.
There are likely health risks for dogs who eat poop – mainly parasites and malnutrition – so it’s a good plan to have your dog checked out by the vet and also to check your dog's home environment to see if there are any issues there that you can address to correct the problem.