Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?

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Doig with Dirty MouthMy 4 month old black lab Daisy is eating her own poop. How can we get Daisy to stop eating her poop? Not only is it gross, but when she gets to it first thing in the morning, she ends up throwing up shortly thereafter. What are some easy suggestions to get her to grow out of this puppy habit fast?

That’s a good question. Why do dogs eat poop? We turn to our Pet Doc for the answer.

What do dogs eat poop: Our Pet Doc Responds…

Thanks for the question. Daisy is not alone in being a puppy that ingests her own feces. This is a very common behavior for many puppies. I honestly have not been able to find a legitimate reason as to why some puppies/dogs do this, but I can say that most if not all dogs will grow out of doing this.

My own Labrador was a prime offender for many months. The only thing I can recommend to you is to take away the temptation. That means poop scooping daily. One thing you can try is to correct that action like you would any other undesirable action. Use a leash to control your pet, even if in your own backyard. Use keywords like no and force her to submit to the fact that such behavior is unacceptable.

Some people say dogs do this because of poor nutrition. I suppose this could be possible but not certain. There are products on the market that are made to deter your dog from consuming it’s own feces but I find these products ineffective, costly, and merely a band-aid to the problem.

This should get better with time and a little work/training on your part. Thanks and let us know how things progress.

The Pet Doc

Coprophagia is an Unhealthy Habit for any Dog

Pick up After Your Dog As a dog owner there are a number of things that your dog may do that leave you with questions; however, one of the most commonly broached topics is coprophagia. There are a great many reasons why coprophagia is an unhealthy habit for your dog, but unhealthy or not there are many people who want to understand just why their dog is eating poop.

What is Coprophagia?

Coprophagia is the scientific term for consuming feces. There are a number of animals that have been noted for coprophagia including dogs and mice. While coprophagia is found in a number of animals, it is most commonly observed in dogs. Perhaps the reason why this bad habit is most commonly seen in dogs is because we tend to spend much of our time around these domesticated animals rather than around animals like mice. Regardless of how commonly we may encounter coprophagia with our domesticated dogs however, there is no conditioning human beings to the horror we experience at that very moment that our beloved pet consumes feces.

Understanding Coprophagia

The bond that most dog lovers have with their pets drives a need to understand why our dogs consume feces but there is no one explanation that explains this unusual behavior. There are a number of theories as to why dogs consume their own feces or even feces of other animals, but just why an individual dog falls in to this habit depends upon a number of factors. Researchers claim that some of the factors that affect whether a dog eats feces include: the overall health of the dog, shame, natural instincts, dominance and neglect.

The Overall Health of a Dog

One of the most commonly cited explanations for coprophagia is the overall health of the dog engaging in this habit. There are some who believe that dogs that resort to eating poop are seeking to replenish digestive enzymes in their gut. The reason for this is that the commercially available dog foods that we give to our dogs these days are much different to the foods that dogs were naturally meant to eat and this can sometimes result in an imbalance of enzymes in the dogs gut. Another common explanation for this behavior is a deficiency in certain vitamins, most commonly vitamin B. While dog owners most commonly want to pin their dogs unusual behavior on a health condition – most likely because this is the most palatable excuse for their dog’s actions – the fact is that this is rarely the reason for coprophagial activity.

Shame

There are those who argue that dogs are unable to comprehend or express human emotions; however, there is a considerable amount of evidence to the contrary. It used to be that humans believed that the most efficient way to deter their dogs from pooping in the house would be to rub their dog’s nose in the defecation while sternly saying “no.” More recent evidence not only tells us that this is a poor housebreaking technique, but additionally it reveals that it could be one reason why some dogs take part in coprophagia. Most breeds of domesticated dogs want to please their family pack, and just like human children, if they feel that they are going to be “in trouble” they may try to hide the evidence. Younger puppies that have been threatened with the “nose rubbing” technique after pooping in the house have often been observed eating their waste in order to avoid being shamed by their pack members or to avoid having their nose rubbed in the poop again. It is also possible that young dogs take the nose rubbing technique as a sign that they should consume their own waste since their face is being rubbed in it.

As a side note, nose rubbing is NEVER a correct solution to properly housetrain any dog; it creates poor bonding between you and your dogs and can severely cripple your dog’s development and understanding of what you expect from them.

Natural Instincts

There are a number of instincts that have outlasted time as dogs have developed and for some dogs these instincts are more noticeable than others. Examples of these instincts include: dogs that roll in feces to cover their scent and moving in circles prior to laying down (also known as denning.) As dogs are bred they can lose these natural instincts but in some cases they seem as strong as ever and this is just one reason why some dogs eat poop. Wild dogs rely upon a number of actions to preserve their families and remain hidden from predators. When wild mother dogs have young pups in the den that are still too young to leave, these pups will defecate in the den. The smell of this waste can attract predators and so the mother frequently will consume the waste of her pups in order to keep them safe. For some pups, observing their mother doing this can prompt them to imitate her actions.

Dominance

Dogs live in a hierarchical society; there is always one dog that sits at the top of the hierarchy with other dogs in the pack being submissive to this pack leader. In some cases researchers have observed coprophagia by submissive pack members but uniquely the feces being eaten are only those of the dominant pack members. While most domesticated dogs do not live in packs, they may live in households with multiple dogs in which case the more submissive pack members may be noted as those that commit coprophagia.

Neglect

Stray Dog

One of the most unfortunate reasons for coprophagia in dogs is neglect. Like most animals, when left with no choice a starving dog will resort to eating anything to keep themselves alive. Coprophagia is commonly seen with dogs that have been abandoned by their owners either tied up outside their home or left in the home after the owners have moved away. Often when dogs are rescued from these types of situations they may continue coprophagiac behavior even when placed in a safe home and fed a healthy diet. This type of continuance of behavior is simply the continuance of a habit that allowed the dog to survive.

Can Coprophagia be Prevented or Treated?

Due to the fact that there are many different reasons why dogs may take part in coprophagia, the first step in preventing or treating this condition is to determine what is causing it in the first place. It can be somewhat difficult to determine what is causing a dog to take part in coprophagia without knowing the history or the health condition of the dog itself so it is important to first make a trip to the veterinarian. A vet can help you to determine if there is an underlying condition causing your dog to eat feces; these conditions can include malnutrition or neglect, an underlying health condition or even a nervous disposition that exhibits with coprophagia as a symptom. If your veterinarian discovers one of these underlying conditions then they may suggest a path of treatment such as a particular diet, a multivitamin or a medication to relieve anxiety.

Treating coprophagia for the dog that does not display medically treatable conditions however, can be slightly more complicated. Without a medical basis for their behavior a dog cannot receive a targeted treatment to tackle the cause of their behavior, rather they must receive a deterrent or a distraction. Deterrent or distraction treatments are not as effective for coprophagia, but they can be effective to a certain degree if the dog’s owner is committed. The most reliable method of preventing coprophagia in a dog without an underlying medical condition is behavioral training. Some pet owners instead rely upon deterrents that give the dogs feces a foul taste or smell; however, this is not always as effective since it cannot be administrated to all animals that defecate in the vicinity of the dog.

Behavioral Training to Prevent Coprophagia

There are a number of different behavioral approaches to preventing coprophagia. The first most commonly suggested method is to simply pick up after the dog as soon as it defecates. While this approach may be effective, it is not practical for dogs that ingest the feces of other animals unless you intend to restrict where the dog is exercised. This means that a coprophagiac dog will never be able to run in a dog park or “play” at another dog’s home.

Another method recommended for preventing coprophagia is to sprinkle feces with pepper or something else that has a bad taste to it. When the dog goes to consume the feces they will be repulsed by the bad taste and hopefully they will associate all feces with this bad taste.

Other people suggest adding specific additives to the dogs food, whether it is garlic puree or an over the counter supplement that creates a foul taste or smell to the feces. This solution creates the same predicament as picking up as soon as the dog defecates, it will not prevent the dog from consuming other animals feces.

One of the most recommended tricks for keeping dogs from eating feces is simply to retrain the dog not to consume feces of any type. This method requires a lot of dedication from the dog owner but it is most effective in eliminating this habit completely. Behavioral training can be done with the assistance of a professional trainer or simply through teaching the dog to “leave it” while providing a tasty treat or other positive reinforcement to distract the dog from the feces.

Can All Dogs with Coprophagia be treated successfully?

As with any medical condition or concern, there is no guarantee that a dog with coprophagia can be treated successfully. As the owner of a dog with coprophagia you may have tried all of the suggested recommendations to no avail and if this is the case you may well have to resign yourself to the fact that your dog’s habit is hardwired and cannot be changed. While not all dogs with coprophagia can be treated successfully however, the majority of dogs with this habit can be treated with behavioral modification or veterinary intervention.

Why Should Dogs with Coprophagia be treated?

Many people ask, if copraphagia is a naturally occurring habit in some dogs, then why is it necessary to treat dogs with this condition? The fact is that while some dogs in the wild will perform coprophagia to keep themselves and their packs safe, some of these dogs will die from consuming feces with parasites or bacteria. As domesticated dog owners, the thought of losing our dog to a parasitic or bacterial infection is worrisome which is why every effort should be made to treat coprophagia.

Illnesses that can be transmitted through Coprophagia

There are a number of devastating illnesses and parasites that can be transmitted through the act of coprophagia, these include: worms, parvovirus, heartworm, infectious canine hepatitis and campylobacteriosis.

Worms

There are a number of types of worms that can be spread through the feces of an infected dog. When a dog eats the feces of a dog with these types of parasites they can consume living worms or eggs of worms that are still residing in their host. Once these feces are consumed the dog with coprophagia will begin to show signs of contamination. Some of the most commonly found worms in dogs with coprophagia include: hookworms, tapeworms and roundworms.

Hookworms are parasites that live in the small intestine of the infected animal and not only affect dogs but they can also infect people. Hookworms are incredibly small and yet extremely difficult to eradicate once they have infected a host animal. Hookworms can cause a number of difficulties for the infected animal including anemia since these worms feed off the animal’s blood by damaging the intestinal mucosa. While canine hookworms rarely cause illness in humans, they can on occasion and so it is important to treat a dog with hookworms immediately with a dewormer.

Tapeworms are found in a number of different animals and can grow to extreme proportions resulting in malnutrition to the host animal. There are more than a thousand species of tapeworms that lay eggs that are shed in the feces. When a dog consumes the feces of an infected dog it will begin to show symptoms once the tapeworm establishes itself in the intestines of the newly infected dog. Tapeworm infestation should be treated by a veterinarian.

Roundworms are another particularly difficult parasite to eliminate in that they lay extreme numbers of eggs that can survive outside the body of a host in soil for as long as ten years. This means that a dog can not only contract roundworms from consuming infected feces but it can also contract them from the soil contaminated by those feces. Roundworms should be treated with a dewormer prescribed by a veterinarian.

Parvovirus

Parvovirus is a particularly devastating disease that can be transmitted through the feces of a dog with active parvovirus OR through a dog that has successfully been treated for parvovirus. Many puppies that are diagnosed with this disease never survive the initial stages of infection. Parvovirus is extremely contagious and can affect the circulatory or intestinal system of the infected dog depending upon the subtype of the disease. Parvovirus attacks cells that divide rapidly in the body can rapidly destroys vital cells such as bone marrow and white blood cells. Treatment for parvovirus infection includes the administration of fluids and antibiotics to kill the infection. While most dogs rarely survive parvovirus, those that do often have lasting damage in the way of scar tissue in the organs affected by the virus.

Heartworms

Heartworms are worms that infect the heart of the affected animal and damage the heart tissue eventually leading to death. Heartworms are particularly prominent in dogs and are extremely difficult to eradicate once they have infected the heart tissue. Heartworms are easily prevented through administration of regular heartworm prophylactics. Once heartworms establish themselves in a dog treatment is centered on poisoning the existing worms through the use of arsenic based compounds. Unfortunately many dogs, already weakened by the infection, are unable to survive heartworm treatment.

Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Infectious canine hepatitis can be spread through feces, saliva, urine, blood and nasal discharge and it results in both infection of the liver and the establishment of a bleeding disorder. Dogs infected with this disease can exhibit a variety of symptoms including spontaneous hemorrhaging and a fever. Treatment of infectious canine hepatitis is based upon treating the symptoms displayed by the individual dog.

Campylobacteriosis

Campylobacteriosis is caused by the campylobacteria found in the gut. Most commonly small puppies are those that are infected and they most often present with severe diarrhea which can rapidly cause dehydration and eventually death if left untreated. Campylobacteriosis generally runs its course in a week; however, when young puppies are affected this is long enough to cause death. Any young dog suspected of having campylobacteriosis or showing significant diarrhea should be treated immediately by a vet in order to prevent dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes. Treatment for campylobacteriosis includes a course of antibiotics and administration of fluids.

The Importance of Understanding Copraphagia

If you are a dog owner that has observed copraphagia in your dog it is important to not only understand why your dog is taking part in this behavior, but it is also important to understand how crucial it is to prevent this behavior. There are many dog owners who claim that their dog is “not hurting anybody” by their actions, when in fact their dog could be consuming any number of parasites that can not only affect their dog but could also affect other family members in some cases as well. While not all cases of copraphagia are treatable, understanding the importance of curbing this type of behavior is the key to preventing numerous infections and to having a healthy dog

The pet doc is a veterinarian who has consulted with our site for many years. While he is still practicing and licensed, he volunteers his time to help us educate you, our readers, and has asked to donate this time and contribution anonymously. HIs 10+ years of experience in the field is invaluable as he helps to answer our reader’s pet-related questions. And hopefully, you will find his insights and helpful tips as much as we do.

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3 Comments on "Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?"

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DgLvr
DgLvr
Our neighbor’s cat uses my backyard as a litter box. The dogs do not eat their own feces but they love to eat the cat’s and they usually throw it up later on the carpet, usually along with their dinner. I’ve tried just about everything to deter this cat from my yard (sprinkler, citronella sprayers, a covered cat box outside the fenced yard) and the neighbor doesn’t care. I clean up the yard everyday, but sometimes miss it. Short of muzzling the dog, can you recommend anything?
Anonymous
Anonymous
Snoppy is a dashound, it seems that he is stopped up and can not make number 2. His stomach seem to hurt him. Can I give him Ex-Lax to help him to do number 2?
domino
domino
Please take Snoppy to the vet. Our Pet Doc can’t give out advice on medicating animals without proper examination of the animal.
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