Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?
I had never heard of dogs eating poop until I witnessed it myself. When I was in eighth grade, I caught my dog eating cat poop out of the litter box and being the 13 year old girl that I was, I screamed, “Ew! Lena, don’t eat that!”
But of course, Lena didn’t care. She had no idea what my deal was. She just kept chomping away.
Little did I know, what Lena was doing was actually quite common to dogs. It's an act called coprophagia – the act of eating,…well you know. As for WHY a dog would want to do this, there are actually no cold, hard facts! However, there are theories – four of them to be exact.
Four Theories Behind "Coprophagia"
- Cleaning Behavior: Believe it or not, it’s actually natural for dogs to ingest feces. As a mother dog, they lick the bottoms of their young ones to keep them clean. Also, dogs enjoy keeping their environment clean. They will ingest feces around them to make sure their area is picked up.
- Hunger and Food Obsession: When dogs are hungry, they will eat almost anything. Especially one that is malnourished or starving. So, if there is poop lying around, dogs will eat it. Some dogs just have an obsession with eating food in general. They will eat anything that tastes good to them. And for some dogs, poop DOES taste good! (Yuck!)
- Illness: Depending on what illness a dog maybe have, a symptom can be increased appetite or ingestion of inappropriate items – like poop. If the illness changes the consistency or smell of their stool, they may find it appetizing.
- Anxiety, Fear and Stress: A dog under a great deal of stress may eat his own stool as to soothe themselves. Also, if a dog is punished for inappropriate defecation or other action related to feces, they may associate the punishment with the presence of feces. By eating the feces, he is removing the "evidence" to avoid punishment.
Can My Dog's Poo Eating Habit Make Them Sick?
Now, that we know a little bit as to why dogs do this, let’s take a look at how eating poop can affect dog’s health. Luckily, eating their own poop does little to no harm to dogs. They'll just have bad breath for awhile. ;)
HOWEVER, when dogs eat ANOTHER dog's or cat's poop, they may be exposing themselves to parasites or bacteria and this can make them very sick.
If your dog is well known for ingesting stools, make sure to get them regularly checked by a veterinarian to avoid unforeseen illnesses.
Also, dogs can transmit bacteria and parasites from their mouth to us. Always make sure to wash your hands after being licked by a dog, especially if you know they may have a habit for ingesting feces.
Stopping the Behavior
This behavior is a difficult one to stop! However, there are steps you can take to get your dog to leave that poop-eating habit behind!
- Make sure your dog doesn’t have a medical problem that may cause the coprophagia. See a veterinarian to rule out the possibilities.
- Make sure your yard is spic-and-span. Pick up all animal waste. Then, try to start picking your dog’s poop up right after they defecate. A little annoying and time consuming to have to do, but it will eliminate the thing he wants to eat.
- Add something to your dog’s diet that makes their poop less appetizing. There are products you can buy that you spray on your dog’s food. Then when it goes through their digestive tract, it makes their stool smell different.
- Use commands to discourage them from doggie-do eating. When a dog starts getting close to the excrement, yell “leave it.” Try and distract the dog with a toy or some sort of treat. This will teach them that if they leave the poop alone, they will get a reward!
Knowing what I do now gives me a new perspective on my dog, Lena's behavior. Her crate was in the basement along with the cat’s litter box. Since dogs have a natural urge to keep their environment clean, eating the cat poop may have been her way of doing this!
Note to self: next time I have a dog and cat, change litterbox often! ;)