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It could be shocking to see your precious companion munching on turds. He may be cute, but this poop-eating habit (also known as Coprophagia) is incredibly disturbing.
Poop-eating does not seem to be medically harmful, however. Your dog shouldn’t get sick from eating his own poop. With that in mind, stools from other sources may contain parasites, bacteria, or other bad stuff that can harm your dog.
Experts still can’t pinpoint the exact reason for this. Yet, some theories and interesting associations were found, some of which are medical, and some are behavioral.
This nasty habit can be tough to change, but there are still some ways you can try to stop it.
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The poop-eating habit may be caused by an underlying medical issue, especially if your dog developed a poop-eating habit all of a sudden as an adult. Please consult with your professional vet to make sure your dog doesn’t suffer from one of the following:
- Nutritional deficiencies. Many studies fail to show a clear link between poop-eating and nutritional deficiency. However, it is still plausible that if your dog is missing essential nutrients, vitamins, or minerals, he may start looking for them in poop.
- Malabsorption. Your dog may have digestion issues preventing the full utilization of the nutrients consumed. Poop can be just another (not so great) source of nutrients.
- Parasites. Some parasites may also cause malabsorption of nutrients since they use some of the nutrients the dog has consumed for their own benefit.
- Illnesses. Some illnesses can cause an increased appetite, as well as poop smell and taste changes. These may make your dog more interested in poop in some cases. Dementia and other brain diseases in dogs are also known to be associated with poop-eating.
- Drugs like steroids.
Once a vet has examined your dog and ruled out the medical reasons, you can be more confident that the poop-eating behavior is behavioral. These are potential behavioral theories that may explain this behavior:
- Bored, stressed, or anxious dogs will sometimes resort to eating their (or others’) poop to make themselves feel better.
- Attention-seeking dogs may resort to poop-eating. It is usually an easy way to get some attention from you. Negative attention is still attention. Don’t overreact if you catch your dog indulging in his own (or others’) poop.
- Dogs have wolf-like instincts. Wolves in the wild (dogs’ ancestors) are also known to be prone to poop-eating. Scientists hypothesize that wolves (and maybe dogs) eat poop to keep the den clean from various parasites and diseases.
- It’s normal for a puppy to play with poop. Puppies are always busy learning how to become proper dogs. They explore the world around them and imitate their mothers (or other role models). Your puppy may have picked up this habit from his mother early in his life when his mother would sometimes eat her puppies’ poop to keep them clean.
If your dog has this habit of munching on feces, you probably want it to stop as fast as possible (at least I hope you do). Fortunately, you have some things you can do to reduce or prevent this unwanted behavior:
- Work vigilantly on the “Leave It” command. Teaching your dog the ”Leave It” and ”Come” commands are incredibly useful if your dog’s poop-eating habit is about to be triggered. Based on a recent study, the “Leave It” is the most effective method for stopping the poop-eating.
- Reinforce positive behavior. Keep your dog on a leash when going potty. When he has finished doing his business, lure him a few feet away from the pooping area. Don’t forget to reward generously right after with treats, praise, or anything else he likes. It is also important not to rush to clean up the poopy mess before moving the dog away from the area. Seeing you rushing in as soon as he finishes may cause him to gain interest in the poop or see it as a game.
- Minimize access to poopy sources. Suppose you also have a cat in your household, and your dog is munching on cat poop. In that case, you need to make arrangements to make it more difficult for the dog to get access to the litterbox.
- Feed your dog a balanced diet. You can consult with your vet to select your dog’s best diet that covers all his nutritional needs. A lack of Vitamin B has been identified as a potential cause for the poop-eating habit. You can also try giving your dog a multivitamin or, specifically, a vitamin B supplement.
- Keep your dog busy. If boredom or anxiety is the cause, providing your dog with lots of playtime and exercise may help. It is especially important to encourage your dog to exercise or play around the area where the poopy offense is usually occurring.
- Make your dog’s poop smell & taste bad. There are poop aversion products on the market that claim to change the smell and taste of your dog’s poop. The idea of those products being that your dog will probably hate this new smell and taste and keep away from the poop on his own. However, these seem not to be very effective. A more natural way to achieve the same thing is to feed your dog some papaya, pineapple, or canned pumpkin as well as some broccoli, cabbage, or brussel sprouts. These natural foods will naturally cause your dog’s poop smell and taste to change similarly to the products. Don’t overfeed with those, though, because they can have adverse side effects in large amounts.
Professor Benjamin L. Hart from the University of California conducted an interesting study on coprophagia in dogs in 2018. These are some of the interesting findings from this study:
- ~16% (1 in 6) dogs were frequent poop eaters. Frequent in this case is being caught in the act at least six times.
- ~23% of the dogs (1 in 4) were seen eating stools at least once.
- Most dogs who eat poop prefer it served fresh. ~85% of dogs only eat poop that is up to 2 days old.
- Poop-eating dogs are not harder to train. 78% of dogs with a poop-eating habit were well house-trained, while a similar 82% of the dogs without this habit were not well house-trained.
- Poop-eating dogs are also more likely to be eating dirt or cat poop.
- Poop-eating dogs are also more likely to be greedy eaters.
- Terriers and hounds are the most likely breeds to be poop-eaters.
- Dogs that live with other dogs were more likely to have a poop-eating habit. The number of dogs living in the house is important. Households with two or more dogs living were most likely to report poop-eating behavior.
- Most dogs prefer to eat other dogs’ feces instead of their own.
- Teaching your dog the “Leave It” command seems to be the most effective in stopping the poop-eating behavior. The methods tried were: 1. using the “Leave It” command, 2. lacing stools with peppers, 3. punishing by an electronic or sound-emitting collar, and 4. chasing the dog away from the stool. The success rate for all methods in stopping the behavior was only 1-2% expect for the “Leave It” command, which had a 4% success rate.
- Coproban® was the most successful poop-aversion product, with a ~2% success rate. All the other products had a success rate that was ~1% or lower. Very underwhelming.
Dogs have some other weird habits besides eating poop. Did you know that a lot of dogs also eat grass?