We love our dogs. They provide elfless companionship, stress relief and motivation to see the world through their optimistic eyes. Sometimes our dogs do things that gross us out. One of these instances is when you catch your dog eating poop. The act of eating poop, called coprophagia, has a range of causes in dogs.
When you see your dog eat poop, you might worry about their health or worry they will spread germs to you and your family. This article explains why dogs eat poop and how you can stop this behavior.
Normal Reasons for Why Dogs Eat Poop
Our dogs are complex creatures; they differ from us in many ways. It may surprise you to find out there are some circumstances where eating poop is normal for a dog. Some of these instances are:
Nursing – A nursing female dog may eat her puppy’s poop to keep their den clean. Motherly love!
Nutrition – Going to back the domestic dog’s long-forgotten wild origins, dogs may sometimes eat the poop of other animals, such as horse or rabbit stool, because it tastes good to them. The stool of other animals offers nutrients to a dog. However, the stool of other animals can also contain harmful bacteria so it’s best to discourage this behavior.
Abnormal Reasons for Why Dogs Eat Poop
Eating poop is almost always problematic. Except for in the select cases above, a dog eating poop should be seen as abnormal behavior and addressed quickly to avoid sickness or spreading germs.
Some abnormal reasons why dogs begin to eat poop are:
They Don’t Feel Good
When experiencing abnormal behavior from your dog, the first step should always be to get them checked out by a vet. Because our dogs can’t talk to us, they must tell us they are feeling unwell in creative ways. Eating poop may be one of the “creative” ways your dog tries to show you they are sick.
If your adult dog has never digested poop before and unexpectedly develops the habit, check for other symptoms. Eating poop in addition to showing symptoms of disease, like weight loss, lethargy, discomfort, vomiting or other behavioral changes is a good clue that something is up. Take your dog to see a veterinarian you trust and explain to them your concerns.
They could have a disease that makes them more likely to eat poop, like intestinal parasites or nutritional deficiencies. Your vet can test for these diseases and get the resolution you seek.
They Want Attention
Your dog may have learned in puppyhood that doing a “bad” behavior, such as eating poop or chewing shoes, elicits attention from their owner. Typically, this attention is negative. The owner may scold or punish the dog. Some dogs understand and fear this negative reaction, and never do that behavior again. Others may see their owner’s angry reactions as an effective way to get their humans to pay attention to them.
Make sure you are giving your dog one-on-one attention every day. Playing a game of fetch, training, or going for a nice walk can be enough to remind the dog you still know they are there and appreciate their companionship. If this behavior continues, you may need to consult a professional trainer.
They Are Anxious
Dogs may eat poop when they are placed in a situation that induces anxiety. In a lot of cases, this may happen when crating a dog. If a dog defecates, it may feel anxious about it and eat it. Some reasons for this anxiety could be:
Anxiety about being confined
Anxiety about being locked away from you (separation anxiety)
Lack of mental stimulation while confined
Anxiety, fear or boredom can cause dogs to eat their poop. Dogs do not like to sleep where they use the bathroom, so a dog who has pooped in a crate may eat it to “clean up.”
Fear of Punishment
Dogs who were harshly punished for pooping in the house during puppyhood may hold onto the fear from those early experiences. If your adult dog accidentally poops in the house, they may eat it to “hide the evidence” to avoid punishment for the accident.
How to Get Your Dog to Stop Eating Poop
The solution to getting your dog to stop eating poop will depend on why the dog started eating poop in the first place. By treating the underlying cause, you can better prevent the behavior.
How to Help Your Puppy Stop Eating Poop
Puppies are in a very formative and impressionable part of their lives. If they start eating poop, you can stop it before it becomes a habit.
You should control your puppy’s access to poop. This means you take them out on a regular, consistent schedule. When your dog poops outside and does not try to eat it, reward them with a treat. Clean up the poop while they snack.
Leaving poop out in your yard can allow the puppy to come back and eat it later, so you want to make sure you are always picking up poop your dog leaves in your yard.
How to Help Your Dog with Anxiety or Separation Anxiety to Stop Eating Poop
If your dog shows signs of separation anxiety in addition to eating poop, you should try to solve the underlying anxiety. Some dogs need a larger crate to feel more comfortable and less confined. Another thing to try is putting puzzle toys in their crate with them. Or put on some dog entertainment videos when you know the puppy will be alone for some time. Mental stimulation works wonders in avoiding anxiety. If you try these and the anxiety is still severe (or they are still eating their poop), you may want to look into a reputable daycare center for the dog.
Socialization and play will take their mind off their anxiety. If nothing else, an animal behaviorist can help you troubleshoot your dog’s anxiety and help you get them to stop eating poop.
How to Help Your Adult Dog Stop Eating Poop
A dog who was punished in puppyhood for pooping in the house may continue to eat their poop through adulthood to avoid punishment. If this is the case, it’s important to stop punishing behavior and focus on positive reinforcement.
Make sure that when your dog does what you want them to do (like pooping outside or leaving a poop instead of eating it) you reward them with treats and lots of praise. Positive reinforcement is much more effective because dogs will seek out the treats and praise and begin to connect it with pooping outside or not eating their poop, therefore changing their behavior.
It’s also important that you limit the dog’s access to poop. You should follow your dog outdoors when they go to the bathroom and restrict their access to the poop. Reward them for going potty outside with a high-value treat and then quickly clean up the poop.
If your dog has a habit of immediately trying to eat their poop after they have gone to the bathroom, you may need further measures. You can use a head collar or a basket muzzle to restrict your dog’s ability to turn around and eat their poop. Using a head collar, you can turn your dog’s head away from the poop and reward them when they successfully look away.
When your dog eats poop, it can be gross and concerning for a dog owner. You want your dog to live the healthiest and happiest life possible. As you’ve learned, there are several reasons your dog could be eating poop. So, it’s important to first figure out why your dog eats poop. Then, treat the underlying condition and their poop-eating habits should begin to fade.