As a dog owner, you’ve seen it all. You’ve witnessed all the mildly disgusting habits such as butt-licking, slurping water from your toilet, or even sniffing other dog’s butts. These are just some habits you have to deal with as dog owners.
But the worst may be that day you catch your dog eating his own feces (poop). Gross, right? The idea of such an act is downright disgusting as a human. But don’t start scolding your dog because of this. There are things to consider and actions steps to take to fix this.
The behavioral condition where dogs eat their own poop is called Coprophagia, and it’s actually a lot more common than you may think. There isn’t one specific reason why your dog eats poop, but most of the cases can be narrowed down to a few.
Dogs can eat their poop because of a deficiency of nutrients, malabsorption syndrome, parasites, natural instincts, anxiety, attention seeking, or even good smelling turd (from eating too much good human foods). Let’s investigate this condition.
7 Reasons Why Your Dog Is Eating Poop
When a new mother dog or her puppies eat poop, it is considered normal for reasons we will get to in the next section. But why do adult dogs eat their own poop? That said, here are the most common reasons for coprophagia in adult dogs.
1. Your dog may be lacking nutrients
This main reason for coprophagia, in a nutshell, is animal instinct. When your dog is lacking sufficient nutrients from its daily food regimen, it will find other ways to get those nutrients. And yes, even if it means eating its own feces.
In order to prevent this, make sure your dog is getting all the necessary nutrients daily. This means never missing any of their regular meals and giving them the recommended dog food portion. Not sure what the portion is? Consult with your vet.
Sometimes low-quality commercial pet food won’t have enough nutrients. So, some healthy snacks in between meals is a good idea. Keep in mind, if you purchase any of the top brands of dog food, they should contain all the necessary nutrients.
Note: Studies have shown that when dogs lack Vitamin B1, they are more likely to develop Coprophagia. Looking for fruits and vegetables with Vitamin B1? Try feeding your dog some pineapples, cucumbers, tomatoes or cantaloupe.
2. Malabsorption Syndrome can cause dogs to eat poop
Sometimes it isn’t the owner’s fault that the dog isn’t getting enough nutrients. Malabsorption Syndrome is a medical condition where the dog does not fully absorb the nutrients of the food within their small intestine. It’s not a very common, but it does happen.
As a result of the disease, the dog’s natural instincts kick in and he’ll try to consume more nutrients by salvaging the leftover nutrients in the feces. This is a serious condition and should be checked by your dog’s veterinarian.
3. Intestinal parasites can lead to Coprophagia
It’s rather common for a dog to eat dirt or other things that shouldn’t be digested while playing outside. Unfortunately, these dogs are exposed to all sorts of parasites, such as stomach worms, every time they go out for a walk.
If parasites live in your dog’s system, it could explain why they are trying to get more nutrition from eating their poop. Consult with a veterinarian to see if this is a possibility for your dog with coprophagia. Good news: there are many ways to deal with intestinal parasites in dogs.
4. Certain dog diseases will cause dogs to eat their feces
There are certain dog diseases that may significantly increase the appetite of the dog. And if they’re not getting enough food from home, they’ll find anything that’s edible to consume, including their own poop.
These diseases include (but are not limited to) Diabetes, Thyroid Disease or Cushing’s Disease (usually with older dogs). If your dog is showing any symptoms, in addition to coprophagia, you may want to get it checked out. Always consult with a veterinarian.
5. Your dog may just be seeking your attention
Have you ever heard about cases where the adolescent kid of neglectful parents act out and do terrible things, presumably to get the attention of their parents?
Your dog could also be trying to get attention from their actions of consuming poop. Sure enough, eating poop generally elicits a reaction from the owner. And when the dog realizes that eating poop will get you to pay attention, you better bet they’ll continue to do so.
The solution to this is simple. Don’t neglect your dog, ever.
6. Your dog may be experiencing anxiety
Like all humans, dogs can get anxiety from various things. But how does anxiety cause them to eat their own feces? In the early stages of house training, some owners can be a little too harsh with their puppy. Harsh punishments are not needed.
In fact, the fear of getting punished will cause them to build anxiety every time they poop and may try to get rid of the “evidence” by eating it. Of course, owners are likely to give harsh punishments if they eat their poop, thus creating a vicious cycle that could continue into adulthood.
The best way is to try positive reinforcement every time your dog doesn’t eat poop by rewarding them to “leave it.” You don’t want to punish your dog for doing something “wrong.”
7. Isolating your dog can lead to this behavior
Research and studies have shown that when a dog is isolated from the rest of the humans and spends a significant amount of time in a kennel, they are more likely to eat their own poop.
There is no conclusive evidence on exactly why this happens, but it could possibly be because they are seeking attention or from the intense stress of isolation.
If a dog is confined in a restrictive space, they are also more likely to eat poop too. These are all stressful situations that could trigger a psychological problem, thus leading to coprophagia.
Keep in mind that dogs are social creatures. They love to be around people and are generally happiest when their family is playing or interacting with them.
Puppies & Mother Dogs Eating Poop is Natural
Eating poop is not always unusual when it comes to your canine. There are certain stages in their lives where it is perfectly natural and beneficial to eat feces. For example, when a female dog becomes a mother, she will teach her puppies to clean up after themselves.
For the first month, the mother dog will clean by licking the feces residue off the puppies. So in this case, it is not a psychological or physiological issue that is causing this temporary coprophagia. It is animal instincts inherited through all the years of evolution.
As for the puppies, they will certainly pick up this habit because they are great students of other dogs or humans. The only thing to watch out for is the puppies getting too accustomed to the taste of their poop and possibly starting to eat the feces of other dogs.
Puppies eating their own poop is harmless, but feces of other animals could contain parasites, viruses and other things you don’t want them eating. The behavior of puppies eating their own feces, also known as autocoprophagia, will disappear in 8 to 10 months in most cases.
The Research & Studies Behind Coprophagia
If your canine buddy is eating feces, do not be alarmed. In 2012, Dr. Benjamin Hart DVM and his team of researchers at UC Davis presented a survey study (to 3,000 dog owners) that found some initially alarming statistics.
- 1 in every 6 dogs are classified as having “serious coprophagia” (when a dog has been caught eating poop at least 5 times).
- 1 in every 4 dogs have been caught eating their feces just once.
These statistics suggest that 16% to 24% of all dogs have coprophagia to a certain degree. With that in mind, can we conclude that it is completely abnormal for canines to eat their own poop?
Think about it. Many other species of animals, such as guinea pigs and rabbits also eat their own poop. In fact, it may be detrimental to their health to NOT consume the nutrients in their feces.
Dr. Hart and his team concluded that eating stool is an innate predisposition stemmed from the past, when wild canines would need to protect the pack members from parasites in the feces.
It is essentially a survival behavior from when dogs had to live in the wild and weren’t spoiled with fancy treats, quality brand food and medical attention. From our point of view, it is disgusting, but not so much from the canine perspective.
How to Stop a Dog From Eating Poop
Now that you understand what environmental and behavioral factors cause coprophagia in dogs, you may be thinking how do i stop my dog from eating poop? There are many different ways to safely solve the coprophagia problem, and i hear a lot of mixed results on which works best.
Feel free to try these methods until one works successfully for your dog. Also, if a specific treatment worked for you, please leave a comment in the section below!
1. The Pineapple Treatment
Not only can dogs eat pineapples, but they are also very nutritious for them as well. A little known secret of pineapples is that it can actually be used as a treatment for coprophagia in dogs!
This tangy fruit creates an unappealing taste and smell in your dog’s stool and over time, it should deter your dog from eating their stool. Chop up a few small pieces of pineapples for your dogs to consume and observe over time.
First, you want to make sure there is no allergic reaction and if your dog has a change in stool habit (diarrhea or constipation), stop immediately and try another treatment.
2. Coprophagia Deterrent Soft Chews
These soft chews have the same goals as in the pineapple treatment – change the taste of stool and hope the dog loses its appetite for feces. I have a lot mixed reviews for this one.
The Coprophagia soft chews either work really well or it doesn’t work at all for your dog. We’re not exactly sure why that is. However, if you do want to go this route I would suggest stopping this treatment if it doesn’t work within 2 weeks.
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3. Habanero Sauce on Feces?
This method may sound a bit crazy, but it can and has worked with dogs. Cesar Millan recommends that you find stool either in the yard, on the pee pad, or wherever your dog does its business, and cover it in habanero sauce.
After the initial bite or two, they will certainly be deterred and may not think eating stool is worth it at the cost of a burning mouth. And don’t worry, this won’t do any serious damage to your dog.
4. Vitamin Supplements for Dogs
The theory that dogs eat feces due to a lack of vitamins and minerals in their diet makes this method an obvious choice. This idea is more than a theory as there are studies tracing back to the 1980’s that back this up.
In fact, the prime suspect is the lack of thiamine, also known as Vitamin B1. You can either add some supplement pills into their diets, or do it with fruits that contain thiamine, such as bananas, pineapples or apples. All of which, are dog-friendly and safe to eat.
5. Use a Meat Tenderizer
The theory is that the modern dog diet contains a much higher percentage of carbohydrates and lower percentage of fats and meat-based proteins, when compared to the diet of their ancestors.
Cesar Millan has suggested using a meat tenderizer that contains a special enzyme called papain. This enzyme supplement will also give the dog’s stool a bitter taste to it in an attempt to deter them from feces consumption.
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The Smart Canine is an online research dedicated to providing top-quality and accurate information on training and caring for your dog. Our team has done extensive research on Coprophagia and top reasons why dogs eat poop. However, we cannot guarantee that any of the treatments mentioned will work with your dog. Many dogs have experienced success with these treatment methods but may not be successful with yours. If your dog is suffering from Coprophagia, we still recommend getting professional advice from your vet.