7 reasons your dog may eat poop and how to defer the behavior
As dog owners we know that our pets can engage in odd behaviors, and all have different personality quirks and temperaments. Sometimes your dog may be engaging in behavior that is not only stomach-turning but could possibly be sending a message to look into their health and lifestyle. Poop-eating is common for dogs, so common in fact that there is a scientific name for it—coprophagia.
This doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve to be addressed, however, even if your dog thinks it’s perfectly normal behavior. If your dog has adopted this habit, there is probably a reason for it, and once the root of the problem is established, the information to work on it if needed is available. These are some common reasons why your dog may be making a snack out of their own (or another animal’s) feces.
- Medical conditions
There are actually a few different medical conditions your dog could have that would cause them to eat poop, whether it be their own poop or that of another dog or animal. Some of these medical concerns are:
If your dog has parasites, then the worms are eating the nutrients inside. This will cause the dog to obtain less nutrients than the parasites, especially as they continue to grow. In this case, the dog is eating poop to supplement the nutrients being lost. If they are suffering from parasites, they may also become lethargic, have a duller coat, lose weight, have diarrhea or vomiting, and possibly have odd-looking stool either coated in mucus or tiny worms inside. Any of this difference in behavior or health, even if mild, in addition to poop-eating should be addressed by your vet.
- Deficiencies including enzyme, pancreatic, hydrochloric acid, or malabsorption
These conditions have to do with a dog’s digestion being off, therefore not obtaining the nutrients needed from their diet. Enzymes may need to be supplemented into their diet since they are unable to digest all the enzymes they are receiving in their food. These concerns are sometimes brought on by poor diet or aging. So, when a dog is eating poop while suffering from a deficiency, they are either still hungry because they cannot absorb the food they have eaten, or they are attempting to supplement their diet with more enzymes, protein, and nutrients.
- Conditions that cause increased appetite such as thyroid issues and diabetes
These medical conditions can cause your dog to feel very hungry the majority of the time even when they have been fed. If they are on a steroid medication, that can also contribute to the ravenous appetite. They will eat poop in order to obtain another meal because they still feel hungry. Consult with your vet if you suspect this could be the reason behind poop-eating behavior.
- Puppy stage
As we already know, puppies are curious. They are similar to human babies in that they are constantly exploring and testing because everything is new. In the same way that babies may want to put everything in their mouths, it is normal that puppies would do the same with poop. Often times they might grow out of the behavior, treating it as a curiosity rather than a medical or behavioral condition. However, if it persists multiple times and as they get older, the cause could be one of these other possibilities. As with most behaviors that puppies engage in, watch their activity and keep a clean environment. Try to stay on top of their excretion and clean up directly after so they do not have the opportunity to consume it.
This has been recognized as a very common reason for dogs to eat their own stool. Those that are left without attention, and in small quarters, are more likely to consume their own feces than those who get more activity and companionship. If you think of the behavior in terms of similar human behaviors, you may begin to see the connection. Of course, humans are not going to eat their own poop (hopefully) but we engage in a lot of poor habits out of boredom as well. We binge eat when we aren’t hungry, we watch too much TV, we spend too much time looking at our phones, instead of getting out and interacting, exercising, and engaging in more fulfilling behaviors.
If your dog is eating their poop out of boredom, then addressing the root of the problem could be simpler than if they were doing it for a different reason. They could use more activity and stimulation to keep both their body and mind healthy. Practice enrichment with your dog and do your best to maintain a clean space so that they also do not have as much of an opportunity to eat their poop.
Stress can cause many problematic behaviors in both humans and animals. Dogs all respond to their stressors differently, and for some, when their anxiety is kicked into gear, they will respond by eating their poop. It’s not that different than humans who anxiously bite their fingernails or consume food as their anxiety works from the brain into actions. If your dog is anxious, talk to your vet and/or a trainer to see what you can do to cut down on their stressors. As for the anxious poop-eating, try to maintain a clean area and clean up after their eliminations as soon as possible so they do not have the opportunity to stress eat.
- Greedy eating habits
The same dogs who steal food off the table or counter are likely poop-eating dogs as well. They have gotten used to taking what they want to consume, and for many, poop is simply another item for consumption. Try working with a training specialist to improve greedy eating behaviors, and clean up after your dog poops promptly in order to remove the “snack” they will automatically seek.
- Protection of their pack
If your dog lives with an older dog, then they may develop the habit of eating that dog’s poop in order to “protect” them. Dogs are pack animals, and it is their instinct to protect other members of the pack. In this case, a younger dog may clean up by consuming the older dog’s poop in order to hide his trace from threats as if they were in the wild. So, it is actually in a dog’s DNA to eat poop, and although these instincts are deeply rooted, they may evolve in house pets.
If this is the cause of your dog’s stool consumption, then the best way to address the issue is to ensure clean-up of poop promptly. If it is happening outside in a yard, then try taking the dog out on the leash so you have more control over what they can consume. Also, try distracting your dog with a treat after one has excreted so you have the opportunity to clean up before your dog can get to it. If there is no poop for them to eat, then they simply will not be able to.
Though many of us dog owners do research and ask questions about the amount of food our dog needs in their diet, there is the possibility we could be underfeeding. If this is the case, it could be a cause of your dog’s poop-eating. They are simply still hungry and looking to supplement their food intake. Check with your vet to ensure you are feeding your dog the correct amount and adjust their meals accordingly, with your vet’s guidance.
Shay Siegel is a young adult author, freelance writer, and editor from Long Island, NY. She has a BA from Tulane University and an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Always a lover of animals, Shay had several cats growing up. She's now a dog mom to the snuggliest rescue pit bull, Bernie. She enjoys writing on a variety of topics and sharing her love and knowledge of animals with others!