Why does my Dog Eat Poo?
Updated: Apr 24
“It’s not that simple, humans! We eat poop because of both medical issues and behaviour issues.”- Dogs Everywhere
Ever wondered why your dog eats poo? It can't taste good right? Well there are several reasons why your dog(s) have such a repulsive habit.
Firstly, eating poo is scientifically known as 'Coprophagia' and it is a form of pica, which is the compulsion to eat non-edible things, like furniture, stones, sticks and other materials. (not to be confused with destructive chewing due to boredom or anxiety) According to the American Kennel Club, Coprophagia is often cited as the reason for rehoming and even euthanizing dogs!
Some dogs will only eat their own poo, other dogs will only eat poo from other dogs and some dogs only show interest in poo from other specific animals, such as cows, horses and rabbits. Unfortunately, some dogs are not fussy and will eat poo from all the above. So why do they do it?
Although this is usually a behavioural issue, there can actually be medical causes for Coprophagia, which has to be ruled out before beginning to address the behaviour through training. According to Debra Horwitz, DVM, & Gary Landsberg, DVM (2022), "Any medical problem that causes gastrointestinal upset, a decrease in nutritional absorption or anything that makes the poo more appealing to the dog, can often lead to Coprophagia."
Any medical conditions that reduce absorption, such as digestive enzyme deficiencies or parasites that can result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies, as well as malnutrition, can all cause Coprophagia. Diseases such as Cushing’s disease, Thyroid disease and Diabetes, can also cause Coprophagia. It may actually be caused by your dog's medication, rather than the health condition itself, as steroids may even increase Coprophagia. (Debra Horwitz, DVM, & Gary Landsberg, DVM 2022)
It may be that your dog is simply eating poo because they are hungry and potentially need a larger quantity of food on a daily basis. If your dog is on certain medication, this could also increase their appetite and lead to the behaviour.
A poor diet can cause Coprophagia, since there may be undigested food in the faeces, which would make it more appealing to your dog. If you have a multi dog household and they are on different diets, this can cause dogs to eat each other’s faeces, especially if one of the dogs is struggling to digest their food. If one of your dog’s only eats the poo of your other dog, it's worth taking that particular dog to the vets, as they may have a health condition, which is making their poo (dare I say it!) more 'appealing'.
As dogs are scavengers by nature, this can potentially be the reason why your dog has Coprophagia. Although it seems inconceivable, some dogs simply like the taste of poo, so they seek out opportunities to eat it. Apparently it tastes sweet to dogs and since their taste buds are limited in comparison to our own, the taste may be appealing. (I don't know who tested this theory, but let's take their word for it.)
Although it's disgusting to us, eating excrement is natural. Mothers lick their new-born puppies’ genital area, to stimulate bowel movements which they then ingest. Eating faeces is a behaviour inherited from their ancestor the Grey Wolf. Wolves will eat their own faeces and the faeces of other pack members, in order to hide their tracks from other predators and to protect themselves from intestinal parasites. Although, dogs have been domesticated over thousands of years, instinctual behaviours can still resurface to some degree, therefore we can conclude eating faeces is a natural and instinctual behaviour.
Odour is very important to dogs when it comes to food, with sense of smell being their primary sense. Obviously stools give off a strong odour and as you already know, your dog will be attracted to faeces on their walk. Faeces from other animals often contains undigested vegetation, which can give off an appealing odour to dogs.
Your response to your dog’s toileting in the house can also cause Coprophagia. Many guardians think they should sternly punish their puppy or dog for pooing in the house and believe this will toilet train them. Unfortunately, when dogs are scared to poo, they don't hold it or decide to go outside, they poo somewhere in secret, and will then eat it to hide the evidence. This can then become a habit to avoid punishment.
If you give a lot of attention to a puppy or dog when they eat poo, this can also inadvertently reinforce the behaviour. Even negative attention is appealing to some dogs, if they are desperate for interaction. Dogs may love getting chased and see the behaviour as an opportunity for a game, hence they repeat the behaviour for attention. Coprophagia is definitely more common in puppies, and at this age it is entirely normal. Some puppies will be curious and will even play with the stool (eye roll at the overflowing toy box). The environment can also lead to coprophagia.
Strays often have to scavenge for food to survive and this may include eating their own faeces, as well faeces from other animals. When these dogs are rescued, the behaviour is already deeply ingrained, despite being fed a decent diet. Dogs kept in kennels for long periods of time can also have Coprophagia. Due to the large number of dogs in many rescues, it's difficult to clean up dog faeces immediately. This allows opportunities for dogs to play with their stool and/or eat it.
Dogs from Puppy mills often have Coprophagia because they were left isolated in a kennel in appalling conditions. In this type of environment, hunger, malnutrition, illness and stress could all trigger Coprophagia. Puppies and dogs may also learn the behaviour because their food bowls were in close proximity to their faeces, causing them to associate the smell with food. Therefore, if you have a rescue puppy or dog, there is a good chance that your dog will struggle with Coprophagia, while they settle into their new home.
If you have more than one dog in your family, your dog’s are more likely to struggle with Coprophagia. In fact, Dr. Benjamin Hart, from the University of California (2012), performed a study on Coprophagia, which revealed that multi dog households were more likely to have Coprophagia than single dog homes. The study revealed that 33% of multi-dog homes struggled with Coprophagia, in comparison to 22% in single dog homes. They also discovered Coprophagia was more common in females than intact males, and noted that dogs that counter surf, (stealing food from counters) were more likely to have Coprophagia. This isn't surprising since both behavioural issues involve scavenging.
So now you know the many potential reasons why your dog eats their poo. You’re welcome! 😊 But don’t become bogged down with this behavioural issue! My the next article is going to help you to manage the behaviour!
By Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM. 2022 Dog behaviour problems - Coprophagia, VCA Animal Hospitals https://vcacanada.com/know-your-pet/dog-behavior-problems-coprophagia
Dr. Benjamin Hart, (2012) American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, University of California, Davis, The paradox of canine conspecific coprophagy - Hart - 2018 - Veterinary Medicine and Science - Wiley Online Library