There are plenty of quirky behaviors specific to dogs, but quite possibly the most disgusting among them is eating poop, otherwise known as coprophagy. While this behavior is 100% normal, the fact that dogs eat poop can place owners at odds with their best friends. The good news is that there are reasons why they’re doing it. Coming to terms with these reasons can help you get your dog to stop.
Puppies learn to eat poop from their mother. This practice is born out of good housekeeping, but it also protects the den from predators. This inherited, primitive behavior stems from long ancestral histories out in the wild. Mother dogs continue to teach pups how to behave until they’re fully weaned, and all they learn in this time is meant to be passed on.
Even though dog owners know that their dogs are answering to an instinct, watching their dogs eat poop is still highly disconcerting. The important thing to remember is that overreacting to this behavior can actually cause more harm than good. Certainly, you do not want this behavior to get out of control, but by scolding or punishing them, they may actually want to do it more often.
Dogs will also eat their own stool when accustomed to negative attention, in order to cover up an accident.
More Than Curiosity
While puppies and young dogs are enormously curious by nature and tend to smell and taste nearly everything come across. Coprophagy can start out as mere curiosity (or boredom), but if it’s not addressed it can become a problem.
- Be sure your dog has ample opportunities throughout the day to physically exhaust themselves. Lavish them with happy playtimes and give them loads of pets and snuggles. The result? A stress-less, happy, tired pup.
- Pick up feces right away. They may lose interest in sampling feces after they no longer have access to their own. As soon as they are finished defecating, call them away from where they eliminated, and offer a treat and loads of enthusiasm. Once they’re inside, clean up their mess.
- Always walk your dog on leash, and supervise them closely. This will eliminate the chances of them finding feces that other animals left behind.
The Taste Test
It’s not uncommon for dogs to eat poop if something is missing from their diet. They may not digest their normal food effectively or perhaps their food is low in certain nutrients. Also, dogs eat poop because it may smell and taste the way their food does, and they may just be on the hungry side.
Let your veterinarian know if you think your dog could benefit from a change in their diet, or want to discuss the efficacy of dietary additives (like digestive enzymes or meat tenderizer) that make feces less appealing to dogs. We can happily refer you to one of our excellent partners in preventative care.
Other “Reasons” Why Dogs Eat Poop
Other times, dogs eat poop because they have intestinal worms that are stealing required nutrients from the GI tract. A microscopic analysis of your dog’s stool at the veterinarian may help identify such parasites which can then be treated.
In short, when dogs eat poop it’s not exactly fun. But as long as your dog doesn’t make it a daily occurrence they will most likely grow out of this learned behavior.