Probably one of the grossest things our dogs do is… drumroll, please… eat poop.
I bet there are a lot of you out there right now saying, “My dog never eats poop!” If so, I envy you because when I had my dog, she certainly went there.
I ended up installing a 6-foot metal gate in the doorway of my bathroom to keep her away from the kitty litter. It just seems to be something that dogs, well, “doo.” The real questions are: Why? and How do I make it stop?
First, let’s talk about why. When dogs eat poop, it’s known as coprophagia. This isn’t a horrific disease; it just means your dog eats poop.
There are several possible explanations:
1. Poor Diet
The diet your dog needs will change throughout his lifetime. Puppies need puppy food, adult dogs need adult food, senior dogs need senior food, and many dogs have various health conditions or breed requirements that necessitate adding or adjusting types of food.
If your dog is not getting the proper nutrition from his food, he may be more likely to ingest feces because he is looking to instinctively replace those nutrients his body is lacking.
How to Stop It: Speak with your veterinarian about your dog’s behavior and what you are feeding him. It may be that you need to feed a different type of food with more nutrition.
When a dog gives birth and is raising her puppies, she will lick them around the anal area to encourage them to poop. She may also eat their feces. Yeah, I know… gross, right?
This is instinctual behavior — not only does it keep the area clean, but removing the feces lessens the likelihood of attack by predators. Sure, no wolf or bear is going to come strolling into your house, so she is perfectly safe with her pups. But you can’t always control instinctual behavior.
How to Stop It: Be vigilant. This behavior will likely cease as the puppies grow. Clean their rear areas frequently and try to be proactive about noticing any elimination. Yelling at or punishing your dog for instinctive behavior is likely going to upset her and the puppies, and she may not be able to overcome the drive to lick.
In this video, Dr. Stephen Brammeier of Kingsbury Animal Hospital offers some additional explanations and solutions:
Some parasites in a dog’s body will leach away nutrients that the dog needs. Tapeworms are a good example. Sensing this, a dog may eat poop to try to replace the nutrients she is losing to the parasites.
Keep an eye on your dog. Is she also losing weight, less active, having bowel issues, feverish — or is there something not quite right that you can’t put your finger on?
How to Stop It: If you suspect that your dog has worms or parasites, definitely get her to the vet so that the diagnosis can be confirmed. You will want to start her on medication to treat the infestation right away if she does have worms or parasites. Left untreated, many parasites or worms such as hookworm or heartworm can be dangerous.
Does your dog spend most of his day tied up in the backyard? If so, he may simply be lonely, bored or stressed. Some dogs can react to stress or loneliness by eating poop.
Dogs are social creatures and are meant to have interaction and exercise daily. Leaving him alone for the better part of the day could be a reason for his sudden fascination with feces.
How to Stop It: Spend time with him. Take him for walks or jogs. Encourage and engage in playtime that includes running around together or even just you tossing a ball for him to retrieve and bring back to you. Give him lots of praise when he does something well.
If you notice he is going for poop, discourage him by saying, “No!” Praise him when he listens. Call him to you and have him do something easy, such as sit, and then reward him for it.
5. Cat Litter Appeal
Kitty litter conundrum: Your dog vacuums up the litter box as soon as your back is turned, eh?
Mine used to do this too, and it was pretty gross. It’s thought that dogs do this either to replace supplemental nutrients that they are lacking or because they are not being fed enough.
Although you may feel that your dog does it to drive you nuts, dogs really don’t think that way. To them, kitty poop smells good and they want to eat it.
How to Stop It: Try to move the litter box to somewhere your dog can’t access it. If she can’t get to it, she can’t eat it!
You’d be surprised at how clever dogs can be when they’re after something, and if they have all the time you’re at work to figure it out, they just might. You may have to resort to a gate solution: Install a baby gate in the doorway of the room with the litter box.
6. Backyard Buffet
If you pick up feces in the backyard only once a week or even less, you’re creating a minefield of poop bombs for your dog to eat.
Just as stress and poor diet can contribute to a dog eating poop, the availability and high amount of it certainly does not discourage the behavior.
How to Stop It: Get out there and pick up the poop! You’ll reduce the smell and have a cleaner backyard, and this also helps keep flies away.
If you can’t pick it up every day, do it as often as you can, ask other family members to pitch in, or inquire about a dog walker or sitter who would be willing to clean up the backyard waste when she comes to watch or exercise your dog.
As outlined in this article, there are several reasons for coprophagia, and it may be tough to figure out just which is driving your dog to eat poop. A call to your vet to discuss dietary changes can’t hurt.
Above all, be sure to address the underlying issue. It may be that your dog is lacking something you need to provide for him — so shouting, “No, no, no!” wouldn’t address the root of the problem.
Being a pet caregiver means lots of things — fun, happiness, companionship and joy. But you have to remember to scoop the poop!
This pet health content was reviewed by a veterinarian.