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What in the World to Do When Your Dog Eats Poo?

Behaviorist/trainer Clarissa Fallis explains why a dog would eat poop, and then gives tips for preventing this rather embarrassing behavior.

dog eats poop
Your dog eats poop? Clean up promptly after any accidents in the house. Photo: billselak

A common but embarrassing problem with dogs is stool eating.

Coprophagy is the veterinary term for dogs who eat feces. Below are 5 reasons dogs (and especially puppies) might do this.

6 Reasons a Dog Eats Poop

1. They Picked It Up From Mom

After having a litter of babies, a mother dog will eat the puppies’ feces. It is instinct that causes her to do this.

Out in the wild, she needed to hide the scent of her puppies from predators. By eating the poop, she would cut down on the smell, which might have attracted animals that would kill the babies.

In modern days, the mother still does this, but she does so to keep the whelping box clean. Puppies often pick up this habit from watching the mother dog’s behavior.

2. They Just Like Putting Things in Their Mouth — Or They’re Bored

In a nutshell, puppies, just like babies, will put just about anything in their mouth. Or simple boredom may be to blame.

Dr. Donna Spector, DVM, recommends encouraging your puppy to play with toys.

“Do not punish or give excessive attention if your puppy does eat feces,” says Dr. Spector. “This will just reinforce the behavior.”

3. Not Enough Vitamins/Minerals

Vitamin or mineral deficiencies can be the cause of coprophagy.

When puppies lack something in their diet, they will try to find a way to obtain the nourishment they are lacking. Maybe you’re feeding too many treats. By eating feces, your pet may be trying to nourish themselves.

Switching to a high-quality commercial food should work wonders — not only for stopping this gross habit, but also for improving overall pet health.

4. Not Enough Fiber in the Diet

The food your dog eats could be too high in calories and too low in fiber. This will cause abnormal digestion.

The food may also, ahem, come out the other end looking pretty much the same as it went in.

Veterinarians believe that if the food isn’t properly digested, the dog is not getting the nutrition from it. Switching to a higher-fiber diet may help. See your vet if you suspect a health-related issue may be to blame for your dog’s coprophagy.

5. Claustrophobia

The dog could eat poop if you’re keeping them in an enclosure that is too small.

Also possible, you’re not cleaning out the enclosed space where the dog defecates. This can be stressful for the dog, who could be trying to “clean it up.”

6. They Don’t Want You to Know They Defecated

Young puppies are often yelled at if they have accidents in the house. Pets never want to make their humans unhappy or angry. Therefore, some will avoid getting in trouble by eating the evidence.

You need to use consistent, gentle house-training techniques.

Learn how to stop a dog from eating poop.
Learn how to stop a dog from eating poop. Photo: JenRegnier

Why You’ve Got to Stop It a Dog Who’s Eating Poop

Regardless of the cause, coprophagy must be stopped.

It’s not only a gross habit, but it can also cause health issues, especially if the dog is eating other animals’ feces.

Your puppy could get intestinal parasites or other diseases. And the only way to get rid of intestinal parasites is through deworming, which usually takes multiple treatments.

How to Stop a Dog From Eating Poop

As with any behavior problem, there are 4 components you must implement to control the issue.

If you think any of the issues above are causing your dog’s coprophagia, implement the treatment plan while treating the underlying problem.

1. Reinforcement of Alternate Behaviors

At the first indication of interest in the stool, interrupt your dog’s behavior and ask for a known obedience cue. If the dog is eating their own poo, you need to be present every time they defecate.

I suggest feeding the exact same amount at the exact same time of day for about 2 weeks until you know your dog’s schedule:

  • Most dogs will defecate once each time they are fed, plus an additional time.
  • So if you are feeding 2 times a day, the dog should defecate 3 times.

2. Management and Setting Up for Success

To set your pet up to succeed, address the underlying cause. If nutritional needs are not being met, try switching to a higher-quality dog food.

3. Consequences for the Behavior Problem

To provide a consequence for stool eating, make the stool less palatable:

  • Animal Behavior College suggests a product called For-bid, which you put in the dog’s food to make the stool less desirable.
  • If your dog is eating cat poo from a litter box, you can spray a taste deterrent, such as Bitter Apple, on the feces.
  • For die-hard stool eaters, you may need to interrupt the behavior with something that will help create a negative association to stool eating. You can use the “Pet-Corrector,” a soda can with pennies in it, or a spray bottle with 2 parts water and 1 part vinegar to interrupt the behavior.

4. Consistency

Possibly the most important component of the treatment plan is being consistent with your practices.

Because coprophagia is a self-rewarding behavior, the dog will probably not miss an opportunity to engage in this behavior.

In this video, Dr. Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer of the American Kennel Club, explains more about how to stop your dog from eating poop:

Make Sure Everyone’s On Board

When addressing any behavior problem, it is important that all members of the household have the same expectations of the dog. For more about this, see our article Successful Dog Training Starts With Your Entire Family.

Seriously, give that article a read — it’s that important.

This is so critical because if there is an inconsistency in training among your family members, the dog will have a difficult time determining when a behavior is appropriate.

Your pet will begin to discriminate between family members and will offer the desired behavior inconsistently. All components of the treatment plan must be implemented at the same time in order to stop your dog from eating poop.

References

  • Horwitz, DVM, DACVB, Debra, and Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM. “Dog Behavior Problems – Coprophagia.” VCA Hospitals. 2012.
  • McKeown, Donal et al. “Coprophagia: Food for thought” Canadian Veterinary Journal Vol. 29,10 (1988): 849–50.

Clarissa Fallis

View posts by Clarissa Fallis
Clarissa Fallis is a canine behaviorist and trainer from Upstate New York. She has attended Bergin University of Canine Studies, State University of New York at Cobleskill and Animal Behavior College. She is competent in training all breeds and ages of dogs, though she prefers hounds because of the challenge they present.

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