Why Some Dogs Eat Dog Poop & What to Do About It

We’d seen our dog Jason picking up deer poop when out hiking, but I was taken by surprise when I saw him eating dog poop in our backyard. The technical name for this behavior is coprophagia, and it’s a pretty disgusting habit. Jason is a big “kisser”, but nobody wants a kiss from a dog with poop breath.

How common is this behavior? Veterinarians at the Center for Animal Behavior at the University of California, Davis (UCD) conducted an online survey of 3,000 dog owners. The results found that 16 percent of the responders’ dogs eat poop “frequently” while 24 percent were observed eating dog poop at least once.

Based on the results of the study, researchers concluded that this behavior wasn’t linked to the age of the dog, the dog’s diet, whether or not they were housebroken or what their compulsive behaviors were like.

Why do dogs eat poop?

There are many theories as to why some dogs engage in coprophagia.

Experts at the VCA animal hospital chain say that while most cases of coprophagia appear to be purely behavioral, there are numerous medical problems that can contribute to dog’s eating poop. Those include: parasites, a deficiency in nutrients and calories, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, thyroid disease or drugs such as steroids. Other experts feel that this behavior is related to what dogs do in the wild.

Jerry Klein, AKC Chief Veterinary Officer, believes that overall  coprophagia is just a bad habit that in some case can be behaviorally assessed and addressed.

Environmental and behavioral triggers for why dogs eat canine poop include isolation, being restricted in a crowded environment (such as breeding mills), anxiety over harsh training methods or eating poop as a way to get an owner’s attention.

Based on the results of the UCD study, researchers made the following observations:

  • Poop eaters are no harder to house train than any other dogs.
  • Females are more likely to eat poop, while unneutered males are least likely to engage in this behavior.
  • Ninety-two percent of poop eaters want fresh poop—no more than two days old.
  • Eight-five percent of poop eaters are only attracted to the poop of other dogs and won’t eat their own poop.
  • Dogs who steal food off tables tend to also be poop eaters.

What to Do If Your Dog Eats Canine Poop

Practice good hygiene.

The best way to prevent dogs from eating feces is to thoroughly clean the yard and closely supervise the dogs when outside and on walks.

Since constant supervision isn’t always possible—especially if your dog has access to the yard via a doggy door—it’s a good idea to track how often and when your dog eliminates. This gives you the opportunity to pick up the poop immediately after your dog does his business. This is how we’re managing Jason’s behavior and as an added bonus we have a poop-free yard!

Owner Clearing Dog Mess With Pooper Scooper

Rule out a medical problem.

Have a conversation with your veterinarian to rule out any medical reasons for why your dog is engaging in coprophagia.

Consider changing your dog’s diet.

Discuss your dog’s diet with a veterinary nutritionist. A change in diet to one that is more digestible or one with different protein sources may be useful according to veterinary experts at VCA.

Dogs on restricted calorie diets may do better on a high bulk or high fiber formula. Adding enzyme supplements to improve nutrient digestion or absorption may help some dogs.

Try a product.

There are a wide variety of products on the market that claim to solve this problem. However, based on the results of the UCD survey, they may not be very effective.

When quizzed on the effectiveness of 11 commercially available food additives and tablets that claim to treat coprophagy, respondents reported a success rate of between zero and two percent. Veterinary experts say unpleasant tastes are unlikely to be successful, unless the product is suitably noxious as well as odorless.

Positive motivation training can help.

Training a dog to come to you and sit for a special treat immediately after pooping helps create a new positive habit. Of course, you still need to pick up the poop to avoid any undesirable snacking when you’re not watching.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

89 comments

Glennis W
Glennis W15 days ago

Great info and help Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W15 days ago

Very informative Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W15 days ago

Great information and advice Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W15 days ago

Veryinteresting article Thank you for caring and sharing

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Renata B
Renata B16 days ago

When ours was a puppy he found cat poop irresistible. We were told to put Tabasco on it and Cayenne: we completely cover it and ... he ate it anyway. I can't imagine how spicy it must have been. Growing up he lost the habit. I doubt that our stern input made a difference, he just got bored I think.

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hELEN hEARFIELD
hELEN h16 days ago

tyfs

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michela c
michela c19 days ago

Thanks, luckily my doggies don't behave like that.

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Past Member
Past Member 1 months ago

Out of the three dogs that I lived with when I was younger, I don't remember any of them eating its own droppings.

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Roslyn McBride
Roslyn M4 months ago

It's natural for a dog to eat it's own poop, leave it at that.

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Cindy S
Cindy Smith4 months ago

my dog never did this!

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