Dogs are diehard scavengers regardless of who owns them. If given the chance, they will raid the kitchen trashcan. They also like to nosh on rich pickings along the streets, from the park, or your neighbor’s garden. Much to their owners’ disdain, these rich pickings include poop from a range of species — birds, cats, sheep, cattle, and whatnot.
Of all the nasty things our canine companions do — licking their balls, raiding the kitchen trash, rolling in the muck, slurping toilet water — nothing tops the nauseating habit of poop eating. Unfortunately, dogs are an elite member of the Doo-Doo Diner’s Club. For some animals, eating their own feces is sometimes health beneficial because it contains undigested food and thus, essential nutrients that would otherwise be discarded. Bunnies, chinchillas, and guinea pigs, for instance, have adjusted to eating feces without getting sick. However, dogs need not do this.
Ironically, dogs are excessively scrupulous about their habitat. They are not keen on defecating near their eating and sleeping areas. Not to mention they have discriminating taste buds. So, why do dogs eat poop? As repulsive as the topic of poop may be to us, it is important to look at the possible reasons why your furry housemate is grossing you out.
Facts about Canine Coprophagia
Canine coprophagia is the technical term for this habit. Science has yet to probe this problem thoroughly but there’s a study shedding further light about this problem.
In 2012, Dr. Benjamin Hart and his colleagues from the University of California conducted a study about canine coprophagia involving 3,000 pet owners, the researchers found that:
16% of the dogs are classified as serious poop eaters and were caught red-handed at least five times
24% of the dogs were caught eating poop at least once
40% of Border Collies and Shelties eat poop
90% of poop were eaten within 48 hoursAdvertisement
77% of dog owners never see their pets eat poop
The study showed that not all dogs eat poop. Those who do prefer to eat it want it fresh. Poodles, in particular, shun the practice. Additionally, the study showed that having a coprophagic dog is more likely if you have two or more dogs. Another unsatisfying conclusion is that canine coprophagia is not easily deterred by punishment or by products designed to manage it.
Is Canine Coprophagia Normal?
According to the American Kennel Club, canine coprophagia is a normal behavior when your dog does it during specific life stages. While eating his own poop won’t cause your dog any harm, eating other animal’s waste may bring your canine companion health problems. Feces could be a source of disease if it is contaminated with viruses, intestinal parasites, and/or toxic chemicals.
Common Reasons for Canine Coprophagia
There are many reasons why your dog may be chowing on poop. It could be an underlying medical condition or a behavioral problem.
1. Your dog needs a nutrient boost
The most common reason for dogs dining on dung is malnutrition. Unlike the ancestral canine diet — fruits, herbs, vegetables, and raw meat — the modern canine diet consists highly of processed foods.
While commercial dog food varies in quality as it does in price, a majority of these products contains a high percentage of carbohydrates and indigestible bulking agents but is minimal of meat-based proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Feeding your dog with low-quality foods will force him to scarf down another animal’s waste to obtain the nutrients that may be missing in his diet.
Rabbit droppings, in particular, is a constipated dog’s favorite treat. Believe it or don’t, rabbit droppings are little nuggets of fiber and vitamin B12 for dogs. But would you rather allow your dogs to feast on feces than serve him a complete balanced diet?
2. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)
Malnutrition and the resulting poop eating are sometimes rooted to maldigestion, which is a symptom of a condition called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). Normally, dogs are capable of producing enough digestive enzymes once they are weaned off their mother’s milk. Dogs with EPI, however, struggle in producing the necessary amount to complete the digestive process effectively.
As a result, your dog will seek out enzyme-enriched sources to compensate for the deficiency. Sad to say, these sources had to be chicken dung, rabbit droppings, or another dog’s poop. The same goes for dogs who subsist on processed dry dog foods that are low in digestible nutrients.
On the bright side, you can curb your dog’s poop cravings by giving him digestive enzymes supplements. The list of digestive enzymes is a mouthful, but all are key factors in improving your dog’s digestive system — the gatekeeper of your dog’s overall health and well-being.
3. Mother dogs hide their litter’s scent from predators
It is natural for a mother dog to eat the fresh stool of her pups at this stage. A mother dog will lick her puppies to encourage elimination and to help keep their habitat clean. Most importantly, mother dogs do this to protect their litter from predators that might be attracted by the puppies’ scent — a behavior that harks back to their ancestry. The mother dog will do this from the time her puppies are born until the puppies are old enough to go potty far from their whelping box.
4. Puppies mimic their mother
Coprophagia during puppyhood is also natural, as puppies are curious about everything around them. Some pups will be satisfied with a sniff but just like small human children who stuff everything in their mouths, others will go as far as to imitate their mother and have a good taste of waste. Eventually, they will stop the habit before they reach nine months old. If you have a snooping pup at home, is wise to intervene and not risk that your pup won’t outgrow the behavior.
5. Extreme hunger
Coprophagia is quite rampant in puppy mills as breeders wean puppies too early, causing them to starve often. Likewise, these puppies are most likely to have intestinal parasites as they barely receive proper veterinary care. Intestinal parasites eat the food a pup eats, resulting in constant hunger. Puppies need to eat two to three times a day. Therefore, a puppy will gobble up anything that seems remotely edible just to fill his hungry belly.
6. Your dog is too bored or too lonely to function
Boredom — the love child of isolation and restrictive confinement — is another reason why dogs eat poop. Dogs that are caged for a long time and are deprived of physical or mental stimulation may find relief from playing with or eating their own poop. Likewise, dogs eat their poop as a desperate attempt to grab their owners’ attention, which they inevitably will. Your dog will associate it as an effective method if you fall prey to reinforcing this negative behavior.
7. Stress and anxiety may cause your pooch to do it
Studies suggest that punishing dogs using harsh methods during potty training teaches them that defecating itself is bad behavior. Consequently, they will hide their stools by consuming to avoid punishment.
8. Your dog has an innate desire to protect
Sometimes, a healthy dog will eat the fresh stool of a sick or elderly dog, especially in cases of fecal incontinence. This behavior harks back to ancient instincts where the strong pack members protect the weaker canine members from predators that might be attracted by their scent.
Suggestions for Coprophagic Dogs
Canine coprophagia is one of the reasons why some people are afraid to own dogs. Sometimes, owners abandon their dogs because of the prospect that their pets are eating poop. As a responsible owner, you should never do this. Rather, you should root out what influences your dog to do what he does. Here are some suggestions to help you nip the problem in the bud:
Feed your canine buddy a complete and balanced diet
Make sure your dog is getting all the nutrients he needs to keep him bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. As much as possible, feed your dog a raw diet. Raw food is already rich in digestive enzymes and so, your dog won’t have to rummage for enzyme-rich poop. If you prefer the convenience of commercial dog food, consider giving your dog probiotics and digestive enzyme supplements to promote proper digestion.
Spend time with your furry pal
Give your dog the attention he deserves and the workout he requires. If your dog is particularly energetic, engage him in agility games. If you can’t match your dog’s energy, try some nifty devices from good pet stores such as a toughened tennis ball with a long-handled launcher. Provide your dog with various toys so he remains mentally and physically engaged when you’re away. Make sure you aren’t away too long.
Promote regular poop scooping
The best way to keep temptation at bay is by keeping the poop away. Clean up immediately after your pooch poops so he won’t have the chance to wonder what fresh poop tastes. Likewise, encourage other family members to do the same.
Put your dog on a leash
Always keep your dog on a leash whenever you take him outdoors. Gently pull your dog when he tries to approach a stool pile or when he tries to sniff his own poop after he defecates. Apply immediate distraction techniques as soon as his curiosity sparks. Reward him with verbal praise or a tasty snack whenever he responds appropriately. Soon enough, he will learn to let go of such habits.
Consult with your vet
We recommend you book an appointment with your vet so he can rule out any underlying medical problem that may have caused your dog to behave as such. Diabetes, thyroid disease, malabsorption syndromes, and parasitic worms can cause your dog to behave in strange ways.
Will you turn down your dog’s affection because of the prospect of him eating poop? Know that the simple act of keeping your surroundings clean is the best strategy for stopping your dog from doing such a negative behavior. Likewise, provide your dog with appropriate nutrition and make sure he gets adequate exercise and mental stimulation. Be consistent and be patient.