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Your puppy’s eating poop and you’re grossed out. Eww!
How can that sweet pup who gives you kisses engage in such a disgusting habit?
There are many reasons why dogs eat feces. Some are behavioral and others medical.
As a dog trainer and behavior specialist, I’ve worked with many families whose canine companions ate feces.
Once we figured out why the pups ate poop, we were able to stop them from doing so.
The technical term for eating feces is coprophagia. But most of us just call it a stinky habit.
Theories Why Dogs Began Eating Feces
Dogs evolved as scavengers. They ate whatever they could find on the ground or in the trash. So eating poop became a way to fend off hunger.
Some other theories are that dogs ate poop to survive because food could be scarce. Or they ate poop so other pack members wouldn’t get intestinal parasites from stool lying around.
The canine mother licks puppies so that they’ll defecate. The mother also cleans up the puppy and eats their feces for about the first three weeks after birth.
COLBY’S EXPERIENCE: Our Golden Retriever, Raven had 4 beautiful litters. She was a great mom and was constantly cleaning up (eating) her puppies poop. She would have done this until the puppies were full grown adults, but we generally cut her off from cleaning duties when the puppies were around 4 weeks old.
Is Eating Poop Normal?
Puppies explore the world with their mouths. Some eat poop as they find it very inviting. But they usually outgrow the habit by about nine months old.
When adult dogs eat feces, there’s often a behavioral or medical reason.
COLBY’S EXPERIENCE: Our black Lab Stetson loved to eat. Yep, he loved to eat poop too. We talked to our vet about it, but he never came up with a medical reasons for Stetson’s habit.
What Dogs Are More Likely To Eat Poop?
Of course puppies are generally more likely to eat poop than adult dogs are.
It’s also more common in multi-dog households.
Females are more likely to engage in the habit. And intact males are least likely to eat feces.
Dogs are more likely to eat another animal’s poop than their own.
Some stool eaters will eat “fresh” feces no more than two days old. But they won’t touch the older stuff. They are the connoisseurs of the poop-eating world, I guess.
Dogs can have specific tastes. Generally, they won’t eat old poop or stool that’s too soft or diarrhea.
COLBY’S EXPERIENCE: We’ve had dozens of puppies at our house over the years and so far to the best of my memory only two: Raven, a female Golden Retriever and Stetson, a male Labrador Retriever ate their poop.
What Are the Behavioral Reasons Dogs Eat Poop?
There are many possible reasons why dogs eat poop. They range from boredom to more complex reasons.
We have to analyze why they’re eating feces in order to stop them.
There may be environmental stress or behavioral triggers such as the following:
1. Boredom or not being exercised.
You’re in a rush to leave for work. So you can’t give Fido his usual morning walk.
He’s really hyper and wants to run around to get rid of his excess energy.
As you put on your coat, you see him poop and quickly devour the new-found snack.
Your pup had so much pent-up energy he had to expel. And running around stimulated him to poop.
And in his anxious state, he ate the feces.
Or you leave your dog alone and he’s bored. He has no toys to stimulate his mind.
Then, when the opportunity presents itself, he happily plays with and eats his own feces.
Some dogs are harshly corrected for housetraining indiscretions.
If you holler at or otherwise harshly correct your pup for having an accident, he may become scared.
He may also try to “hide the evidence” and eat the poop the next time he has an accident.
And some dogs with separation anxiety may poop because they’re stressed when left alone. They may then also eat their stool.
3. Environmental Stress
Dogs who are isolated away from humans can develop the habit of eating poop.
This can occur to dogs living in kennels or dogs forced to live in the horrible conditions at a puppy mill.
Or it can happen when dogs are forced to live away from their people, such as being confined to the basement.
It can even happen to some dogs who are confined to small spaces and become stressed.
4. Inappropriate association with poop
Some dogs are fed near a potty area. It may be their own or even near the cat’s litter box.
The poor dog then develops a habit of connecting real food with feces.
5. Scenting the smell of feces on their mother’s breath
Puppies’ poop is cleaned away by the mother.
Pups then smell the odor on their mother’s breath. Some puppies can then get in the habit of eating feces.
COLBY’S EXPERIENCE: After raising 4 litters I’ve noticed that the puppies also observe mom’s behaviors and maybe sometimes copy her cleaning ritual and help eat the poop to keep the whelping box clean.
6. Living with a sick or elderly dog
A younger dog may eat the older or sick dog’s poop because of an innate instinct to protect the pack from predators.
Also, if the older dog has a habit of eating poop, the younger dog may even imitate him.
7. Seeking attention
You see your puppy eating his own poop. Naturally, you start running toward him shouting “NOOOOO, BAD DOG!”
What does your puppy do? He runs away. The more you chase and try to correct him, the more excited he becomes.
And he thinks it’s a game of chase. To him, it’s a lot of fun!
Without meaning to, you’re rewarding his behavior.
The poop’s on the snow. Some dogs are more prone to eat poop that’s on the snow. (See the pic at the beginning of the article)
It’s more visible and probably more tasty because it retains its moisture.
My Aussie mix puppy Millie has started eating poop after it snows. She thinks that these “poopsicles” are quite a delicacy.
When she sees poop on the snow, she makes a bee-line for it.
Of course, I’m working to eliminate this behavior (pun intended).
9. It tastes good!
Some dogs eat it for the simple reason we eat things: It tastes good!
This usually occurs with another canine’s or animal’s feces.
COLBY’S EXPERIENCE: I’ve heard that many dog’s have such a keen nose that they can smell undigested nutrients in the poop.
What Are the Medical Reasons Dogs Eat Poop?
Both adult dogs and puppies may eat poop for behavioral or medical reasons.
If your adult dog suddenly starts eating poop, it’s a good idea to have him checked out by your vet to rule out a medical reason.
Some dogs even have symptoms showing that something’s wrong. They may suddenly lose weight, have a change in behavior, vomit, or have diarrhea.
Some medical reasons are as follows:
1. Increased appetite due to an outside source
Sometimes dogs are given certain medications, such as steroids, that increase their appetite.
This drives them to eat more than normal. So they’ll eat whatever’s available. Even their own or another animal’s feces.
My current golden retriever Riley doesn’t normally eat poop.
But when he was on a steroid for a short time because of a medical condition, he wanted to eat anything–even poop.
As disgusting that was to me, it was a great meal to him. Instead of letting him free in the yard to potty, I then took him out on leash.
Thankfully, when he stopped taking the medicine, his desire to eat stool stopped.
2. Increased appetite due to a medical condition
Some health problems can cause a dog to be hungrier than normal.
These include thyroid disease, diabetes, and Cushings’ disease.
When your dog has a sudden increase in appetite, it’s advisable to have a vet find out why.
Some dogs may have a nutritional deficit from having some sort of parasite. This can cause them to eat feces.
4. Diets deficient in nutrients or calories
Some believe that dogs ingest poop because their food doesn’t have the proper nutrients.
It’s also thought that dogs who aren’t getting enough calories and are too hungry eat poop to make up for their lack of food.
5. Malabsorption syndrome
Some dogs aren’t able to properly absorb the nutrients. So they try to compensate for what’s missing by eating poop.
6. Enzyme deficiencies
Some dogs don’t get enough or the proper enzymes through their food.
This can occur with some food that’s overly processed.
Is Eating Poop Harmful?
It’s generally not harmful for a dog to eat his own feces. Of course, you want to figure out why he’s doing so to stop it.
Once you determine why he’s eating it, you can work with the behavioral issue or get him medical help, as appropriate.
But eating other animals’ stool–even that of another dog–may be harmful. That poop may be contaminated with parasites, viruses, or toxins.
As a dog trainer, I’ve worked with numerous clients whose dogs ate the feces of other animals–especially deer poop.
I work through the issue as described below regarding how to stop your dog from eating feces.
COLBY’S EXPERIENCE: My wife hates cleaning up vomit, so I cleanup all the vomit messes. I hate cleaning up poop accidents so she takes care of the poop. One day Stetson ate his poop and shortly after vomited in the house. It had the awful smell of both vomit and poops. Who’s turn is it to cleanup?
How Do I Get My Dog To Stop Eating Poop?
Of course we want to stop our dogs from engaging in this distasteful habit. But we must first discover why they’re doing it.
Managing the environment and their access to feces is important.
1. Pick it up and dispose of it
Many puppies will even eat their own poop as well as that of others.
An easy way to stop this habit is to take the puppy out on a leash to potty. Then, immediately after he’s pooped, pick it up and dispose of it.
You can even praise him and give a small treat right after he’s gone. This will help house train the pup.
It also avoids him going to eat the poop because he’ll be busy eating his reward treat.
You can even purchase dog poop bags that are made to pick up feces.
COLBY’S EXPERIENCE: I worked with a dog trainer that used to use cat poop when teaching dog’s leave it. From what I understand dog’s are even more attracted to cat poop because of their rich protein diets.
2. Deal with the stress or anxiety.
If a dog has stress or anxiety issues from being confined or away from you, work through his issues.
If he’s confined to a crate and eats poop there, check that he doesn’t have physical/medical problems because most dogs don’t want to soil themselves.
You can teach him to love his crate through appropriate training. Or you can use another confinement method where he’s safe such as an exercise pen.
If he has separation anxiety, you may need help from a qualified behaviorist or dog trainer specializing in that issue.
If your dog is stressed because he’s confined away from you too often, such as in another part of your house, he should be placed nearer to you to alleviate his stress.
3. Provide enough exercise.
Make sure that your dog is getting a sufficient amount of physical exercise for his age and breed or mix.
Doing this will help prevent many behavioral problems
To help avoid behavioral problems, I make sure that my working dogs like my shelties, golden retriever, and Aussie mix get a lot of exercise. They run and play, get walks, and play fetch.
Sufficient exercise also helps their physical well-being.
4. Provide enough mental stimulation
To help avoid boredom or stress, make sure your pup has enough things to make him think.
Training can help exercise his mind. So can puzzle toys.
An excellent toy that’s safe is an KONG Classic. I stuff mine with a high-quality moist dog food. I freeze it overnight before giving it to my dogs.
This gives them something to do while they’re alone.
5. Train your dog
Teaching your dog certain commands will help avoid him dining on poop. It will also stimulate his mind.
Teaching him the command “leave it” will help him not pick up poop.
A great recall can also help call your dog away from anything–even poop that he sees or smells. It can also redirect his attention away from the poop to you.
6. Keep your dog on leash
While you’re working through the issue of his eating feces, you can keep him on leash to potty and to exercise.
If he eats other animals’ poop, you may have to physically exercise him on leash with walks while working through the issue.
7. Feed a high-quality diet and provide enough food
Good nutrition can help avoid vitamin, mineral, and other nutritional deficiencies.
You also want to provide a sufficient amount of the proper food.
If you’re not sure what’s best for your dog, you can consult with your vet. Some even specialize in canine nutrition.
8. Have an appointment with your veterinarian
In case there’s a physical reason, such as a deficiency in a mineral or enzyme, your vet can check that.
He can also check for any other physical reason why your dog is eating poop. This can include malabsorption, parasites, or any other medical conditions.
And your vet can then treat the medical conditions with medicines, nutritional supplements, or other required treatments.
9. Make poop less appealing
There are products that you can give your dog in his food or as a chew to make his own poop less appealing. Natruvet makes a poop deterrent product that also freshens your dog’s breath. We haven’t tried it, but if you’re having dog poop eating problems you might give it a go.
Always consult with your vet before using such products.
Some people have even tried immediately spraying feces with a taste deterrent like Bitter Apple to make feces less attractive.
It may help make that specific feces less appealing, but it probably won’t deter your dog from future feasts.
COLBY’S EXPERIENCE: We didn’t even know Stetson enjoyed eating his poop until we moved to a house with a large backyard. We previously lived in a condo with a small patio, so anytime Stetson had to potty he did so on our walks. Once we gave him freedom to poop on his own we found out he also liked to eat his poop…YUCK! The moral of our story? When we managed Stetson’s potty breaks, he never ate his poop.
What Shouldn’t I Do To Correct the Problem?
Harsh corrections are never appropriate.
Chasing the dog to get away from the feces won’t work. Instead, he’ll probably see it as a game and it will reinforce the unwanted behavior.
Try to remain calm and work through the problem. If he senses that you’re stressed, it will increase his anxiety and may lead to more problems.
There are many reasons why dogs eat poop. Even though we find it disgusting, many pups enjoy it.
Others may eat feces because of a behavioral or medical problem.
It’s important to determine why your dog eats poop in order to fix the problem.
Does your dog like eating poop? If so tell us about your experiences in the comment section below.
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