The Ick Factor: Why Do Dogs Eat Poop (And Other Gross Things)

Have you ever been the recipient of a big wet dog kiss and simultaneously realized your dog just ate cat poop (or worse)? We can’t believe they do it, and don’t understand why. But one thing’s for sure, some dogs sure seem to enjoy it – even with our loud protests.

It turns out this disgusting habit is just another result of natural dog behavior. At Leon Valley Veterinary Hospital, we explore this phenomenon and what pet owners can do about it.

Why Dogs Eat Poop (and other gross things)

Dogs are omnivores and opportunists. The truth is, they eat cat poop and other disgusting things (like dead wildlife and diapers, to name a few) because they can and it’s there. It’s not a behavioral problem they can be trained out of (unfortunately) and it’s not usually a nutritional deficiency.

Dogs in the wild, stray dogs, and rural living dogs will eat anything and everything in order to survive. Your pet has this tendency too, even though they are well fed. Of course, dogs will eat anything – rocks, carpet, underwear – as we can attest to with x-ray images taken at our hospital!

The scientific term for poop eating is coprophagia. It might have roots in puppyhood, and often stems from one of the following reasons:

  • It tastes good
  • Hungry
  • It’s fun to play with
  • Boredom
  • Removing the evidence means no punishment for improper elimination
  • A desire to keep territory and bedding clean

Adult dogs sometimes develop the habit just by chance. They’re curious, sample the poop from the litter box, and like it. A habit is born and reinforced each time he takes a nibble.

If your adult dog is eating his own poop (as opposed to snacking out of the litter box), call us or schedule an appointment to have him evaluated. This behavior could have roots in malabsorption, although it’s rare.

Is Poop Eating Bad for Dogs?

In puppies, eating their own poop is a natural behavioral process that should fade by 9 months of age.

Some dogs find eating goose droppings or horse manure particularly appealing. Any many dogs love eating cat poop, too. Most of the time,they’ll be fine. Aside from mild gastrointestinal upset, most dogs don’t have any side effects.

But if the stool is contaminated with parasites, viruses, toxins or bacteria, it may cause a problem for your dog. Some of these, such as salmonella, can also be transmitted to people.

How to Stop Your Dog From Eating Poop

There is some evidence that dogs who eat feces are missing something in their diets. So it’s important to rule that out first.

Once you’ve done that with a trip to your veterinarian, you can try one or more of the following environmental management and training approaches.

  • Keep the dog’s living area clean, including the yard, so there are no poops for him to pick up.
  • Place the litter box high up on a stable surface, so that your cat can jump up to it, but your dog can’t get to it.
  • Clean the litter box immediately after every use.
  • Place the litter box in a room that your dog doesn’t have access to, but your cat does (cat hole).
  • Invest in a self cleaning, covered litter box.
  • When on walks, monitor your dog and clean up after her immediately.
  • Teach your dog the commands “leave it” and “come”. When she eliminates, call her to you right away and give her a tasty treat. If you teach her to come to you for a food treat as soon as she’s eliminated, she’ll do that instead of reaching for whatever’s on the ground.

Hopefully, you have some new ideas about coprophagia. Although disgusting, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong with your dog. If you’re worried, don’t hesitate to call us.

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