Why Do Dogs Eat Their Own Poop?

Sooo nasty 💩

Dog eating own poop

Eating poop is so unthinkably gross, but you might find your dog doing it quite a bit.

You probably can’t wrap your head around why your pup eats his own feces, especially if he seems to enjoy it.

To get to the bottom of this pretty gross habit, The Dodo spoke with Dr. Megan Dundas, veterinarian and practice owner of Lincolndale Veterinary Center in New York, and Dr. Bernadine Cruz, a veterinarian with Laguna Hills Animal Hospital in California, who explained why this happens, and what you can do to get your dog to stop.

Why dogs eat poop

It turns out that as gross as it is, eating poop — aka coprophagia — can actually be natural for him.

“Mothers of young animals lick the rear ends of their young to stimulate defecation and to keep their young clean. This can lead to inadvertent ingestion of feces,” Dr. Dundas explained. “In young dogs and cats, this behavior of licking the rear end and ingesting fecal material can then become a learned behavior from their mothers.”

Do you ever find yourself doing something just because your parents did it? It’s like that ... but with dogs … and eating poop.

“It seems to be fairly common in puppies and kittens and it is presumed that following Mom’s lead is one possible cause for the behavior,” Dr. Cruz told The Dodo.

In fact, it could even be beneficial for puppies when they’re young.

“Puppies and kittens are not born with bacteria in the GI tract. Eating feces may help the body develop a normal or healthy balance of bacteria in the GI tract,” Dr. Dundas said.

But there are other reasons dogs continue this gross habit even after he’s got plenty of healthy bacteria in his system.

“As a pet ages, it can continue for medical as well as behavior reasons,” Dr. Cruz explained. “GI parasites as well as a chronic intestinal disorder that cause a maldigestion or malabsorption of nutrients may induce this behavior.”

Basically, things like malnourishment or certain medical conditions could be driving your dog to want to chow down on his poop (either for extra calories, or because some conditions make him extra hungry).

These things include:

  • Intestinal disease
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Disease of the pancreas
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Thyroid disease
  • Diabetes
  • Pica (aka an abnormal craving caused by anemia or liver disease)
  • Senility
  • Dementia

Your dog might also be eating his feces because of things like separation anxiety, boredom, stress or to avoid punishment (like if he knows he pooped where he shouldn’t).

And of course: “Some eat feces just because they enjoy eating it,” Dr. Dundas said.

Health risks of eating poop

Since poop is loaded with bacteria, your dog could make some problems for himself by eating it.

Eating poop could cause your dog to develop an intestinal disease or internal parasite infestation.

And if he eats another pet’s poop, he runs the risk of ingesting residue of any medications that other animal is on, which isn’t great.

“You could see signs secondary to the medication in question in the case of dogs eating feces from other dogs on medication,” Dr. Dundas explained.

If eating poop gives your dog an intestinal issue, he could start showing signs like:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Soft stool
  • Blood in his stool

How to get your dog to stop

According to Dr. Dundas, this is actually a pretty tough habit to break, especially if your dog is eating poop simply because he wants to.

“The most foolproof thing to do is to prevent access to feces through either picking up feces in the yard ... right away or preventing access to feces by keeping the dog leashed when outside,” she explained.

She also recommends sticking to a feeding schedule, so you know when your dog might need to go to the bathroom — and you can intercept his poop before he has a chance to chow down.

“Feeding pets at set times of the day can help in terms of predictability and planning for walks or when to be on standby to pick up stools,” Dr. Dundas said.

Ramping up the amount of time your pup spends playing or exercising could help too.

“Offering puzzle feeders help provide stimulation and [use] up excess mental and physical energy,” Dr. Dundas explained. “Puzzle feeders also slow down eating, which helps with absorption of the food decreasing the need to search for extra calories.”

But the best thing you can do if you find your dog eating his poop is reach out to your vet.

“There are many causes for coprophagia and many options for trying to manage this behavior,” Dr. Dundas said. “Owners of pets with coprophagia should reach out to their veterinarian to discuss which option(s) may be best for their pets based on the pet's behavioral and medical history.”

Your vet could also help with switching up your dog’s diet or prescribing medication, since those things could also get him to stop eating poop.

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