If you’ve noticed your dog eating poop, you wonder if there’s a nutritional deficiency or mental problem causing this behavior. You may find it upsetting, but it may just be canine nature. So many dogs eat feces that veterinarians consider stool eating normal.
The tendency of some dogs to eat their own poop or that of other animals has a scientific name: canine conspecific coprophagy. There’s no known connection between diet and this condition.
If eating poop is a new habit for your dog, there may be something else going on, but more often than not, it’s just an unpleasant habit.
Your dog isn’t the only one doing it. While there aren’t many studies on this subject, one found that one in six dogs regularly ate poop.
Mother dogs may do it to clean up. After having a litter, mothers will often eat the poop of their puppies to keep the den clean. This is normal behavior, and not every mother stops when her puppies are weaned.
Greedy eaters are more likely to eat poop. Dogs who are food-driven and steal food are more likely to have this behavior. Dogs evolved by scavenging, so it may be an instinct to make sure they get enough to eat.
It may be an attempt to get attention. If your dog is looking for extra attention and they know you usually react strongly when you catch them eating poop, the behavior may be a way to get noticed. Poop-eating may be similar to other negative attention-seeking behaviors like nipping, jumping, or stealing things to start a chase.
If your dog is eating its own poop, the stool may consist of undigested food. That’s an indication of a potential medical issue.
Your dog may not feel well. Coprophagia, especially if it’s a new behavior, can happen when something is medically wrong with your dog. It can be a sign of diseases of the intestinal tract, the liver, or the brain. You may also notice sudden weight loss, vomiting, or other behavior changes. Visit your veterinarian to rule out intestinal parasites, diabetes, thyroid conditions, or other diseases.
It could be a sign of anxiety. Another potential cause of canine stool-eating could be that your dog is nervous. It may happen if the animal has been punished for soiling in the house. If the dog is caged, goes to the bathroom, and eats the poop, it may be a behavior to avoid anxiety.
Tips to Train Your Dog to Stop Eating Poop
First, you should check that there are no underlying medical problems causing the behavior. If your veterinarian tells you it’s a behavioral issue, there are some ways you can train your dog to stop.
Limit access to poop. Dogs that want to eat poop prefer fresh feces, so pick up waste immediately from your yard. If you have cats, this also means cleaning out the litter box right after your cat goes and making sure to take put the waste somewhere your dog can’t access.
Provide a toy for potty breaks. If your dog is looking for things to eat in the yard when you let them out to do their business, bring along a toy or a treat for distraction. Don’t leave them alone with time to search.
Stay positive in training. Work with positive reinforcement and treats to teach commands like “leave it.” It can take time to break a bad habit, so be patient.
Try dietary supplements. If you’ve recently cut your dog’s calories, you may want to switch to a high-fiber formula. Adding enzyme supplements can make the taste of their own poop less appealing. Some owners have found success in breaking the habit by adding papaya, cottage cheese, or crushed pineapple to dog food.