Why do dogs eat poop? Have you ever noticed your little fur baby nibbling at their poop? You might have been horrified — a normal human response to such a sight. But if you’re wondering about your dog eating poop, you’ve come to the right place.
Since I first wrote about poop eating in dogs several years ago, I have received many emails from other dog owners. They’ve complained about their dogs eating their own poop, or the poop of other animals. But why does this happen?
- Coprophagia in dogs
- Why do dogs eat their poop – known causes
- My dog is suddenly eating poop — Why?
- Why do female dogs eat poop?
- Why do puppies eat poop?
- Coprophagia and diet
- Why do dogs eat cat poop?
- Why does my dog eat rabbit poop?
- My friend’s dog doesn’t eat poop. Why is MY dog a poop eater?
- Why do dogs eat their poop – conclusions
- Can dogs get sick from eating poop?
- How does poop eating harm dogs?
- The distress caused by poop eating in dogs
- How to stop a dog from eating poop
- Adding pineapple or other flavors to your dog’s food
- Adding chilli or hot flavors to your dog’s poop
- Punishing your dog for poop eating
- Training your dog to leave poop alone
- How to clean your dog’s mouth after he’s eaten poop
Dogs Eating Poop — Coprophagia
The scientific term for poop eating is coprophagia. Most of those writing to me about a dog with coprophagia are understandably very upset.
The chances are, if your dog has this problem, you are upset too.
But I hope by the end of this article, you will feel a lot better.
People want to know “why is my dog eating his own poop” and “will my dog get sick from eating his poop?”
But they also need to be supported through the horrible feelings that owning a poop-eating dog can cause.
Try to Understand Your Dog
Many owners of a dog eating poop are often revolted by their dog’s behavior. Some of them even report that their feelings towards their dog have changed since the problem started.
So, these feelings need to be addressed, not ignored or dismissed.
For one, it really helps to know that you are not alone and that many other dog owners have this problem too. And, knowing why this happens also helps us to understand our dogs a little better.
Coprophagia in Dogs
Poop eating is often swept under the carpet. But eating feces can be a serious problem for some dogs who do it. Unfortunately, it is a frequently reported problem in Labradors and other sporting dogs.
What’s more, owning a dog that eats poop, especially a dog that eats his own poop, is often a hugely distressing problem for many dog owners.
But before we answer your questions, including “why do dogs eat poop,” let’s find out just how common this problem is. Then, we’ll look at the various techniques you can use to stop a dog eating poop.
Which Dogs Eat Their Own Poop?
According to the late Sophia Yin, who reports on a study published in 2012, 16% of dogs eat poop.
A previous study published in 2008 on dogs eating poop confirms this. The study showed that nearly half of all dogs had eaten feces at some point and 28% were confirmed poop eaters
The Hart study also showed that there were some breed differences.
There weren’t enough dogs in the study for a definite list, but none of the Poodles in the study ate their own poop, for example. Whereas, more than a third of Border Collies did.
Judging from my inbox, coprophagia is common in Labradors too. But, what are some other factors affecting coprophagia?
A study published in Colorado in 2010 showed that sporting dogs were generally more likely to be coprophagic.
Body weight is a factor in this behavior, but only in the sense of being related to natural size. Obese dogs, for example, although heavier were no more likely to be affected.
Age is also often considered to be a factor in poop eating. However, the 2010 Colorado study did not support the theory that poop eating is more common in puppies.
Coprophagia Is Linked with Neutering
The current evidence points to neutering as a major factor in the development of coprophagia.
Dogs that had been spayed or castrated were more likely to be reported as eating poop than dogs left in possession of their sex hormones.
In the Hart study, the biggest culprits were spayed females. But in the 2010 Colorado University study, neutering drastically increased the incidence of coprophagy in male dogs. However, it had no effect on females.
Regardless, though, both studies agree that neutering is a major cause of coprophagia. They prove that it seems to be more significant than any environmental factor
More Common Than We Think
Interestingly, the true figure for the percentage of dogs that eat poop may be even higher than these studies suggest.
Data from the studies was based on owner reports and the results of another published 2014 study. The 2014 study identified coprophagic dogs and compared that data with owner reports. The study’s results suggest that under-reporting by owners is an often overlooked factor.
So the point is this: it isn’t just your dog eating poop. There are lots of them.
But why do they do it?
Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?
Why Is My Dog Suddenly Eating Poop?
But first, note this: if your adult dog suddenly begins eating poop when they never used to, it might be wise to see your vet. Especially if your dog has recently shown other concerning symptoms.
Poop-eating is typically normal for dogs as you will see. However, in some rare cases, it may be a hint that something bigger is happening. Health issues like Cushing’s disease, intestinal malabsorption/maldigestion disorders, or diabetes mellitus can be to blame.
These conditions can make dogs super hungry. They will try to eat literally anything within their reach if it only slightly resembles food. So, if you think something’s up with your doggie, check it out.
Why Female Dogs Eat Poop?
All mother dogs have an instinctive urge to eat their puppies’ poop. After giving birth and for the next three weeks, female dogs lick each puppy’s bottom until he poops and or pees. Then, they swallow the results.
They do this for two reasons. First, the licking helps to stimulate the puppy’s natural digestive process. And second, consuming the results helps to keep the nest area clean.
A clean nest in wild dogs is important both from a hygiene point of view and to avoid attracting predators.
So from this, we can see that nature has provided female dogs with a poop eating instinct. This instinct is always triggered by the process of giving birth and suckling puppies.
And it’s not a great stretch to see that this maternal instinct could easily last longer than it should or arise inappropriately when it isn’t needed.
We can also see that keeping a nest area clean may well be a trigger that could apply to male dogs too.
Why Do Puppies Eat Poop?
Like babies, puppies explore the world with their mouths. Everything and anything goes into it.
If what goes into the mouth tastes like food, then puppies may swallow it. In theory, some poop-eating puppies will grow out of it, whereas for others it becomes a habit.
Though as we have seen, there is some disagreement as to whether this is even a puppy issue, and whether poop eating is actually more common in puppies than in adult dogs
“But, but..!” you cry “wait a moment, what is this ‘tastes like food’ you speak of?” Surely, poop doesn’t taste like food?
Coprophagia and Diet
In times gone by, dogs were fed a largely natural diet of mainly meat, bones and a few scraps. As carnivorous scavengers, dogs could typically digest this diet in its entirety. So, what came out the other end was fairly boring.
Nowadays, however, most dogs are largely fed a pelleted cereal-based food known as kibble.
This kibble contains all the nutrients a dog needs. But it also contains a number of additives to make the food taste palatable. After all, no food manufacturer wants your dog to turn his nose up at their product. So tasty is the key. And very tasty they are too.
Does Kibble Feeding Make Dogs More Likely to Eat Poop?
In addition to strong flavourings, kibble contains quite a lot of “fillers.” Fillers are substances which bulk up the nutrients and give the food structure.
Your dog often doesn’t need much of this “filler.” And as a result, they tend to pass it out in their feces. This is why kibble-fed dogs produce larger quantities of feces than raw-fed dogs.
But remember those flavourings we just talked about? Well the faeces of the kibble-fed dog are not only bulky, but also highly flavoured.
Now we can see why, as the popularity of kibble feeding grows, it is possible that more dogs may be turning to poop eating as a means of grabbing that extra snack during the day. Essentially, poop is getting tastier — that’s our theory anyway!
Can Changing Diet Influence Coprophagia?
Some studies into why dogs eat poop, have shown that dogs with deficient diets are more likely to eat poop. For example, a study on Beagles in 1981 showed that feeding a deliberately deficient diet triggered coprophagia (among other problems).
Therefore, in theory, if an undernourished coprophagic dog is switched to a nutrient-rich nourishing diet, that change may stop the poop eating behavior.
But the modern dog eating poop is not nutritionally deficient. Most dogs nowadays are fed a balanced diet with all the nutrients they need.
Should You Change Your Dog’s Diet?
So, switching brands, for example, is unlikely to stop your dog eating poop.
In fact, I have not found any strong evidence for dietary changes reducing coprophagia in well-fed dogs. Still, there is something you might want to consider which has some anecdotal evidence.
Sophia Yin, when discussing the Ben Hart study pointed out that the study, based on questioning dog owners, noted that diet did not play a part. However, the vast majority of dogs are fed kibble, and there is no indication what diets were compared or how.
The comparison could have been between different types of kibble, or between kibble and household scraps. Also, the 2010 study showed no link between diet and poop eating, but 89% of the dogs in the study were kibble-fed.
To add to that, a paper called “Coprophagia – Food for Thought” proved interesting. Published in a Canadian Veterinary journal in 1988, it states that diets high in carbohydrates tend to “enhance the drive to eat stool.” Unfortunately, they don’t state how they came to this conclusion.
My personal experience, however, is that changing my dogs from a diet of kibble (carbohydrate based pellets of commercial dog food) to a natural raw diet of meaty bones has been accompanied by the disappearance of most poop-eating in my adult dogs.
Why Do Dogs Eat Cat Poop?
The second most common question I get about poop eating, is “why does my dog eat cat poop?” This is followed closely by “how to stop my dog eating cat poop.”
If you think your dog is a bit of a freak for eating the contents of your cat’s litter tray, think again. It may be of some comfort to know that Blackwell’s veterinary handbook classifies eating cat poop as completely normal in dogs of all ages.
That’s right, it’s official — your dog is not disturbed or depraved. He is normal. Virtually all dogs will eat cat poop if given the opportunity.
I have had the chance to rediscover this for myself first hand recently, as I am currently raising a kitten. Two of my labs, one of which has never eaten poop in her life, plus my spaniel, have all attempted dawn raids on the litter tray.
Solving the Problem
I have now secured the litter tray behind a baby gate which the cat can slide through and the dogs cannot.
If your dog is a pretty good jumper, though, you’ll need a taller gate. My thirteen-year-old spaniel, for instance, can clear a standard baby gate with consummate ease. So I’ve bought one with a cat flat.
Why Is My Dog Eating Rabbit Poop?
Blackwells comes to the rescue again with the answer to “why do dogs eat rabbit poop?”
It has to do with undigested vegetable matter — which is very attractive to dogs. This fecal matter may even be an important source of nutrients in wild dogs.
The same applies to ungulate feces. An ungulate is an animal with a hoof.
So it is completely natural for a dog to enjoy eating horse poop, sheep poop, and deer poop too. And almost all dogs will enjoy the feces of these animals — not just your dog.
Why Does MY Dog Eat Poop (When My Friend’s Dog Never Does)?
Eating poop often starts by accident — perhaps beginning as a puppyish habit. But from this opportunistic behavior, poop eating sometimes develops into a habit.
If your friend’s dog is male and yours is female, you are more likely to have a problem. For the reasons we have looked at above, coprophagia is more common in female dogs, but some male dogs do still eat poop.
Also for the reasons above, dogs are more likely to eat poop from animals if they have a lot of digested vegetable matter in their feces. Again, remember, experts consider this normal.
But some dogs do eat carnivore poop, such as the poop from wild foxes or the poop of other dogs, or even their own. And this tends to be the behavior that most upsets us humans.
Why Do Dogs Eat Their Poop?
Poop eating can start in puppyhood and may become a habit if it persists in adult dogs.
Dogs who eat their own poop may be attracted to the flavor (switching to a raw diet may help in this case).
The same applies to dogs that eat other dogs’ poop. In this case, though, a change of diet is unlikely to help.
Dogs who eat poop in their yard may also be trying to “keep their den clean.” Then, some other dogs may eat poop due to boredom or an inappropriate diet.
There is also evidence that poop eating is more likely in dogs that already have behavioral problems such as anxiety or pica (eating plants, stones, and other inedible items).
But it doesn’t always mean other problems!
However, we also know that well-balanced, well-fed, physically and emotionally healthy dogs can also be poop eaters. In fact, most poop eating dogs probably fall into this category.
The simple truth is, that poop eating, while thoroughly objectionable to us, is so common as to be normal in the domestic dog. And we will probably never find out exactly why dogs eat poop on a case by case basis.
Can Dogs Get Sick from Eating Poop?
There is definitely a risk that your dog could get parasites from eating the poop of other dogs. However, worming your dog regularly should prevent this causing him any serious health problems.
There is also a risk that your dog could transmit or spread parasites that don’t actually affect dogs. The potential for parasites sometimes found in cat poop fall into this category.
How Does Poop Eating Harm Dogs?
So, if eating poop doesn’t usually make dogs sick, how is it harmful?
The answer lies in the breakdown of the bond between the dog and his family. This happens because humans are often shocked and disgusted by the behavior, and if they fail to address it swiftly, may abandon their dog.
Most dogs come to no harm directly, from poop eating. But, indirectly, it can lead to dogs being re-homed or abandoned.
Many owners find poop eating upsetting and embarrassing. I hear quite a lot of dog owners issue ultimatums on this one.
“This has to stop or he’ll have to go.”
“I can’t put up with this, we have children to consider.”
This isn’t a Minor Issue
The implication in such cases is that the dog will no longer be welcome in their home if this horrible habit cannot be cured.
So this is no “minor problem.” It is an issue that can lead to disaster for the dog.
Very often, the reasons given for abandoning the dog are to do with hygiene. The families often claim to be worried that the dog will infect a family member with pathogens from the poop he has eaten.
But the underlying cause may be more fundamental than that. After all, most people are happy to share an ice-cream with a dog that licked his bottom a few minutes earlier.
The truth is then is that, whether we like it or not, persistent poop eating may seriously reduce the love a person feels for their dog.
How to Handle the Fact That Your Dog Eats Poop
I think it is important that we don’t underplay the distress that poop eating causes in some families.
For those of us who’ve had dogs for many years, some of their finer habits are pretty familiar. But for many people with a first dog, poop eating is a terrible shock and a serious concern.
The important thing to tell you is that most of us more seasoned dog owners once felt the same way. We shouldn’t feel embarrassed to say “my dog eats poop,” but most of us are, or at least were at one time!
You might feel, right now, that you will never truly love your dog again, it’s likely that you are wrong. I know that I felt terribly disappointed when I caught my first poop-eating dog “in the act.”
It was over thirteen years ago, just after I had switched from keeping mostly male dogs, to mostly females. And I was appalled and disgusted — even tempted to re-home her.
But I can tell you that she is still with me today. My girl is thirteen years old, rarely eats poop these days (never say never), and is one of my dearest friends. So these things can be worked through.
How to Stop a Dog from Eating Poop
There are lots of things you can try to prevent a dog eating his own poop at home. The first step is to remove the source of poop wherever possible.
This means being scrupulous about picking up after your dog, whenever he has emptied himself. It’s not always easy when you have a large yard or garden, but it’s well worth the effort.
You may also find it helpful, for a while at least, to go with your dog when you let him out for bathroom purposes.
One more thing is something to avoid. Some dogs may continue to eat poop if they feel like it gets your attention. Unfortunately, dogs do love attention. So, if your furry friend notices that eating poop makes you pay more attention to him, he may just continue.
So, while you certainly do not want to ignore this habit, it may be worth it to be careful the kind of attention you do give it. Later in this article, we’ll consider the value of positive reinforcement. But for now, does flavoring your dog’s food stop him from eating poop?
Flavoring Your Dog’s Food
If your dog eats his own poop there are a number of theories about substances you can add to your dog’s meals. What these do is counteract the nice flavors and make his poop taste less appealing.
Pineapple is a popular one, pepper powder another.
However, sadly, in most cases, these kinds of remedies do not work. And when they do, some find that they only work for a short while.
Adding Aversive Flavors to Poop
Another tactic often recommended is to sprinkle your dog’s poop with a substance that tastes horrid. Some people also use substances that create a burning sensation when swallowed.
A good example is chilli powder.
Before you do this, note that studies so far suggest that these two methods have a less than 2% success rate. A bit dismal, to be honest.
Will Changing Your Dog’s Diet Stop Him From Eating Poop?
Some people find raw feeding eliminates poop eating. But these reports (including mine) are anecdotal. They are not reliable evidence that such a switch will work for you.
Plus, moving over to a raw diet is a major change you need to consider from various perspectives. Don’t just change diets to stop your dog eating poop.
You could also consider changing your dog to an alternative brand of dog kibble, which uses a far higher ratio of protein.
If I can’t feed my dogs raw for any reason, I use Orijen food. But when I do this, I have to be very careful to pick up poops quickly, or my spaniel will revert to her old ways.
But, not everyone has the time or resources to drastically change the method of feeding their dog.
Can Punishment Stop Dogs Eating Poop?
The studies we have looked at showed that punishment — even harsh punishment — didn’t work at all. It even caused further problems in some dogs.
In “Coprophagia – Food for Thought,” for instance, the authors relate the story of Freddie. Freddie was a neutered male poodle whose owners tried many different approaches to stop poop-eating. Eventually, though, they resorted to punishment.
Can Training Reduce Poop Eating in Dogs?
Of course, the methods above only work to prevent your dog eating his own poo.
But, if he has developed a taste for other dogs’ poop, you have a much more challenging problem on your hands. This is because you cannot control what goes into or comes out of, other people’s dogs.
The issue now becomes one of training your dog to “leave” or to “recall” away from the object of their desires, on command.
A reward-based programme of recall training may be helpful. In this case, you deliberately seek out dog poop in public places, and recall your dog from it. Then, you reward them with a tasty treat from you. This will help you to prevent your dog eating other dogs’ poop in your vicinity.
I personally use the magic word system which I find very effective.
Using a Magic Word to Stop Dogs Eating Poop
How this system works is fairly simple. I associate a powerful reward with a special word that I reserve just for the purpose of distracting the dog from poop.
Several times a day, for several days, I will say this “magic word” while the dog is in the vicinity. Then, I’ll throw a fabulous reward on the ground for the dog.
And when I say fabulous, I’m not talking about a bit of biscuit or some doggy treats from the pet shop. I’m talking “seriously tasty treats” here. For example, roast chicken is ideal.
At some point thereafter, when I see the dog approach some poop with a gleam in her eye, I will use my magic word and chuck the fabulous treat on the ground.
Sometimes, to begin with, the dog will eat the poop, then come for the reward. You just have to accept this with good grace.
Other times (often a bit further on in the process), she will bring the poo with her (eek!!).
Accept this too. It’s tough, but you can do it.
Trust Your Reward!
If your reward is good enough, your dog will soon abandon all thoughts of poop eating when she hears that word. She’ll start to drop the poop as she approaches you for her treat, and eventually won’t even bother to pick it up.
This will only work if your treat is truly fabulous! Also, it is vital that you are persistent. Keep your Magic Word strong with great rewards, and mostly no requirement from the dog to get it.
You can find out more about Magic Word training in this article: Your Labrador’s Magic Word.
General Training to Reduce Poo Eating in Dogs
Joining in a training programme for an activity such as “agility” or “gundog training” will help to provide your dog with exercise and mental stimulation in different poop-free locations. This will in turn help to keep his mind occupied.
These measures might just reduce your dog’s enthusiasm for poop eating generally. But there are no guarantees.
Ultimately, you may have to accept that when your dog is out of your sight, or some distance away, there is little you can do to prevent prevent him from indulging in this distasteful habit.
How to Clean Your Dog’s Mouth After Eating Poop
While you train your puppy or adult dog to stop eating poop, there will be setbacks. So, how do you clean up their mouths and reduce that gross smell so you can still cuddle them in the meantime? We’ve got a few quick tips:
- Brush his teeth: If you’ve got the time and energy, this would be your best and cleanest bet. Remember to use a doggie-appropriate toothpaste and brush.
- Feed him: Giving food and water will produce saliva. This will clean your doggie’s mouth and refresh their breath. It’ll also save you using the toothbrush.
- Dental chew: This also works like food and water; it produces saliva which cleans their mouths.
- Use a doggie mouthwash: Mix the mouthwash (not human mouthwash!) with water. Then wipe their teeth and inside their mouths with a cloth soaked in mouthwash.
- Wipe their mouths with a cloth: You can also soak the cloth in coconut oil or salt water. Keep in mind that dogs shouldn’t drink the salt water. Too much can cause dehydration and vomiting.
Hopefully, you can go back to being cuddly with your furchild.
Why Do Dogs Eat Their Poop and How to Stop Them? — Summary
Don’t let poop eating destroy your friendship with your dog. We know why dogs eat poop, and that it’s common! Around half of all dogs do it.
It is also more likely to happen if your dog is a gun dog breed like a Labrador.
Here are the factors that predispose a dog to poop eating:
- Being female
- Being neutered
- Belonging to the sporting or gun dog group of dogs
You can’t Change These Things!
None of these things can be changed now, so there’s no point fretting over them.
We know poop eating can be embarrassing and distressing — been there! But remember that your smug friend’s dog is quite likely poop eating too, even if your friend doesn’t know it!
Remember also that eating poop most probably won’t do your dog any harm. Neither will it harm your family.
There are a few things you can do to greatly reduce poop eating. And you will get over your horror and revulsion and feel good about your dog again.
What does NOT work to prevent coprophagia
Don’t waste time with punishment, and don’t ignore the problem. Neither will make it go away.
Here are the things that have been shown NOT to work in the fight against poop eating:
- Dietary additives (pineapple etc)
- Aversive flavors (pepper, chilli etc)
- Punishment (e-collars, rattle bottles, smacking etc)
Adding things to diet or poop have had less than two percent success rate. Plus, if you are close enough to poop to sprinkle chilli on it, then you’re better off picking it up!
What Does Work to Prevent Coprophagia?
Studies show conclusively that prevention and positive reinforcement training using tasty rewards are the key to success. The two most important steps you can take are as follows:
- Preventing dogs from having access to fresh poop wherever possible
- Training a strong “leave” response (my magic word cue is a good example)
So, start with a rigorous process of prevention. Clear up all poop immediately they are produced. Accompany your dog to the yard after meals, take a shovel, and remove all poop as soon as they appear!
Finally, dispose of them securely.
You may consider using a muzzle in some situations. Or use a leash if you are forced to exercise your dog in an area where there is poop lying around.
Get a stock of high value treats in pots in your fridge and make sure you don’t run out. Then you can take some with you when you take your dog for a walk.
Teach the magic word cue and use it!
How About You?
Now you know why dogs eat poop, have you cured your dog of poop eating? Got any tips to share with our readers?
Share your thoughts in the comments box below. If you have enjoyed this article, you may also find this one helpful:
Further Reading and References
- Nijsse R, Mughini-Gras L, Wagenaar J, Ploeger H “Coprophagy in dogs interferes in the diagnosis of parasitic infections by faecal examination” Veterinary Parasitology 2014
- Hassan A, Emmanuel E, Awasum C, Remi-Adewunmi B, Hassan F, Mohammed A, Mustapha R, Olusa T “Behavioural conditions in dogs – a review: Part 1 – Disagreeable Normal Behaviours” Nigerian Veterinary Journal 2009
- Broox G, Boze M “ Correlates of Coprophagy in the Domestic Dog (Canis Familialris) As Assessed By Owner Reports” Journal of Applied Companion Animal Behavior 2010
- Tilley L, Smith F “Blackwell’s Five-Minute Veterinary Consult” Canine and Feline
Blackwell’s Five-Minute Veterinary Consult: Canine and Feline
- Frenkel J, Parker B “An Apparent Role of Dogs in the Transmission of Toxoplasma gondii: The Probable Importance of Xenosmophilia” 1996
- Read D, Harrington D, “Experimentally induced thiamine deficiency in beagle dogs: clinical observations.” American Journal of Veterinary Research 1981
- McKeown D, Luescher A, Machum M “Coprophagia – food for thought” Can Vet J Volume 29, October 1988
- Broox, Boze “A Comparison of Common Treatments for Coprophagy in Canis familiaris” Journal of Applied Companion Animal Behavior Vol. 2, No. 1. 2008
- PetMD. What to Do When a Dog Eats Poop. Dr. Coates, J.
- AKC. Is It Dangerous for Dogs to Drink Saltwater? Burke, A.
This article was first published in 2014 and has been extensively revised and updated for 2019.