Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?
Is your dog eating poop? Faeces ingestion, or coprophagia, is quite a common behaviour in dogs and puppies. This phenomenon has been making dog owners retch in disgust for years. It may involve eating their own poo, eating another animal's poo, or even eating human poo - particularly babies or young children in nappies.
But why do some dogs start this grotty habit? Does it indicate a medical or dietary issue? And what can we do at home to stop it?
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What is Coprophagia?
Coprophagia is the act of consuming faeces, and it is a commonly seen behaviour that can be attributed to a variety of causes.
Behavioural, Physiological and Medical Reasons
There are a number of reasons why dogs eat poop, whether that be their own or another animal's. Some of these reasons are normal or physiological, and others are abnormal such as behavioural problems or due to medical conditions. So how do you identify the normal from abnormal coprophagia?
Coprophagia may be an instinctive natural behaviour for dogs, particularly mothers and puppies. It may be a learned behaviour in puppies from their mothers, or may be a natural protection mechanism developed by ancestral canids. It is also normal for dogs to seek out the faeces of other animals as a source of nutrients or due to the pungent, but enticing, scent.
It can be a result of dietary deficiencies, health issues, or behavioural problems. Dogs may resort to eating faeces to supplement their nutritional intake if their diet is lacking, or due to health conditions like malabsorption syndromes, parasites, or diabetes.
Behavioural issues such as boredom, attention-seeking, or anxiety can also lead to this behaviour. These three concerns are broken down and spoken about in more detail below.
Evolutionary Perspective: Innate Predisposition in Ancestral Canids
There is evidence to suggest that the domestic canine descended from ancient species of wolves, as such it might help us determine why our dogs eat poop to look at their ancestors. It is not uncommon for wolves to eat fresh poop, especially in their den. Scientists believe that this may be an attempt to prevent the spread of parasites by consuming the faeces before the eggs can hatch, affecting their litter or pack mates. It may also help to keep their living quarters clean.
From this we can assume that our dogs may also have some instinctive nature to eat poop and protect their home and pack from parasites.
Normal Behaviours in Mothers and Puppies
An important part of whelping and caring for pups is keeping the puppies clean. This behaviour encourages the puppies to toilet while they are still learning bladder and faecal control. It also helps protect them from illnesses while their immune system is still developing and keeps the den or whelping box clean. This behaviour is completely normal for nursing mothers and rarely causes illness in the mother dog.
Puppies growing up seeing their mother do this may pick up the behaviour from observing them. It is also believed that it may play a role in normal gastrointestinal development. Puppies are not born with any bacteria in their digestive system, however, healthy bacteria are an important aid for sufficient nutrient digestion and absorption. Consuming the faeces from siblings or a healthy mother could be a source of healthy gut bacteria for young puppies.
If your pup is under 1 year of age, they may just be a mischievous and curious puppy. Even in cases where plenty of puppy toys and mental stimulation are provided, some puppies just continue to eat poop. Just like children eating mud (or even poop in some cases!) we don't always know the exact motivation inside a puppy's head. Some puppies may grow out of the behaviour as they age and leave the curious stages behind, while others may continue into adulthood.
It's important to keep in mind that puppy food is very rich in nutrients. It follows therefore that sometimes puppy poo can contain undigested 'nutrients', and as dogs have a keen sense of smell they might be able to tell! A swap to a different diet can help in some cases. See below for more about this.
Comparing With Other Species
Dogs are not the only species that eats poop. You may have commonly seen this behaviour in rabbits or guinea pigs. These species are hindgut fermenters. This means that their food, typically of plant origin, is broken down into usable protein in the caecum (in humans we call this the appendix) prior to the large intestine. However, protein is absorbed in the intestines, especially the small intestines. For this reason, hind gut fermenting species produce protein rich faeces from their caecum that they will consume in order to ensure they are taking in digestible protein.
Dogs are not hindgut fermenters. Their protein is broken down in the stomach and then absorbed in the small intestine. Compared to coprophagic species like rabbits and guinea pigs, dogs do not need to consume faeces to provide an absorbable protein source. However, a protein deficiency could be a potential reason for dogs to eat faeces.
What Have we Gained from the Research?
Ongoing research into this topic has furthered our knowledge into the potential causes, as well as provided insight into the best techniques to prevent the problem from recurring. We can rule out health conditions and behavioural problems in discussion with our vets, which leaves us with the fact that coprophagia is often a normal behaviour in dogs.
While the behaviour may be considered normal, many owners do find it unpleasant and would prefer to reduce the behaviour. Unfortunately, the science has also shown us that it is also a very difficult behaviour to reduce with training or commercial preventatives.
- 16% of dogs exhibit recurrent coprophagia (more than 6 times).
- 23% of dogs eat faeces at least once.
- Coprophagic dogs can be house trained as easily as a non-coprophagic dogs.
- Dogs on any diet or at any age can be coprophagic.
- Coprophagic dogs are more likely to be considered "greedy" eaters.
- Coprophagy is predominantly of fresh stools, no more than 2 days old.
- Coprophagic behaviour is not easily changed and will often persist despite intervention attempts.
- There is no link associated with age, gender or neutering status
- Coprophagia is more likely to occur in multi-dog households.
- Dogs from the terrier and hound group are the most likely to be coprophagic, with Shetland Sheepdogs being overrepresented and Poodles being least likely.
There may be a few reasons why your dog is indulging in this gag-worthy habit. Not every dog eats poop for the same reason, so it's important to seek veterinary attention if you can't find a solution at home.
A diet lacking in nutrients may be the cause for your dog's coprophagia. If your dog is not getting the nutrients they need from their diet, they may instinctively turn to poop or even soil to get what they need.
Dietary insufficiency and malnourishment may be caused by feeding a cheap, poor quality pet food. Cheaper foods tend to use protein sources with lower digestibility and bioavailability, so your pet may struggle to absorb nutrients efficiently. For this reason, we always recommend sticking with a premium, trusted, quality dog food brand. It may cost you a little more in the short term, but it may save you big time in vet bills!
As mentioned above, a protein deficiency is a common reason why dogs may seek out poo as a nutrient source. They may be consuming their own poop to obtain protein that was undigested during the first consumption of the food, or they may seek out protein rich faeces from other animals, particularly the protein rich faeces of hindgut fermenters, like Rabbits and Guinea Pigs (Possums and Gliders are also hindgut fermenters!). Dogs that seek out the faeces of herbivores may also be looking for a source of digested vegetation and wild dogs would consume intestinal content as a source for this in their regular diet.
Another potential dietary insufficiency that can lead to coprophagia is calorie insufficiency. If your dog is not obtaining enough calories to meet their daily energy requirements then they may seek those calories out through eating other things, including poop, which may potentially have additional calories not absorbed during the first ingestion of the food.
Dietary insufficiency is also commonly seen in dogs who eat a home cooked or raw food diets. Cooking your dog's food at home may have some benefits, but it does risk being unbalanced nutritionally. If you wish to home cook for your dog, always seek the advice of a veterinary nutritionist.
2. Gastrointestinal Diseases
If your dog is older and has never elicited poo-eating behaviour before, your vet may suspect a gastrointestinal problem and recommend pursuing further workup to determine the likely cause. With any case of coprophagia though, it is important to first rule out a health condition.
Certain gastrointestinal problems may lead to hunger, malnourishment, and consequential coprophagia. Conditions causing malabsorption can also contribute to coprophagia as faeces with a high content of undigested food increase the likelihood of re-consumption. Common gastrointestinal issues include intestinal worms, pancreatic insufficiency, intestinal malabsorption, and viruses.
Gastrointestinal disease may heavily link in with dietary insufficiency, with many conditions limit nutrient intake during digestion. Any condition causing inflammation of the bowel could potentially reduce the absorptive abilities of the digestive tract. While parasites also contribute to dietary insufficiency, we may also see the instinctive coprophagia appearing in this circumstance as dogs with parasites attempt to protect their pack from infection by consuming faeces before the eggs hatch.
3. Other Medical Conditions
Gastrointestinal diseases aren't the only potential medical cause of coprophagia. There can be other health conditions that may trigger the behaviour. Often these are conditions that cause increased hunger or potentially cause malabsorption, but don't stem directly from an intestinal based illness. For these conditions, coprophagia is generally considered a rare symptom.
The most common conditions in this category are hormonal imbalances, such as Diabetes, Cushings Disease or thyroid imbalances. Dogs most commonly get Hypothyroidism, however, Hyperthyroidism can occur and may also cause coprophagia as it results in increased hunger. Some medications can also increase hunger despite a good diet, such as steroids, potentially leading to seeking faeces as an additional food source.
Dogs with arthritis may also start showing coprophagia. Severe arthritis can limit movement and accessibility. If your dog is unable to get outside on time they may accidentally defecate inside the house. To avoid the fear of being chastised they may eat their faeces to conceal it. Managing underlying arthritis may also help to prevent them eating their own faeces.
Coprophagia can sometimes occur as part of Pica, especially if your dog seems to be eating other strange and unusual things. Pica can be the result of many health conditions, including liver disease or anaemia. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, or Doggy Dementia, can also potentially lead to the presentation of coprophagia in older dogs due to senility, disorientation or a difficulty to get outside on time.
4. Tasty Food = Tasty Poop
As gross as it may be to think about, your dog may be attracted to the smell or taste of the poop due to a strong or appealing aroma. Whether it is related to their diet's salt content, fat content, or another nutrient, some food seems to be so good on the way in that it's still tempting on the 'way out'! This occurs in a number of situations:
- Puppy food is rich in fat, protein, and nutrients, and therefore tends to 'taste good on the way out' to some dogs. If your older dog has started eating your puppy's poo, this may be why.
- Fish-based dog food can create poo with a stronger aroma. If you've recently swapped to a new seafood-based diet, it may create an enticing fishy-smelling poop that your pup finds too good to resist.
- Cat poo is higher in protein and therefore can be enticing to dogs. Cats are obligate carnivores, rather than omnivores like dogs, so cat food contains a higher meat content. If your dog is eating your cat's poop, this might be why.
- Some brands of dog food with very high palatability can be so full of flavour, they may still smell good on the way out. Anecdotally, some owners report this can be the case with highly palatable brands such as Advance and Royal Canin.
- Dogs with illnesses may potentially have attractive faeces, whether this be from undigested food, high fibre, fat or protein content or an attractive smell (diabetes can give faeces a fruity smell). If your dog is gravitated towards the faeces of a specific other dog, then that dog should definitely receive a full health check with their vet to rule out an underlying illness.
5. Behavioural Problems
Behavioural problems are one of the most common causes of coprophagia and seem to present more often than medical causes. Some puppies that start out eating faeces for normal reasons may develop a compulsive behaviour or come to like the taste of faeces, that leads to them continuing the behaviour well into adulthood. Other behaviour problems can potentially contribute though.
Lack of environmental enrichment and consequential boredom can lead to a number of undesired behaviours including coprophagia. This is a common cause in puppies, but it can also be seen in adult dogs particularly if they are an intelligent breed such Border collies or Jack Russell Terriers. Working breeds have a high requirement for mental stimulation and can get bored easily.
If your dog feels bored or has nothing to do, they may turn to undesired behaviours to keep their mind busy. This may include destructive behaviours such as continuously digging or excessive chewing, but poo eating may seem just as entertaining to some dogs.
Anxiety can contribute to coprophagia in a variety of ways. Anxiety can be associated with boredom. Anxiety generally expends a lot of energy, so bored or insufficiently stimulated dogs may channel their excess energy into anxiety, which may also be expressed as destructive behaviours as discussed above.
Puppies that are crated or confined too often, or lack playtime with their owners in the first few months of their life, the primary socialisation period, may use coprophagia to keep their space (a crate acts like a den) clean or provide themselves comfort/entertainment. It could also be due to the fear of being confined again.
Coprophagia may be an attention seeking behaviour. Because eating poop seems disgusting to us, it's common for us to react when this behaviour occurs, often loudly, or high pitched, and typically we will approach our dog, touch them, try to pull them away, or sometimes we start an impromptu game of chase! To our dogs, that looks like a whole lot of attention and "play". For a dog any attention is seen as good attention, even scolding or being pulled away. Giving your dog attention for eating their poop can reinforce the behaviour, making them more likely to repeat it in the future.
Improper and punishment based toilet training techniques may inadvertently teach your puppy to eat faeces. When training a dog, it is important to teach them what they should be doing as many of the things we expect from our dogs are not normal behaviours for them. Punishing them often teaches fear but doesn't provide any indication of what they should be doing instead. For example, attempting to toilet train a puppy by pressing their face into the faeces, may teach them that they are expected to eat the faeces. This use of punishment can also create fear in your dog that they need to hide or dispose of the faeces, so they may develop sneaky habits or eat it to conceal it.
Is your dog eating poo simply because they are hungry? Hunger is a common cause of poo eating in some dogs, but this doesn't mean it's normal.
Some causes of abnormal hunger in pets include:
- Gastrointestinal illnesses such as parasites or malabsorptive intestinal diseases.
- Hormonal diseases such as hyperthyroidism or hyperadrenocorticism can cause hunger as a common symptom.
- Weight loss diets - just like humans, dogs may become hungrier if they are on a diet to lose weight. Rather than restrict their intake of regular food, we recommend sticking to a proper weight control food, as these are formulated with higher fibre to promote feelings of fullness.
- A diet lacking in fibre, protein, or fat. The feeling of 'fullness' or 'satiation' is influenced by fibre, protein, and fat. A diet lacking in any of these nutrients may create hunger.
- A calorie deficient diet. Dogs have a daily calorie requirement to meet their basic energy needs and insufficient dietary calorie intake may lead to seeking alternative sources of calories.
- Your dog's breed may play a part. It is suspected that some breeds, including Labradors, have a limited 'satiation' feedback loop, meaning they simply do not possess the ability to 'feel full' or 'satisfied' after eating.
If your dog is struggling to maintain a healthy weight or appears lean or underweight alongside their poop eating habits, it may be worth considering hunger as a potential cause and getting them checked over by a vet for underlying health conditions causing hunger.
What Are The Risks Of Dogs Eating Poo?
While dog's eating their own poo is generally not harmful if the faeces consumed are from a healthy dog and free of parasites, there are potential risks associated with this behaviour. Here are a few:
Dog poo can contain parasites like roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. If a dog eats faeces from another dog that's infected, it can contract these parasites. While there is evidence that most faeces consumed in less than two days post being deposited will have reduced numbers of infections eggs or larvae, this can still be a concern. Especially if your dog consumes older faeces.
Faeces can contain harmful bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter, which can cause gastrointestinal upset and other health issues. Many of these bacteria are immediately infectious, so eating fresh faeces cannot reduce the risk posed by these. Some of these can cause severe illness requiring hospitalisation and can pose a health risk to humans as well.
Transmission of Diseases
Some diseases, such as parvovirus and distemper, can be spread through faeces. If a dog consumes faeces from a dog infected with these diseases, it could potentially become infected as well. Dogs that have not been regularly vaccinated or puppies not yet fully vaccinated are at an increased risk of acquiring these diseases through ingestion of faeces.
Many transmissible diseases that aren't parasitic or bacterial, are viral, and some animals can act as carriers for these viruses. They may not show symptoms of illness, but instead may shed the virus in their faeces, affecting other dogs through ingestion of the faeces. Not all viruses are vaccinated against and could potentially cause serious illness in your dog.
Ingestion of Toxins
If a dog consumes faeces from an animal that has ingested poison or toxins, it can also ingest those harmful substances. Toxins may be excreted in urine or faeces and toxins that may not have been absorbed during ingestion, which could potentially leave it available for the dog that eats the affected faeces.
Similarly, medications may be excreted in faeces that could be picked up from eating the faeces of pets being treated. While it is not common, cases have occurred where a dog has become sick from ingesting medications not intended for them from the faeces of other animals, such as thyroid medications or chemotherapy medications.
While not a health risk per se, coprophagia can become a hard-to-break habit and may be associated with other behavioural problems. Some dogs that start out eating faeces as puppies may grow to like the taste, making it a challenge to deter them from eating faeces. The behaviour, which may have started out of curiosity, can also be accidentally reinforced by owners, making your dog more likely to repeat the behaviour.
If your dog is engaging in coprophagia, it's important to consult with a veterinarian to rule out any underlying health issues and to discuss ways to discourage this behaviour.
How To Stop Your Dog Eating Poo
There are several techniques that you can use to try and reduce or eliminate this disgusting behaviour, including:
1. Prevent Access
2. The Right Diet
3. Pineapple, Paw Paw, Yoghurt?
5. Keep Their Mind Busy
7. Address Anxiety
8. Redirection Training
9. Teach Them 'Leave It' or 'Come'
10. Treat Underlying Illnesses
1. Prevent Access to Consumable Faeces
It stands to reason that your dog can't eat poop if there isn't poop to eat! Try to clean up after your dog as soon as they go and remove faeces from the yard regularly. If your dog is eating poop from other animals and cats, then clean this up as often as you can as well. Cats do tend to prefer a clean litter tray and faeces should be removed daily to accommodate for this, or you could get a self-cleaning litter box.
Reduce the number of opportunities for your dog to scavenge for faeces. If your dog likes to eat the faeces of other dogs, then avoid places where exposure to other dogs' faeces would be high such as the dog park.
You may also find that creating a feeding routine allows you to determine when your dog is going to poop, creating predictability in when you will need to clean up the poop so as to remove it straight away.
Try Muzzle Training
Some owners have found that using a basket muzzle, or a head collar on walks, prevents their dogs from eating faeces. The head collar may be beneficial, alongside a lead to guide dogs away from any faeces they may try to consume.
The muzzle instead blocks access to faeces. Because the muzzle consistently prevents coprophagia, dogs can lose interest in eating the faeces, or learn not to even try. Before using a muzzle to prevent coprophagia though, I would recommend ensuring your dog is muzzle trained and wearing a muzzle won't be an unpleasant experience. We have a step-by-step guide on How to Muzzle Train Your Dog.
Top Recommended Clean Up Products:
2. Feed Them the Right Food
Regardless of the cause, any poop-eating dog that is not already eating a premium dog food should be transitioned onto a top quality diet ASAP. Premium quality diets are nutritionally balanced and complete, and provide a highly digestible source of protein, fat, fibre, vitamins and minerals to prevent any dietary deficiencies. Many premium quality diets may also contain probiotics or nutraceuticals like yucca schidigera extract to improve faecal quality and reduce the smell.
If your dog is eating the faeces of another animal or pet, ensure that they are also on a nutritionally balanced, premium quality diet. Many premium quality cat foods will also contain supplements to help reduce faecal smell, which could make them less enticing to your dog.
If you're concerned about the cost, there are a number of simple ways you can save money on pet food - without compromising on quality.
TIPS - How to save money on pet food without compromising on quality:
- Buy in Bulk. Bigger bags of dry food are always far better value than smaller bags. Brands like Advance produce bags as large as 40kg, which considerably reduces the price per kilo and gives you more bang for your buck!
- Buy Locally Made. Australian quarantine laws can be tough, which means that the cost of importing an overseas-made pet food can add to the cost. See a full list of Aussie-made pet food brands here.
- Buy Online. We promise we're not just saying this because we're an online pet store! Online is almost always cheaper than brick-and-mortar stores, due to the fewer overhead costs and efficient business model. (Plus, you don't have to carry the heavy bags home... and ordering from home means you don't even put pants on! We'll never know!)
- Keep an Eye Out for Sales. Stocking up when promotional sales are on can save you big time. Subscribe to our emails to receive alerts for sales, or check our Sale page to manually check the hot deals of the moment.
What if you're already feeding a premium pet food? Anecdotally, many people find a swap to Hills Science Diet can help reduce coprophagia. This is a highly palatable pet food, but doesn't seem to create as 'tempting' an aroma in the faeces as some other premium brands.
Advance's super premium, Australian made dog food is complete and balanced. Advance is also one of our best value premium diets, with extra large 40kg bulk value bags to ensure families on every budget can afford premium quality.
Hills Science Diet creates complete and balanced wet food in tins and sachets, as well as dry kibble. As one of our most trusted and vet-recommended brands, Hills food is tasty, nutritious, and made with high quality ingredients.
A premium quality, scientifically proven dry food diet range to support all aspects of your dog's life. With real meat as the first ingredient and packed full of beneficial ingredients, probiotics and antioxidants.
A premium range that contains optimal levels of energy and minerals to support healthy bone and joint development. Royal Canin is particularly known for their breed specific formulas.
An all natural, ethically sourced and nutritious dog food range offering both dry foods and wet food, as well as, single protein options and diets for puppies through to seniors.
An Australian made all natural dog food. This grain free diet is rich in antioxidants, omega fatty acids and a natural probiotic to support healthy, thriving dogs.
An Australian made, high quality, holistic diet packed full of beneficial ingredients and antioxidants. They offer dry and wet foods, a grain free range and a healthy benefits range for managing common health conditions.
3. A Dash of Pineapple Juice or a Dollop of Yoghurt
Some people find that their dog seems less tempted by their own poop after ingesting pineapple juice. Others report success with paw paw, papaya yoghurt or cottage cheese. (Note: if giving your dog yoghurt, make sure it doesn't have any artificial sweeteners in it! And also be aware that dairy products can give your dog the runs if you aren't careful...)
When eaten, these ingredients seem to give an altered odour to the faeces, making it less enticing to poop-eating furry friends. However, evidence of their success is anecdotal, so this may not work for every pup.
What about pills or powders to stop your dog eating their own poop? Generally we don't recommend giving your dog any pills or powder without checking with your vet first. If you have a product in mind and would like some guidance, feel free to Ask a Pet Circle Vet.
Did you know that Vets can perform a 'faecal transplant' when the gastrointestinal microflora is out of balance? Well your dog may be trying to replicate this by eating faeces.
As mentioned above, possible causes of coprophagia can include gastrointestinal disease, dietary insufficiency and puppies may eat faeces to establish a healthy gut microbiome. Beneficial bacteria within the digestive tract can play a vital role in maintaining healthy digestion and protecting the digestive tract from illness. It's much harder for bad bacteria to overgrow and cause illness if the intestinal lining is occupied by beneficial bacteria.
An absence of beneficial bacteria can prevent complete digestion and absorption of nutrients, it can allow bacterial overgrowth and lead to digestive upset. For any pet with a sensitive stomach, a probiotic can be a great supplement to boost their digestive health and may help to resolve mild, chronic digestive upset. So it makes sense to try it in this circumstance as well. If a mild digestive upset or bacterial imbalance is causing your dog to eat faeces to then a probiotic could help restore a healthy microbiome.
Top Recommended Probiotics:
5. Keep Their Mind Busy
Behavioural problems are the most common cause of coprophagia in dogs, so ensuring that your dog's energy needs are being met is an essential step in reducing the problem. It is important to keep their mind busy and prevent boredom. Many dogs eat faeces simply due to lack of environmental enrichment, so providing plenty of toys - particularly puzzles and interactive toys - can help a great deal. Long-lasting treats such as bully sticks or Whimzees veggie ears can also help keep some dogs occupied and happy.
You may find that slowing down your dog's eating with a puzzle feeder or slow feeder helps to keep them feeling fuller for longer and provides mental enrichment to deter them from eating faeces. These are a great boredom busting tool and can be great to help predict when your dog is most likely to poop or be hungry so that you can reduce their exposure to potentially consumable faeces.
You might even like to consider finding a playmate for your furry friend to keep them entertained during the day. Plenty of "puppy playdate" websites and facebook groups exist these days. Plus, some vet clinics or puppy preschools may even be able to help you out by finding a pup of a similar age in your area.
Our Top Boredom-Busting Toys:
Got a serious chewer on your hands? Designed for tough chewers, this KONG can be stuffed with treats, kibble, or peanut butter, and helps to satisfy your dog's instinctual need to chew.
Suitable for small to medium dog breeds, the iFetch shoots its miniature tennis balls three, six or nine meters, and will continue to shoot balls so long as your dog fetches them and returns them to the top of the chute.
This Snuffle Mat is perfect for dogs who guzzle their meal too quickly, or who need a bit of extra puzzle-solving fun. The handy drawstring design means you can bring your snuffle mat on the go, or pack it away when not in use.
These durable nylon bones are designed to keep even the most powerful of chewers satisfied. They may be washed in soap and water if needed and the delicious range of flavours are designed to last.
6. Increase Exercise
Another great way to prevent boredom is to ensure your dog receives plenty of exercise each day. Try to really tire them out with plenty of physical stimulation, particularly if you have a working breed or a particularly active young dog. Simply leaving them alone in a back yard is not sufficient, no matter how big your yard is. Proper long walks as well as running with your dog, going swimming, and ball-chasing are all great ways to exercise your dog.
Don't forget that exploring new environments is all part of the experience. The new scents and sights provide mental enrichment alongside physical stimulation to further tire out your dog. Walking the same track every day can create familiarity and reduce mental stimulation, so shake it up and try a different direction.
7. Address Anxiety
Excessive poop consumption could be an obsessive compulsive behaviour stemming from anxiety or stress. Monitor your dog to see if they are experiencing other symptoms of anxiety such as hyperactivity, barking, paw-chewing, panting, hole-digging, or restlessness.
If you think your pup may be stressed, proper training is always indicated as the first treatment. You may require the input of a professional dog trainer or your veterinarian.
8. Use Redirection Training
If you have a puppy, you've probably heard of redirection training. It's commonly used to discourage puppy biting or inappropriate chewing. Redirection involves directing your dog's attention away from whatever they are currently focused on, in this case poop, and onto something more exciting or rewarding. There are two ways this can be done:
•Redirecting onto a toy or game
•Redirecting them to a counterproductive behaviour
Redirecting Onto a Toy or Game
Most puppy owners are probably familiar with this type of redirection. It involves grabbing something, a toy or potentially a treat, and making that toy look way more interesting to your pup. This helps if your pup has a favourite toy, especially one that is only brought out at these times. To get your dog's interest, move it, squeak it, crackle it and genuinely look like you are having the time of your life without your pup. Most dogs will choose to seek out this far more interesting toy instead of the poop.
Once they are interested in the toy, be sure to play with them and get them engaged with the game. You are not only rewarding them for ignoring the poop, but you are also trying to make them forget about it so they don't go back to it. Make sure you play with them for long enough that they've completely forgotten they were interested in the poop in the first place.
This works very similarly with a treat. You can use a treat to lure your dog away from the faeces. Reward them when they do come away, but add in a sequence of additional practice commands and tricks so they lose interest in eating the faeces.
Redirection Onto a Behaviour
Redirecting onto a behaviour can be a little bit tricky and take longer to master, but can be very useful in preventing coprophagia. This involves teaching your dog an alternative behaviour instead of eating poop. You will need to ask for this behaviour each time you see your pup trying to eat poop, as well as immediately after they do a poop.
When choosing your alternative behaviour, choose something counterproductive. This is any behaviour that forces your puppy not to eat the poop. Common commands like sit and lie down won't work because your dog can still eat poop while sitting or laying down. Instead chose something a little bit more complicated, like a place command. Your dog can't physically eat poop if they have to move away from it to 'go to their mat' or 'go to their crate'. Other good behaviours to teach would be picking up a ball or toy and returning it to you, or teaching your dog to come and sit in front of you. Eventually these behaviours will become automatic.
9. Teach The 'Leave It' Cue
'Leave It' is a diverse training cue to teach to your dog, that could be potentially life saving. While initially applying to food, as your dog levels up their 'Leave It', you can apply it to other things as well, such as rubbish bins, objects, toads and faeces. It can be used for anything that your dog may potentially chase or eat.
Training 'Leave It' involves offering your dog a treat. They will attempt to get this treat, but close your palm to prevent access. Wait your dog out and reward them from the other hand once they back off. As they start to get the hang of it, introduce the command 'Leave It' just before they back off, then mark and reward. Once they are confident with this, you can increase the difficulty, leaving your palm open, moving the treat to the floor (you can cover with your foot) and eventually applying it to other objects or moving things.
10. Treat Any Underlying Health Conditions
If you find that the problem is persisting without improvement or an older dog suddenly develops the behaviour, then this could be an indicator of an underlying illness, as discussed above. If your vet does determine that your pet is unwell, they will recommend treatment for that condition.
Follow your veterinarian's advice for treatment and how long to pursue it. Treating or managing the underlying health condition will resolve the associated coprophagia in most circumstances.
When To Seek Veterinary Help
Any time you are concerned about your dog's health, it's best to seek out a consultation with your vet. Coprophagia isn't always a behavioural issue and can be the result of an underlying health condition. Addressing the underlying health condition promptly will provide relief for your dog and stop the problem before it becomes a habit.
- The sudden presentation of coprophagia in an adult dog.
- When it is accompanied by other signs of being unwell.
- If it seems to be appearing out of normal context, e.g. a mother cleaning pups, a curious puppy, or cleaning the den.
- Eating the faeces of other dogs, or from a specific dog.
- If the behaviour persists despite initial intervention.
Above all, if you are worried about your dog's health, always consult your vet, as excessive poop-feasting could be an indicator of an underlying health issue. It can also be a normal behaviour or behavioural problem and can often be a very difficult habit to break despite intervention. Starting to discourage the behaviour as soon as possible will provide the most successful outcome. You can always reach out to a reputable trainer or behaviourist if you are struggling.
At the end of the day, eating a little bit of poo is not generally dangerous and often normal. If it's becoming an excessive habit, try following our tips above and hopefully your pup's diet will be 'poop'-free in no time!
Want to know more?
For more information on dog behaviour, nutrition and more, take a look at some of our other articles:
Brister, J 2018, Faeces Eating in Dogs and Cats, Veterinary Information Network, accessed 24 January 2024,[https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=8587687]
Horwitz, D & Landsberg, G n.d. Dog Behaviour Problems - Coprophagia, VCA Hospitals, accessed 24 January 2024, [https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/dog-behavior-problems-coprophagia]
Hart BL, Hart LA, Thigpen AP, Tran A, Bain MJ. The paradox of canine conspecific coprophagy. Vet Med Sci. 2018 May;4(2):106-114. doi: 10.1002/vms3.92. Epub 2018 Jan 12. PMID: 29851313; PMCID: PMC5980124.
Madson, C 2024. Why Does My Dog Eat Poop?, Preventative Vet, accessed 14 February 2024, [https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/why-does-my-dog-eat-poop]