Coprophagia: Why is my dog eating poop?

...And what can I do to stop it?!

17 MAY 2019

This article is written by our in house Veterinarian, Dr. Carla Paszkowski BVSc.

Is your dog eating poop? Faeces ingestion, or coprophagy / 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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Why do dogs eat poo?
How to stop your dog eating poo
Top Recommended Diets

Why do dogs eat poo?

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.

1. Dietary insufficiency
2. Gastrointestinal disease
3. Tasty food = tasty poop?
4. Boredom or Anxiety
5. Hunger
6. Normal puppy behaviour

1. Dietary insufficiency

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 pet food brand. It may cost you a little more in the short term, but it may save you big time in vet bills!

Dietary insufficiency is also commonly seen in dogs who eat a home cooked diet. 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.

See Our Top Recommended Diets For Reducing Coprophagia

2. Gastrointestinal Diseases

Certain gastrointestinal problems may lead to hunger, malnourishment, and consequential coprophagia. These issues include intestinal worms, pancreatic insufficiency, intestinal malabsorption, and viruses.

If your dog is older and has never elicited poo-eating behaviour before, your vet may suspect a gastrointestinal problem.

3. 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.

4. Boredom or Anxiety

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 kelpies. 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 digging or chewing, but poo eating may seem just as entertaining to some dogs.

5. Hunger

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.
  • 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.

6. Puppies will be puppies

If your pup is under 1 year of age, they may just be a mischievous puppy up to no good. Even in cases where plenty of toys and mental stimulation are provided, some puppies just continue to eat poo. Just like children eating mud (or even poop in some cases!) we don't always know the exact motivation inside a puppy's head.

However, it's important to keep in mind that puppy food is very rich in nutrients (as discussed earlier). 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.

How To Stop Your Dog Eating Poo

1. The right diet
2. Pineapple, paw paw, yoghurt?
3. Keep their mind busy
4. Exercise
5. Address anxiety

1. Feed Them the Right Food

Regardless of the cause, any poop-eating dog that not already eating a premium pet food should be transitioned onto a top quality diet ASAP.

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:

  • 1. 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!
  • 2. 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.
  • 3. 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!)
  • 4. 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.

Our Top Premium Dog Diets:

Advance Dog Food

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.

Hill's Science Diet Dog Food

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.

Ivory Coat Dog Food

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.

Royal Canin Dog Food

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.

2. A dash of pineapple juice or a dollop of yoghurt

Many people find that their dog seems less tempted by their own poop after ingesting pineapple juice. Others report success with paw paw, 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 a altered odour to the faeces, making it less enticing to poop-eating furry friends.

What about pills or powder 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.

3. Keep their mind busy

Another way to help stop poop-eating in dogs is 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. Occupying treats such as goat horn or pigs ears can also help keep some dogs occupied and happy.

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:

KONG Extreme

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.

iFetch Original Ball Launcher

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.

Gigwi Hide and Seek Pet Droid

The Gigwi Hide And Seek Pet Droid can help train your dog's memory and logic, by releasing food in a remote location after your dog pushes down on a button.

Tasty Bone

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.

4. 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 huffy puffy, 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, swimming, and ball-chasing are all great ways to exercise your dog.

5. Address Anxiety

Last but not least, 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.

Aids and products to help reduce anxiety in dogs include the pheromone product Adaptil, supplements containing tryptophan such as PAW Complete Calm Chews, or an anxiety wrap like the Thunder Shirt.

Above all, if you are worried about your dog's health, always consult your vet. Aside from the reasons listed above, excessive poop-feasting could be an indicator of an underlying health issue. At the end of the day, eating a little bit of poo is not generally dangerous. 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!