Eating poop is a common complaint among dog owners. The behavior is taboo and distasteful to us, but is it dangerous for our dogs? Read on if you have ever wondered:
Poop eating is often seen as an undesirable behavior in our furry friends. You may be surprised to learn it is a natural behavior that is seldom cause for concern.
The act of eating feces is called coprophagia. Since most humans find coprophagia disgusting, pet parents are often motivated to try and correct this behavior in their dogs. The reason these training efforts may become challenging is because eating poop is normal for dogs and may occur for various reasons, including:
The most common reason for poop-eating behavior in dogs is they simply like it. Some dogs simply enjoy feces' taste, smell, or consistency and consider it a tasty treat. Dogs may prefer their own poop, other dogs’ poop, or droppings from other animals, such as cats or wildlife. While it seems gross to us, coprophagia usually isn’t abnormal or dangerous.
Young puppies explore the world around them with their nose and mouth, similar to human babies. After birth, baby pups ingest fecal material from their mother and siblings. Mother dogs also ingest their puppies’ fecal matter as they groom them. It is also thought that a baby puppy ingesting their mother’s feces exposes them to beneficial bacteria and promotes a healthy GI system. Many puppies grow out of the behavior as they age, but sometimes the habit follows them into adulthood.
You might be wondering if your dog is eating poop because he’s bored or stressed. Dogs often display inappropriate behaviors, such as clawing, chewing, or ingesting items they shouldn’t when they don’t have enough mental stimulation. A restless dog may chew carpet, furniture, or other objects. Generally speaking, eating feces is not an unnatural canine behavior and is rarely caused by stress or boredom. With that being said, it is important to provide your dog with enough exercise and stimulation to ensure destructiveness and other inappropriate behaviors don’t develop.
Dogs who have been punished after having an accident indoors may attempt to clean up their mess by gobbling up the evidence. When training, including potty training a puppy, use positive reinforcement and rewards rather than punishment to avoid fear-based reactions.
Some dogs misbehave on purpose to get a reaction and attention from their owners. Attention-seeking behavior can take many forms, including eating feces.
Behavioral conditions in dogs include aggression, anxiety, and leash reactivity, among others. Eating feces in and of itself is not abnormal canine behavior. Some pet parents associate poop-eating behavior with pica. Pica is a behavioral disorder that causes a persistent compulsion to eat non-food items. It is a rare condition and should not be confused with normal poop-eating behavior. Other conditions that may cause the behavior include dementia in elderly dogs and OCD.
Coprophagia caused by a medical or behavioral condition is rare but exists. Health issues causing the behavior may include:
It is important to note coprophagia is not a common symptom of these conditions, and other clinical signs will be much more apparent.
Nutritional deficiencies are commonly associated with dogs ingesting poop, though no scientific evidence supports this claim. A 2018 study by researchers at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine examined a large database of dog owner surveys and found no correlation between diet and the behavior of eating feces. Dietary deficiency is unlikely in dogs fed commercially available complete and balanced diets.
Eating poop is generally not dangerous or bad for dogs, especially when they prefer to eat their own. Intestinal parasites and infectious diseases can be spread through ingesting the feces of others. Eating poop can cause GI upset in some dogs, though this is uncommon. Ingesting large amounts of cat litter when eating out of a litter box can cause a gastrointestinal impaction. This is rare and only likely if an extremely large volume relative to the dog’s body size has been ingested. Dogs that frequently ingest poop may also spread fecal bacteria to their owners by licking.
“Eating poop is a normal behavior in dogs and is unlikely to be harmful. It’s just yucky,” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. “There are a variety of home remedies and commercial products that claim to stop poop eating, but these rarely provide a long-term solution. Limiting access to poop is the best option.”
To help limit access, keep the yard and cat litter box clean and free from poop. Place litter boxes in areas a dog cannot reach, such as in an enclosed box or room they cannot access. Walking your dog on a sturdy, non-retractable leash provides better control to lead them away from droppings on walks. Providing alternative toys and stimulation may also redirect the behavior. Finally, working with a dog trainer or animal behaviorist and practicing commands such as “leave it” can provide additional control.
Eating feces, as gross as it seems, is a natural behavior in dogs. As such, there is not a great deal of safety concern that might require correcting the behavior. In uncommon situations, ingesting poop from other dogs or wildlife may spread intestinal parasites, cause GI upset, or spread bacteria. Ultimately, it is up to you if you want to try to train your dog out of this behavior. If you have any questions about training strategies, an online vet can help provide feedback and resources to put you ahead of the game.
Eating poop is a common and natural behavior in dogs. Most often, poop eaters simply like it! Occasionally, eating poop can be caused by underlying behavioral or medical conditions. However, these conditions have other, more prominent and serious symptoms and should not be confused with normal poop-eating behavior.
Limiting access to poop is the best way to limit the behavior. Commercially available products and home remedies that claim to stop coprophagia rarely provide a long-term solution. Thankfully, eating poop isn’t usually harmful, because training a dog to stop the behavior is very difficult. If you want to try and break your dog’s poop-eating habit, working on commands such as “leave it” and even consulting a dog trainer may be beneficial.
It is extremely rare for a dog to become ill after ingesting its own poop. Sometimes, a dog may develop stomach upset or ingest internal parasites from eating poop.
Eating poop is a natural and common behavior in dogs and is unlikely to be harmful. If you wish to stop the behavior, limiting access to poop is the best way to prevent it.
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