Written by 5:46 am Health & Care

Why does my dog eat poop?

Find out why dogs eat poop and what you can do to stop it from happening.
Dog Smelling Feces
A dog smelling another dog's feces.

Dogs could eat anything, poop included. In fact, as far as abnormal eating habits go in the canine world, this one is pretty low on the list, to be honest. Much like us humans, dogs can derive nutrients from things that we would find downright disgusting if we had to consume them ourselves! Still, though, it’s not something you should allow your dog to do. But how can you stop it? As we will see, the reasons for this behaviour go deep and are well beyond what most people would expect.

But first, let’s back up a little bit and establish some basic information about the topic at hand. Dogs eat poop because:

a) they’re starving or underfed;

b) they’re eating out of boredom;

c) they have no other sources of food available;

d) there is something psychologically motivating them to engage in the behaviour (as seen in anxiety-related coprophagia). Let’s take a closer look at each one.

1. Starving/Underfed Cause

This is the most common reason for dogs eating feces and why it’s also the first one we’ll be examining. Many people assume that their dog is eating poop out of hunger when in fact the behaviour is actually rooted in something else entirely. In order to find out if your dog is truly starved or underfed though you will have to remove any other potential causes from the list (boredom, etc.) so that you can identify exactly why they engage in this repulsive habit.

2. Boredom Cause

Dogs eat poop because they’re bored and have nothing better to do with their time than search for random things around them to entertain themselves with; I used to watch my dog like a hawk when he was a puppy. I often caught him in the act of starting to eat his own poop, so I thought that might be why he did it.

This is something I never had to worry about all that much with my dog as far as boredom goes because there were always plenty of things around for him to do while we were home (chew toys, bones, cuddling with me on the couch), and when we would go out I’d make sure to leave him with enough food and water to keep him occupied for at least an hour or longer. It’s only once you get into multi-dog households where dogs have left home alone for eight hours or more at a stretch that this issue crops up. A bored dog is going to get into things he shouldn’t. Plain and simple.

3. No other sources of food available

Dogs eat poop because they have no choice but to eat it since there are no other sources of food around for them. Oftentimes, dog owners simply forget that their own pet needs just as much if not more attention than the children do in a household when it comes to feeding schedules, and this can lead to an underfed animal which becomes increasingly desperate for nutrients (any kind of nutrients, especially after the stomach acids, start working on whatever random things happened to be consumed) over time. If you’re unsure whether or not your dog is getting enough nutrition from his regular meals then try switching up his diet with different brands or even raw food diets to see if this changes anything.

4. There is a psychological component involved in the act of coprophagia (eating poop) –

Dogs eat poop because they’re stressed, anxious and/or bored; some dogs also simply do it out of curiosity… Here’s where things get really interesting and I’ll be sharing with you my own personal experiences as a dog owner who has dealt with anxiety-related coprophagia in her pet at one point or another. The following information comes from my own personal observations having lived through this particular dilemma first hand so I’m pretty confident about its accuracy even though there isn’t a lot of research available on the topic since much of veterinary science tends to focus more on treatment rather than prevention as a rule.

4a. Coprophagia – what is it?

Coprophagia (literally “eating feces”) is the consumption of feces. Some common reasons for coprophagy include nutritional deficiencies, hunger, or psychological issues such as stress and boredom; more specifically there has been an inordinate amount of research conducted over the past few years on coprophagy in dogs with general consensus pointing to anxiety-related causes rather than nutritional ones. Dogs who engage in this behaviour are often otherwise healthy but develop it out of some emotional or environmental trigger which then presents itself as destructive/disruptive canine behaviour.

Anxiety in dogs can lead to many different manifestations ranging from barking at shadows all night long to chewing up your favourite pair of shoes which makes it very hard to pin down exactly what’s triggering the poop eating in many cases. If your dog exhibits signs of anxiety and/or stress then this is definitely behaviour you will want to keep an eye on as it can easily become compulsive in nature if left unchecked for too long (i.e., dogs who simply begin to enjoy eating feces or those who get some form of gratification from engaging in this behaviour).

4b. Not all dogs engage in coprophagia due to stress

There are cases where poop eating develops out of simple curiosity rather than anxiety; these are dogs who don’t have any emotional attachment attached to the act other than simply wanting to know what that weird brown stuff is that they keep smelling and seeing in their immediate environment.

“What is that?” “Is it something I can eat?” “I’m going to find out.” Obviously not every dog who sniffs poop will develop a compulsion for eating feces as there are many who simply go on about their business after taking a whiff or two but if you’ve been through this scenario with your pet at least once then you know how hard (and gross) life can get when your pal suddenly decides that everything from grass to twigs, leaves to mulch… and even his own stools are all fair game when it comes to being sampled for edibility. It’s almost like having an unsupervised toddler around the house! For this reason, dog owners who have dealt with coprophagia in their pets often get so stressed out by the behaviour that they begin to feel like they’re going crazy and this can trigger even more stress which turns into a vicious circle leading from one bad habit to another.

4c. Coprophagia is destructive/disruptive canine behaviour

This type of negative canine behaviour forces you as a dog owner to be constantly on guard lest your pup eats something he shouldn’t; this alone can cause a great deal of stress not only for Fido’s human but also his four-legged friends (you know how cats are…). The extra care and attention required to keep your pet safe while you’re away at work or running errands will only add to the overall burden you’re already carrying in terms of having a dog who eats feces on a regular basis.

The truly unfortunate thing about this common elimination disorder is that it can be very hard to pinpoint exactly what’s causing it in many cases as its onset is often triggered by some form of an emotional or environmental issue rather than something directly physical. Stress and anxiety are the most common culprits when it comes to Fido’s bad habit so if your pet isn’t feeling at all anxious but still has a compulsive desire to eat his own poop then chances are pretty good that an underlying medical condition may be behind his behaviour. This includes things like brain tumours, diabetes, epilepsy… any number of illnesses which can lead to offbeat eating behaviours as side effects so if your dog has recently begun this very bad habit then you’ll definitely want to take him in for a check-up right away (especially if his feces eating behaviour is accompanied by other offbeat behaviours such as aggression, depression, excessive licking/chewing, house soiling issues…).

It’s important not to jump to conclusions when it comes to diagnosing canine coprophagia however because sometimes what appears like poop eating could actually be something else. A good example of this would be puppies who chew on the corner of the carpet or leather sofa and end up with some “carpet fibres” or “leather flakes” on their chops – they’ll often eat these in an effort to discover what they are so making sure you aren’t misdiagnosing your pet’s elimination problem and then treating him for the wrong thing!

Treatment

The good news is that coprophagia CAN be stopped in its tracks once you know how to do it but this behaviour in dogs doesn’t tend to go away on its own so if your furry friend has been eating his poop on a regular basis for more than a few weeks then you’ll definitely want to speak with your veterinarian about getting him some professional help with this – especially if he’s not feeling well (that can often send a dog into an uncontrollable feeding frenzy). Once you’ve consulted with your vet and have begun treatment of any underlying anxiety or stress issues that may have led your canine companion to eat his own poop in the first place then there are a few things you can do at home as well to help Fido overcome this very annoying (and potentially dangerous) bad habit.

5a. For lack of a better phrase, “bribe” your pet with positive goodies

Remember when we talked earlier about how dogs like the taste of feces and often seek it out to eat? Well if that’s not something you care to encourage then one of the best ways we’ve found for curtailing this bad behaviour is by associating your pup’s favourite treats with a palpably negative experience whenever he feels tempted to sample some excrement flavoured snacks; what you’ll want to do is take away all of the potential “rewards” your dog might get for eating his own excrement and replace them with something really great, like a favourite toy or his daily ration of kibbles. If he’s not thrilled about what you’re giving him at first then don’t worry; it takes time to break a bad habit in dogs (even if they aren’t sick) so just keep this up for as long as necessary (a month or even two isn’t out of the question). Time is key when it comes to training dogs – especially Fido who eats feces: the longer you put off breaking this behaviour in him, the harder it can become down the road.

5b. Cleaning products are also worth their weight in gold when it comes to dealing with a pup who likes the taste of his own poop: you can either spray down your lawn, porch or patio with some kind of animal repellent or pick up some “doggie-deterrent” sprays which are designed to keep pets from pooping in certain areas. These products come in both granule and spray form so just be sure you use one that is pet-friendly because you certainly don’t want to cause Fido any undue pain by spraying him directly!

5c. There’s also a company called No Chew Spray that makes an excellent dog repellent which is specially formulated to stop dogs from chewing on pretty much anything they shouldn’t chew on these days (including their paws).

5d. Another great way to stop your pet from eating his or her own poop is with the help of a commercial product called “Scat Mats” – these are plastic mats that you can put on your lawn and they use batteries to shock Fido’s feet whenever he walks over them, effectively dissuading him from hanging around in that area again. The downside to using Scat Mats however is that not all dogs will react the same way so it’s hard to know just how well they’ll work for you ahead of time; if these kinds of deterrents aren’t right for you then try some of the other methods we’ve outlined above first and be sure to consult with your veterinarian before trying anything.

Don’t ever punish your dog for eating his or her own poop, you’ll just confuse them and make the problem worse in the long run.

Despite what many people think, it’s not especially common for dogs to eat their feces because they’re hungry so if that’s all Fido is getting out of his bad habit then he’ll probably be able to break it on his own without any trouble. The danger comes when a dog eats his or her own feces as an isolated symptom of some other health issue such as EPI, which can cause several serious nutrient deficiencies over time; this should always be treated by a professional immediately since it can lead to malnutrition and even death if left untreated!

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