If your dog eats poop, you’re not alone! In fact, one in four adult dogs eats feces a least once. One in six are more serious stool eaters, having been caught in the act at least five times. But why do our beloved pets eat poop?
While eating poop might seem disgusting to owners, our canine companions naturally eat their own feces for a number of reasons. At the same time, eating poop can also indicate serious health conditions. If your dog ate poop, it’s important to monitor their health and behavior to figure out if a health problem is to blame.
Medical Causes of Dog Eating Poop
If your dog eats poop there are several medical conditions that can cause the behavior. These range from mild to life-threatening. Diabetes, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, hypochlorhydria, intestinal dysbiosis, and malnourishment are just a few disorders that often cause dogs to eat poop.
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)
Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is a problem in digesting food due to a lack of the correct digestive enzymes. The most common cause of EPI is pancreatic acinar atrophy (PAA), a disease most frequently seen in German Shepherds and English Setters.
In dogs, the symptoms of EPI include anemia, weight loss, fatigue, polyphagia, pica, and diarrhea. Without treatment, EPI can result in extreme weight loss, gastric dilatation, and anemia. But why does EPI cause dogs to eat poop? One of the key symptoms of EPI is a higher level of hunger. As a result, an affected pup may resort to eating poop to stop themselves from feeling hungry. Because your dog can’t digest their food properly, or a lack of certain nutrients, causing them to seek out poop in an attempt to get enough nutrition.
The treatment of canine EPI involves changing your dog’s diet as well as supplying the appropriate enzymes. Your vet will prescribe a highly digestible and low-fiber diet for your pet. As well as this, some will suggest medium-chain triglyceride oil with each meal. Most importantly, your dog will receive exogenous pancreatic enzyme supplementation. This may come in powder form, tablet, or capsule form. In addition, some dogs receive cobalamin, vitamin K, and vitamin E supplements.
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that causes high blood sugar levels. In dogs, type 1 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. The symptoms of untreated diabetes include weight loss, increased urination, thirst, and hunger. Over time, diabetes may also cause poor eyesight or even blindness due to high blood sugar levels. Overall, these symptoms might develop over weeks or months. Most diabetic dogs receive their diagnosis when they are over seven years old.
In addition, diabetes is more common in female dogs and neutered male dogs. But why does diabetes cause dogs to eat poop? As a result of diabetes, a lack of glucose can cause your dog’s appetite to increase. This leads to excessive food intake, also known as polyphagia. If your dog can’t access enough food to satisfy their increased appetite, they may resort to eating poop to fill the hole in their stomach.
The treatment for diabetes involves long-term insulin therapy. In the USA, the most common insulins given are porcine lente and isophane insulin. When deciding which insulin to prescribe, it’s important to consider the price, availability, and the possibility of once-daily dosing. Most diabetic dogs improve within four to six weeks of starting insulin therapy!
Hypochlorhydria occurs when your dog does not produce enough stomach acid for digestion. Depending on the individual dog, the amount of hydrochloric acid seen may be low or completely absent. Helicobacter pylori infections are often responsible for this. Irrespective of the cause, hypochlorhydria causes bloating, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, and even stomach cancer. In order to get the nutrients they’re lacking, your pet might resort to eating poop. Over time, this can lead to iron deficiency anemia. This deficiency causes pica. Vets will use the term “pica” to describe the action of eating substances with no nutritional value, such as soil, wood, or paper. If your dog exhibits pica, they might also include poop in their unusual diet. The cause of this response is currently unknown.
The treatment of hypochlorhydria involves addressing the underlying cause. Long-term Helicobacter pylori infection is associated with atrophic gastritis and gastric cancer. If your dog is suffering from this infection, your vet may prescribe antibiotics and prokinetic agents. The treatment is given on a case-by-case basis, as they alter your dog’s digestive system and how well it works in many ways. Some cases reduce stomach acid, while others increase it.
Small Intestinal Dysbiosis
Dysbiosis is an imbalance inside the body. In dogs, dysbiosis is most commonly seen in the gastrointestinal tract, especially during small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). SIBO is an increase of bacteria in the small intestine, too the point where it is too much. True SIBO can be secondary to a range of conditions, including a local immunodeficiency, a blockage of the intestines, visceral myopathy, or atrophic gastritis. As well as this, proton pump inhibitor usage increases the risk of SIBO. If your dog has too much bad bacteria in their small intestine, they might develop symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, poor absorption of nutrients, and malnutrition. Because dysbiosis causes malabsorption and consequently malnutrition, your pooch may resort to eating poop in an attempt to get the nutrition they lack. Some dogs that feel sick will also eat grass alongside poop.
Many cases of SIBO respond to long-term antibiotics. Oxytetracycline and metronidazole are common choices of antibiotics for treating SIBO. In addition, some vets will prescribe special diets to help to combat the condition. In cases of primary SIBO with no other factors, your pet has a very good chance of recovery.
If your pooch doesn’t eat enough food they can quickly become malnourished. While no responsible owner would deliberately do this to their beloved pup, some rescue dogs may suffer from poor nutrition when they are brought home. In general, adult dogs typically eat two meals per day. Your dog’s daily servings should be adjusted according to their body condition and activity levels. Depending on the manufacturer, some dog food brands will come with serving recommendations for your pet. With this in mind, it’s important to monitor your dog’s body condition to assess how much to feed them. The best way to assess your pet’s body condition is through body condition scoring. Purina offers a comprehensive body condition scoring tool for this purpose. If in doubt, always ask your vet or a veterinary nutritionist for further guidance!
An underfed dog might go to extreme lengths to get the nutrition they need. Some dogs might beg for more table scraps, whilst others will root through the trash or even eat poop. If you suspect that your dog is underfed, it’s important to re-evaluate their diet. This might involve consulting with a qualified veterinary nutritionist to better understand what your dog needs.
Behavioral Causes of Dog Eating Poop
Your dog might eat poop due to several non-medical reasons, some natural and some due to behavioral problems. If your dog frequently eats poop, be sure to evaluate what might be causing this behavior and work to correct the underlying reason.
If your dog has puppies, she will instinctively eat their poop. Firstly, mother dogs will stimulate their puppies to go to the toilet as they can’t go by themselves. She does this by licking the puppy’s genital region. When your puppy goes to the toilet, their mother may eat their poo during the process. Secondly, a mother dog may eat poo to clean up her whelping box. This is thought to be due to an instinctive response. In the wild, predators might be attracted to the scent of puppy feces, putting the whole family at risk. As a result, the mother will eat the poop to hide the smell. It’s completely normal for a mother dog to eat her puppies’ poop.
Because this behavior is normal, there is no need to treat or correct it. In fact, you should encourage it! Unfortunately, in some cases, a mother dog might not help her puppies to go to the toilet. She might reject her puppies or simply be an inexperienced first-time mother. If this occurs, it’s up to you to stimulate the puppies to go to the toilet using a damp cloth. You will also need to clean up the poop yourself.
Most puppy owners are delighted by their new arrival’s antics, but eating poop is less than desirable. Your puppy explores the world with their nose and mouth, so it’s natural for them to want to put things in their mouths. From their own stool to other animals’ stool, many puppies don’t discriminate when it comes to eating poop. It is thought that puppies eat poop to increase the healthy bacteria in their gut, due to boredom, or because they simply enjoy the taste. Luckily, most puppies grow out of eating poop. According to the American Kennel Club, most puppies grow out of this behavior by the time they are nine months old.
It is important that you don’t punish your puppy for eating feces. Instead, be quick to correct and redirect the behavior. You’ll need to catch the behavior in the moment that it occurs, as a correction after the fact won’t teach your puppy that their behavior is not wanted.
Boredom isn’t fun for anyone, especially your dog. If your dog is suffering from boredom, they will make their own fun, and it’s most likely that this will be in ways that don’t work for you. As well as this, high-energy breeds are more prone to boredom. These include German Shepherds, Border Collies, and Poodles. Your dissatisfied dog might chew furniture, bark excessively, or even eat their poop as a way to pass the time. Dr. Stanley Coren suggests that dogs need four stimuli to prevent boredom. These are:
- New and exciting opportunities
- Frequent opportunities to learn things
- Interacting with the environment
- Exposure to interesting places and things
Without these four stimuli, your dog can quickly become bored. Fortunately, there are many ways for you to keep your pup busy whilst you’re away from home. These options range from extra training sessions, stimulating dog toys, varying your walks, and even competing in doggy sports to keep your pooch active!
As a well-loved member of the family, your dog naturally wants and needs your attention and approval. As such, attention-seeking behavior is common and normal in dogs. It is normal for your pup to jump up at you when you greet them. They might also beg for your food, bring you some toys, or sit near you throughout the day. Similarly, some dogs will eat or pick up poop to get attention. If you chase after your dog when they eat poop, they might interpret this as a game and perform the behavior to initiate play. In other cases, your dog simply wants you to engage with them, even if the results of the behavior are negative.
It’s important to consider if your dog’s behavior is warranted. Is your dog getting enough exercise? Does their exercise offer the right outlet for their breed? Do you spend enough time with them? It’s also important to consider which behaviors you reward your dog for. Some dogs will resort to undesirable behaviors in order to get your attention. To your dog, the only time they become the focus of your world is when you correct them for “bad” behavior. In general, if your pup seeks your attention at the wrong time, it could be because they don’t get enough attention at the right time.
Some dogs will eat poop as a displacement behavior. This behavior typically occurs due to the fight or flight response. If your dog can’t decide whether to engage in fight or flight, they might lick themselves or yawn instead. For example, if your dog wants to approach another dog but is afraid of it, they might eat grass instead to avoid facing the problem. Similarly, your dog might eat poop as a displacement behavior.
If your dog displays displacement behaviors, it’s best to identify the triggers and try to avoid your dog coming into contact with them. Never punish your dog for a displacement behavior, as this will only worsen their anxiety.
Fear of Punishment
If your dog has been abused or neglected in the past, they might eat their poop to avoid punishment. This reflects extreme anxiety. With that being said, your dog should never be punished for negative behaviors. Instead, they should be corrected at the moment that the undesirable behavior occurs. If the behavior has already occurred, it is too late to correct it.
Punishment after the deed is already done only confuses your pup. While your dog might show signs that they know you are upset, it does not mean that they understand why. If you catch your dog eating poop, it’s important to correct the behavior as it happens and to offer another way to express their needs.
How to Stop a Dog From Eating Poop
The best way to stop your dog from eating poop is to target the cause. Is your dog anxious? Are there any potential medical problems to ask your vet about? You know your dog best, so be sure to consider why your dog is eating poop before taking measures to prevent it from happening again.
In order to prevent your dog eating their poop, it’s best to immediately throw away your dog’s waste before it can be eaten. When out on a walk, make sure to bring enough doggie bags in case your dog needs to to go the toilet. When at home, be sure to regularly check outside for any poop that you need to pick up. If you have a very large garden, Purina suggests picking up dog poo twice or three times a week. Similarly, it helps to regularly clean the feces of any other pets in your household. If you own cats, be sure to regularly clean their litter box. You may also move the litter box out of your dog’s reach.
If your dog gets to their waste before you can get rid of it, be sure to correct them at the moment that they start eating rather than punish them. When you catch your dog after they eat poop, it’s already too late to teach them that the behavior is not wanted. Your dog might show affectionate or gentle behaviors because they know you are upset, but they will not understand why. They won’t make the connection that you are upset with them for eating poop.
You can also use positive reinforcement. For example, when out on a walk, reward your dog with treats for ignoring other dogs’ poop. The same can be done at home when your dog ignores their poop. This will encourage your dog to ignore the poop in favor of getting a treat! If your dog does not have a high level of food motivation, you can offer a favorite toy instead!
Dogs Eating Poop – FAQ
Have any more questions about why your dog eats poop? Our Frequently Asked Questions section will have all the answers you need. If in doubt, always ask your vet for advice.
Although a dog eating their poop is an undesirable behavior, it’s usually harmless! Many dogs seem to enjoy the taste or texture of their own poop. In addition, eating their own feces might actually help to restore the bacteria in your pup’s gut.
However, if your dog eats poop from other animals, there are a few risks involved. Another animal’s stool may be contaminated with parasites, viruses, or toxins that can harm your curious pup. Horse manure, cat poo, and fox poo are common favorites for dogs who dine on animal dung.
If your dog eats poop from other dogs or other animals, they run the risk of contracting parasites or other infectious diseases. For example, if your dog eats the feces of a dog with worms, they are very likely to contract intestinal worms. Similarly, eating the feces of an animal with leptospirosis puts your dog at risk of contracting leptospirosis.
Many other diseases are transmissible through animal feces. Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, Salmonella, and Toxoplasma gondii are shed in the feces of an infected dog. Dogs who ingest contaminated feces may suffer from gastroenteritis due to the harmful bacteria. In immunocompromised dogs, this infection may be fatal. There are also many viral diseases transmissible through contact with feces. Your dog can contract canine influenza, canine distemper, and infectious canine hepatitis through eating contaminated feces.
If your dog eats their own poop, the likelihood that it will make them stick is small. However, this autocoprophagy can indicate underlying health or behavioral problems with your beloved pet. If your dog frequently feasts on their poop, it may reflect anxiety, boredom, or a need for attention. In more severe cases of anxiety, your pet might eat their poop in fear of punishment.
As well as behavioral difficulties, your dog might be suffering from a medical condition if they frequently eat poop. These conditions include Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, diabetes, hypochlorhydria, small intestinal dysbiosis, or malnutrition. If you suspect that your dog is unwell, be sure to monitor them for any signs of ill health. These might include diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss. So, while your dog most likely won’t get sick from eating their own feces, they might have an underlying condition that causes them to eat feces.
The term used to describe a dog who eats their own poop is coprophagia. This encompasses the consumption of any kind of feces. More specifically, autocoprophagy describes eating one’s own feces. In contrast, allocoprophagy describes eating the feces of another dog, whether the other dog is part of your household or someone else’s.
If your dog eats poop there are several potential reasons for it. These range from simple behavioral needs to complex medical problems. If you suspect that your beloved pup is eating feces for a medical reason, contact your vet as soon as possible to treat the underlying cause!