Nothing appears more disgusting to us humans than watching your dog slurp up a pile of poop! There’s a scientific name for this habit – coprophagia. There are also both behavioral and physiologic reasons why some dogs do it.
Poop eating is a relatively common phenomenon. In a 2012 study conducted by Dr. Benjamin Hart, from the University of California, Davis, found that:
- 16% of dogs are classified as “serious” stool eaters, which means that they were caught in the act five times.
- 24% of the dogs in the study (one in four) were observed eating feces at least once.
While it is repulsive to humans, it’s not really all that bad from your dog’s point of view. Dogs evolved as scavengers, eating whatever they found on the ground or in the trash heap. Animal behaviorist Steven R. Lindsay says, that coprophagia “may be one of several appetitive survival behaviors that have evolved to cope with the periodic adversity of starvation.” In other words, when food is scarce, you can’t be picky.
Poop eating is also a normal behavior at some canine life stages. Mother dogs will lick their puppies to urge them to eliminate, and then clean up their feces for about the first three weeks. After that pups begin to move away from the den to potty. In most cases, this behavior will fade before the puppy is about nine months old.
If your adult dog begins to eat poop, you should consult with your vet to rule out such health problems as:
- Diet deficiencies – nutrients and/or calories
- Malabsorption syndromes
- Diabetes, Cushing’s, thyroid disease, and other conditions that might cause an increase in appetite.
- Drugs that increase appetite
There may also be behavioral reasons for poop eating to start in adult dogs such as:
- Isolation: Studies have shown that dogs who are kept alone in kennels or basements are more likely to eat poop than those dogs who live close to their people.
- Restrictive confinement: Spending too much time confined in a small spaces can cause the problem.
- Anxiety: often a result of a person using punishment or harsh methods during potty training.
- Attention-seeking: Dogs eat their own poop to get a reaction from their humans, which they inevitably will. So if you see your dog doing this, don’t overreact.
- Living with a sick or elderly dog: Sometimes a healthy dog will consume stools from a weaker canine member of the household. Scientists hypothesize that this may be related to the instinct to protect the pack from predators.
So what do we do about poop eating? Here’s a few things you can try:
- Make sure you’re feeding your dog a high quality diet that is nutritionally balanced.
- Make sure your dog has ample opportunities to go out, exercise and relieve himself.
- Try a taste deterrent – The addition of MSG (monosodium glutamate) or MSG containing products
- Keep your dog’s area clean. Pick up immediately after your dog finishes pooping
- Teach your dog a solid “leave-it”.
- Teach your dog to come to you for a treat after pooping.
While poop eating is certainly gross, at least we humans think so, it’s not usually dangerous if your dog eats their own stool. However, eating the stool of other animals can result in parasites or digestive upsets. This behavior may be mild or temporary in some dogs, but very persistent in others. Talk with your veterinarian for additional options if behavioral coprophagia becomes a serious problem.