Coprophagia (kop-ruh-fey-jee-uh), or the eating of feces, is a fairly common problem among dogs.
If your dog is one of the many that eats their own or other dogs’ poop, you may find it disturbing. But don’t worry, you’re not alone. This behavior can have various causes, some more serious than others.
In this blog post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about coprophagia in dogs. From what may cause it to how to stop it, we’ve got you covered.
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Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?
There are several reasons why your dog may be eating poop, and figuring out the reason makes stopping the behavior much easier.
Eating feces is a natural behavior for dogs. In the wild, canines will consume the stool of their prey to gain all the nutrients they need from their meal. This instinct also helps them to cover their tracks and avoid being hunted themselves.
Puppies may also eat poop as a way of exploring their environment and learning about what’s safe to eat and what isn’t.
Boredom And Lack Of Exercise
Another common reason for stool eating is boredom. If your dog isn’t getting enough exercise or stimulation, they may start looking for ways to entertain themselves. Chewing on and consuming poop can be a way to do this.
Additionally, if your dog is confined to a small space with little to no opportunity to explore, they may start eating their feces as a way to cope with their boredom and frustration.
Stress And Anxiety
Some dogs may eat poop because they are stressed. This is especially likely if harsh training methods were used during house training. If your dog has an accident in the house they may turn to eating it to hide the evidence and avoid being punished.
Other dogs may eat poop as a way to cope with stress and anxiety. Compulsive behaviors, like eating feces, can be used as a way to calm themselves down.
Learned Behavior From Mom
Puppies often learn this behavior from their mothers. According to the AKC, mother dogs will lick their puppies to encourage them to poop. They will then eat it to keep the den area clean.
Puppies may also smell it on their mom’s breath and learn that eating poop is normal.
In some cases, dogs may eat feces as a way to get attention from their owners. This is most likely to happen if you react strongly (positively or negatively) when they eat poop.
Your dog may have learned that pooping gets your attention, so eating it ensures that they will always have your focus.
Frozen Poop aka “Poopsicles!”
This is a common reason why dogs eat poop in the wintertime. Dogs will consume frozen feces because it’s an easy way to get a quick snack.
The good part about this reason is that if your dog only likes frozen poop, you don’t have to worry about them eating poop in the warmer months.
I know 2 dogs that eat poop, Luna and a friend’s dog. Luna loves fresh poop, only eating her own or Morgan’s, but my friend’s dog will only eat frozen poop. If it’s fresh, she leaves it alone.
Your Dog Likes The Taste
Some dogs simply enjoy the taste of feces. If your dog seems to be genuinely enjoying eating poop, this may be the reason why.
Unfortunately, enjoying the taste of poop makes getting your dog to stop eating it much more difficult.
If your dog is not getting enough food, they may start to eat feces as a way to make up for the lack of nutrition. This is most likely to happen if your dog is on a diet or if you’re feeding them low-quality food.
This is one of the biggest reasons Luna still eats poop. She used to always be hungry and would resort to eating her poop and Morgan’s poop as soon as either of them would go.
One common reason puppies and adult dogs alike may eat feces is if they’re not getting enough of the nutrients they need from their food. This is most often due to a poor quality diet or an insufficient amount of food. If your dog isn’t getting enough nutrition, they may start to crave feces as a way to make up for the lack of nutrients.
Illness Or Disease
In some cases, stool eating may be a sign of an underlying health issue. Dogs with gastrointestinal problems may eat stool as a way to relieve their symptoms.
Other illnesses, like diabetes, can also cause increased hunger and lead to stool eating. If your dog has started eating feces and you can’t figure out why it’s always best to talk to your vet to rule out any health problems.
One common reason dogs may eat feces is because they have parasites. These tiny organisms can live in your dog’s intestines and cause them to feel hungry all the time.
This is because the parasites consume nutrients meant for your dog, leaving your dog feeling hungry even if they are getting the right amount of food. This can lead to a vicious cycle of hunger and stool eating.
Malabsorption syndrome is a condition that prevents your dog from properly absorbing nutrients from their food. This can lead to weight loss, increased hunger, and stool eating.
Pica is a condition that causes dogs (and humans) to crave and eat non-food items. In some cases, this may include feces.
Dogs with pica may eat feces as well as other things like dirt, paper, or cloth. If your dog has started eating poop and you can’t figure out why pica may be the cause.
According to Wag!, a lack of digestive enzymes in the pancreas, called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), causes dogs to not be able to digest their food properly.
One of the symptoms of this disease is eating poop because the food is not being digested as it goes through the digestive tract. This also leads to weight loss in your dog.
EPI is a lifelong disorder that, at this time, has no cure but can be treated with veterinary care.
Is Eating Poop Normal?
Now that we’ve gone over some of the reasons why your dog may be eating poop, you’re probably wondering if it’s normal.
The short answer is yes, to a certain extent. It’s perfectly normal for puppies to eat poop as they’re exploring the world and learning what’s edible and what’s not. Puppies usually outgrow this by 6 to 9 months of age.
However, if your adult dog is eating poop, it could be a sign of an underlying health issue. If you’re concerned about your dog’s stool eating habits, the best thing to do is talk to your vet.
They can help you figure out if there’s a medical reason for the behavior and provide you with guidance on how to stop it.
Is Eating Poop Harmful?
For dogs that only eat their own poop, no it is not harmful. It may be a sign of an illness, but the eating of the poop, in and of itself, is not harmful to your dog.
Now, if your dog is eating the poop of other dogs or animals, that could be harmful. It puts them at risk of contracting parasites or diseases that are transmitted through feces, especially if the animal that left the poop is sick.
For my dogs, the favorite non-dog poop to eat is rabbit poop. You can read the post Why Does My Dog Eat Rabbit Poop for more information on eating rabbit poop. Morgan will also eat cat poop if she gets access to the litterbox.
Thankfully the risks from rabbit poop, while not non-existent, are low. And I know that Allie, my cat, is healthy and parasite free.
How Do You Get Your Dog To Stop Eating Poop?
For those with dogs that eat poop, this is probably the most important question around this topic. How do I get my dog to stop eating poop?
Fortunately, there are many things you can try to get your dog to stop eating poop. Unfortunately, depending on the dog and the reason behind the behavior, not all (and for the really tough case, many) won’t work. All you can do is trial and error until you find one that works.
I will include my experience with Luna and Morgan for the methods that I’ve tried. For those methods I specifically chose not to try, I will include my reasons. Many of the methods I haven’t tried just because I found a few that work well enough to stop with what I’ve tried.
Pick It Up Immediately
The best way to stop your dog from eating poop is to prevent it. If you always take your dog out when it’s time for them to poop (easier if your dog poops at regular times), you can pick it up when they are done.
This sort of worked for Luna. When I first started trying to get Luna to stop eating her poop she would whip around so fast that she could get a chunk of it faster than I could get the bag open and scoop the poop up. It limited her poop eating as she would only get a portion of it, but it didn’t stop it completely.
The worst part was that it didn’t work at all if I just let the dogs into our fenced-in backyard. If I was in the house and she or Morgan would poop, forget it. The poop was gone before I could get out there.
Teach Your Dog “Leave It”
You can also train your dog to “leave it” when they are near poop. This will take some time and patience, but if you’re consistent, you can teach your dog not to eat poop.
Teaching Luna “leave it” helped some, but not by itself. If I am close to Luna and tell her “leave it” she will leave her poop and Morgan’s poop alone, but if I’m not close, like on our deck, she will look at me and eat it anyway.
Give Your Dog Some Pineapple
This is an easy way to get your dog to stop eating poop, if it works. Most dogs enjoy eating pineapple, so they will readily eat it. It’s supposed to taste good going in, but make the poop taste nasty. Of course, I would have thought poop would taste nasty no matter what, but some dogs, including Luna, think it tastes good.
For this to work you do need to give the pineapple to your dog daily. Use fresh or frozen pineapple, not canned pineapple. Canned pineapple has too much added sugar for dogs. If your dog has dietary restrictions you will want to consult your vet before trying this.
You also need to give the pineapple to the dog whose poop is being eaten, not necessarily to the dog that is doing the poop eating.
Morgan and Luna love this method, they get to have pineapple twice a day. I give them each one piece with each meal, giving Morgan a much smaller piece than I give Luna since Morgan is significantly smaller.
This method has slowed Luna’s poop eating down, though not stopped it completely. She thinks twice about eating it which gives us more time to get to her.
I’ve heard some people of great success with this method and for others, it made no difference at all. Luna is in between, worth continuing, but needs more to deter her.
Give Your Dog Some Pumpkin
Pumpkin is another food that can be used to stop a dog from eating poop. Like pineapple, it’s supposed to make the poop taste bad to your dog.
I have not tried this with Luna or Morgan as we’ve had success with other methods.
Hide The Litterbox
If your dog is a cat poop eater, the best method to stop it is to hide the litterbox. Put the litterbox somewhere your cat can get to but not your dog. You can do this by either using a baby gate or getting a cat door installed so you can close the door to the room with the litter box.
Morgan is my cat poop eater. If the box is accessible, she will be in it and make a mess to get at the cat poop. The thing that worked best for us was putting a baby gate in the doorway. Unfortunately, Allie is almost 14 now and is not a fan of jumping over the gate anymore.
Since Morgan only goes in the litterbox when no one is around, we now just shut the door to the bathroom when no one is around. I have a Hollywood bath, so Allie has access to my bed (one of her favorite places to sleep), her food and water, and her litterbox while Morgan can’t get to it.
There are many different kinds of deterrents you can buy at the store to stop your dog from eating poop. Some people have success with these, others do not.
I thought about trying these with Luna, but after looking at how many she would have to have daily, I decided not to try them due to the cost. If it was just Morgan who needed to have them, I may have given it a try, but it was cost-prohibitive for a dog Luna’s size.
Treat The Stress And Anxiety
If your dog is eating poop because of stress or anxiety, then you will need to address those issues. Dogs can be stressed by many things: changes in their routine, new people or animals in the house, loud noises, etc.
Anxiety can also be caused by many things: separation anxiety, fear of abandonment, thunderstorms, etc.
Once you have found the cause of the stress and anxiety you can try to limit exposure to it or talk with your vet about how to treat it. Once the stress and anxiety are treated the poop eating should stop.
Provide Enough Exercise And Mental Stimulation
A dog that is bored or doesn’t get enough exercise is more likely to eat poop. Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise and mental stimulation.
Exercise can be anything from a long walk to playing fetch to going for a swim. Mental stimulation can be anything from food puzzles to training sessions to nose work. For more ideas of activities for dogs, check out this post, 24 Indoor Activities for Dogs.
Leash Your Dog When Outside
If your dog eats poop when outside, make sure to keep them on a leash. This will allow you to prevent them from getting to the poop before they eat it.
This helped significantly with Luna’s eating of Morgan’s poop, at least as long as two of us were walking them, one person for each dog. Then if Morgan pooped, I could take Luna far enough away that she couldn’t get to Morgan’s poop until after it was cleaned up.
Provide Enough Of A High-Quality Dog Food
If your dog is eating poop because they are not getting enough to eat, make sure to feed them enough of a high-quality dog food. This will help to ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need and will help to prevent them from being hungry all the time.
This is actually the thing that helped with Luna’s poop eating the most. After some success with other methods, but not a complete stopping of the poop eating, we talked to Luna’s vet. It turns out, we were underfeeding her.
For her size and energy needs, the recommended amount on the bag was not enough. She was eating poop because she was hungry all the time. I felt so bad! The vet told us the proper amount to feed her and how to get her up to that amount without causing any issues.
Talk To Your Vet
If you are concerned about your dog’s poop eating, or if it is a new behavior for your dog, you should talk to your vet. They can rule out possible medical issues along with making sure you are feeding your dog a proper amount of food each day.
Talking to our vet is what helped us figure out the main cause of Luna’s poop eating. We weren’t initially concerned about the behavior, grossed out, but not concerned, because she was doing it from the time we brought her home at 9 1/2 weeks old.
We originally thought she would grow out of it, as most puppies do, but when she didn’t, the vet helped figure the cause out.
Use A Mix Of Ways To Stop Your Dog From Eating Poop
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to stopping a dog from eating poop. You may need to use a combination of the methods above to find what works best for your dog.
For Luna, we had success with combining the pineapple with teaching “leave it” and picking it up right away. But the ultimate success was figuring out the root cause of the behavior (she was hungry). Now that she is older, 4 1/2 years old, she seldom eats poop anymore, as long as she isn’t hungry.
Unfortunately, the vet recently put her on a diet, so we are watching closely for poop eating and back to giving daily pineapple. The pineapple may make the diet less successful, but so will eating poop.
What Shouldn’t I Do To Correct The Problem?
There are some things you should not do when trying to stop your dog from eating poop. These include:
Don’t Punish Your Dog
Punishing your dog is rarely helpful as they don’t associate the punishment with the crime. It will only serve to make them more anxious and stressed, which can lead to more poop eating.
Don’t Put Anything On The Poop
Don’t put anything on the poop to try to deter them from eating it. This includes hot sauce, cayenne pepper, or any other spicy foods. These can irritate your dog’s mouth and digestive system.
When researching what to do about Luna’s poop eating, I came across the suggestion of sprinkling Tabasco sauce on it. People swore it worked, but I could not figure out why you wouldn’t just pick the poop up if you were that close to the poop.
Using a bag to pick up the poop is way easier, and less harmful to your dog, than putting something spicy on it.
So, if your dog is eating their own or another animal’s poop, don’t worry – you’re not alone. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take action to stop the behavior.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to discourage this habit and keep your pup healthy and happy. Have any tips of your own? Let us know in the comments below!