OK, so you’ve gotten past the headline.
That means …
a) you have a strong stomach
b) you know having a dog means dealing with poop. (But they’re worth it!)
As gross as stool eating (aka coprophagia) is to humans, it’s actually a common habit of many dogs.
But the possible reasons for why dogs find their poop and/or the poop of others akin to a highly prized delicacy vary a wide spectrum from behavioral to medical in nature.
While poop eating may be something as simple as boredom … it can actually also be something more complex like diabetes.
So, as distasteful as the topic of poop may be to us humans, it’s important to look at the possible causes.
Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?
First, let’s begin with possible medical reasons that could be leading your dog to eat poop.
1. Enzyme deficiency
In the wild, the canine diet works in harmony with its surroundings. When the canine eats prey, it eats whole prey, including the guts, which would naturally contain the appropriate amount of digestive enzymes the dog needs. This isn’t the case with the kibble-heavy, highly processed diet the modern urban dog subsists on. Digestive enzymes are a key component of your dog’s digestive process, and without them, they can’t properly absorb their food. Basically they will poop out nutrients undigested. Dogs do create enzymes in their body, but they are not enough to complete the digestive process effectively – so they need to get some of these enzymes from their food. If there is a deficiency, not only may they then develop ailments, but they may also start to crave that feces they just rid themselves of – because, well, it’s full of nutrients.
2. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)
Also known as pancreatic insufficiency, this is a condition where your dog is creating little or no digestive enzymes in the pancreas. Without added enzymes, a dog will basically slowly starve, with symptoms including weight loss, diarrhea, and yes, stool eating, because he’s trying to get those much-needed nutrients.
Intestinal parasites that absorb the nutrients your dog should be getting from his food could be another reason your dog is craving stool.
4. Conditions causing increased appetite
Certain diseases like diabetes and thyroid issues, as well as steroids, can make dogs ravenous enough to eat stool (honestly many dogs don’t need much of a push).
5. Other deficiencies
According to Roger DeHaan, DVM, a hydrochloric acid deficiency that may happen with age or from a bad diet can also lead to poor digestion that can in turn lead to a search for nutrients in stool. Hydrochloric acid breaks down protein as part of the digestive process. Joseph Demers, DVM, says a trace mineral deficiency can also lead to stool eating, as well as eating less digestible things like plastic. (The Veterinarians’ Guide to Natural Remedies for Dogs by Martin Zucker)
Any other condition that may lead to poor nutrient absorption can in turn lead to stool eating. Not only may your dog want to eat his stool, because of those tasty undigested nutrients, but he may find your cat’s stool even more delightful. It’s important to consider whose stool he is seeking, because it may also be an indicator of a deficiency or illness in that pet.
Make sure you are feeding your dog enough food at regular times. If your dog is losing weight on a fresh, whole diet, then feed him more! And keep to a schedule, a hungry dog will look for other food sources you may not like.
Now that we’ve covered some of the potential medical causes for stool eating, we’ll move into possible behavioral reasons. If his health checks out, consider the following:
There’s one key time that a dog will eat stool and it’s very much in the natural order of things. This is when a female dog cleans up after her puppies to keep the nest clean. This drive for cleanliness could also account for other dogs that “clean up” stool.
As puppies start to get curious about their surroundings, they may decide to take a nibble out of some feces as part of the exploration process. Puppies usually grow out of this.
Dogs are natural scavengers that are attracted to scent. They are not repulsed by feces as are us humans. And if the opportunity presents itself, they might just take it.
If your dog is home alone all day with not much to do, and there happens to be some poop within his reach, he may just find a new way to entertain himself and get a little treat in the process.
12. Attention seeking
Our dogs love us and want our attention. If they’re feeling a little ignored, even getting in trouble will please them, because, well, they have our attention. So sneaking out into the yard and plopping down for a mid-afternoon fecal snack is a double whammy because he gets a treat AND our attention.
Dogs who are stressed (is he in a kennel all day?) may relieve stress by eating poop.
14. Puppy mills
According to Karen Becker, DVM, puppy mill dogs may be at risk to develop this behavior because of the conditions they are raised in: lack of food and long-term crating, for instance.
Also, according to Dr Becker, dogs who were punished for pooping in the house may start to think poop is bad and eat the evidence, so to speak.
16. Doggie see, doggie eat doo-doo
A younger dog can learn this behavior from an older dog that has acquired a taste for dung. So make sure and nip the problem in the bud!
OK, so there are plenty of reasons your dog may be an avid connoisseur of poop. But now the real question, how exactly do you nip the problem in the bud?
- First and foremost, keep things clean. Pick up after your dog immediately. Don’t give him the opportunity to wonder how that fresh, enticing piece of dung tastes.If you have other pets, clean up after them right away, too – especially litter boxes. In other words keep temptation at bay by keeping the stool away.
- Keep your dog mentally and physically engaged. Make sure you give him regular playtime like fetch and if he’s particularly energetic or a working dog, try something like agility or some other brain-stimulating training. And make sure that he has plenty of toys available to help keep him entertained.
- Make sure he’s eating a raw, whole, varied diet of quality proteins. Raw food has those digestive enzymes your dog needs to help him process his meals. If you’re feeding cooked food only, you’ll definitely want to add digestive enzymes. Raw, green tripe is particularly high in digestive enzymes, as well as probiotics. Learn more about raw green tripe, here.
- For a trace mineral deficiency, you can add some kelp, according to Dr Demers. And for a hydrochloric acid deficiency, try some apple cider vinegar (1 tsp per 25 pounds in food), which may help mimic the missing acid and help the body compensate for the deficiency, according to Dr DeHaan. Learn more about the health benefits of sea vegetables like kelp, here.
- Also, check your dog’s stool regularly for parasites.
- Avoid punishment, because according to a study at University of California, Davis involving 1,500 Internet surveys of pet owners, it is ineffective. The study also found food additives used to stop poop eating are only effective up to 2 percent of the time. Positive reinforcement training wasn’t very effective either.
- Keep on top of the digestion situation of all the pets in your household. Remember, your dog may be attracted to another dog’s or cat’s stool, not only because he is deficient in something, but because they are not absorbing their food and their poops are extra enticing.
Clearly, the gross, but seemingly simple act of stool eating may be somewhat complicated. If your dog starts nibbling on poop, look for medical causes and if he’s clear of issues, then make sure to keep things clean, your dog engaged and well fed. Be patient and be consistent.