An embarrassed French bulldog.

Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?

Dogs will eat the strangest things. This leads many pet parents to ask their veterinarian the following embarrassing question: “Why do dogs eat poop?” Sure, we expect dogs to have weird eating habits outside of their food and favorite treats, things like eating cardboard, chomping on pillowing stuffing, or nibbling on grass. However, one of the grossest habits, eating poop, is a bit harder to understand. Whether it’s their own or another animal’s feces, the thought of your dog eating it (and then giving you a big smooch) can make your stomach turn.

While you’re gagging, you also might be wondering if this practice can make your dog sick. It’s not necessarily harmful, but it could be. It’s also more common than you think, according to the American Kennel Club. In fact, some dog owners get rid of their pets because of this disgusting behavior. Although you love your pup, you probably want to know how to help them kick the habit. Here’s some insight into why dogs eat poop and how to get them to stop.

When Eating Poop Is Normal for Dogs

Did you know that there’s a technical term for poop-eating? Coprophagia is the scientific word for eating feces. This can be one’s own feces, known as “autocoprophagy,” or ingestion of other animals feces, referred to as “allocoprophagy.” Although it sounds like a medical condition, coprophagia is almost always done by healthy dogs that don’t have any nutritional deficiencies. About 25% of dogs have been observed eating poop at some point in their lives. Up to 14% may have a serious waste-gobbling problem.

Normal causes of a dog eating poop include:

Coprophagia can affect any age or breed of dog, but appears to be more common in Golden retrievers. It can also occur any time of year, but cold weather that creates frozen stool can have an increased appeal to some dogs.

When Eating Poop Signals A Behavioral Problem

Some dogs eat poop because they’re anxious, frustrated, bored, stressed, seeking attention, or avoiding punishment.

According to Mercola Healthy Pets, dogs that have been punished for elimination behaviors, like having an accident in the house, may start to eat their own feces to hide the evidence even when they’re outside. Pups that aren’t fed well may resort to eating feces. Puppies that are weaned early or confined to crates for the majority of their lives also have a tendency to eat excrement. Younger dogs that don’t have behavior problems can even pick up the habit from other, more anxious, canines in the family.

Stressed dogs may eat non-food objects besides animal waste. Some nontoxic items commonly eaten by dogs are crayons, chalk, glue, beauty products, cosmetics, candles, and toothpaste. It is important to consider your dog’s stress level, exercise routine, and overall environment if your dog shreds anything they can get their teeth on. Your dog might be telling you that they need more play time.

Some dogs seek out and eat poop as part of an attention-seeking behavior. While some attention-seeking behavior is normal, anything extreme or potentially harmful can be abnormal. Attention seeking dogs consider any attention to be good attention, so it’s common for a dog to eat poop in order to receive a response from their owner. Telling your dog “No,” can be a reward of attention, despite its negative connotations.

It is hard to deal with eating poop as an attention-seeking behavior, because the solution should be to ignore the behavior and, if they don’t get attention from it, they eventually will learn not to do it. On the other hand, good behavior, like chewing on an appropriate toy or resting quietly, should be rewarded appropriately.

Medical Reasons that Explain Why Dogs Eat Poop

Medical reasons for coprophagia are uncommon.

Causes include:

Taking Your Dog to the Vet for Poop Eating

If you take your dog to the veterinarian, they will likely diagnose the problem based on your pet’s history. It might be helpful to take a label from the dog food you are feeding them, as well as a fecal sample with you to your appointment.

Your veterinarian may request the following:

Once the underlying cause has been diagnosed, it is important to continue to monitor the patient for any physical changes or symptoms. Be alert for weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or decreased interest in food. Alert your veterinarian to any new abnormalities.

How to Treat Coprophagia

Treatment varies for coprophagia depending on whether the problem is medical or behavioral. Medical problems should be treated appropriately, and dietary deficiencies should be corrected with a balanced diet.

Stool eating caused by a behavioral issue is hard to treat, and there are no proven methods to stop dogs from eating feces 100% of the time. What works for one dog may not work for another.

Behavioral causes can be treated in different ways, including:

Keeping Your Dog Healthy

Keeping your dog healthy involves more than just taking them for regular veterinary visits and feeding them a few times a day. It also entails providing opportunities to exercise the body and intellect. Consistency is key. Dogs are great at following routines. Fewer surprises can mean a more predictable, less stressed dog. Put the time in to ensure your dog gets regular activity and limit their exposure to feces, which will help them avoid eating things that are unhealthy or undesirable. Dogs that consistently eat feces regardless of what you do should be on routine parasite-control medication.