Dogs eat the strangest things. Sure, they may devour their food and gobble up their favorite treats. They might also have unhealthy dog habits, such as eating cardboard, chomping on the stuffing inside your pillows, or nibbling on grass. One of the grossest dog behaviors might be eating poop. Whether it’s their own or another animal’s feces, the thought of your dog eating it (and then giving you a big smooch) makes your stomach turn.
While you’re gagging, you also might be wondering if this practice could make your dog sick. It’s not necessarily harmful, but it could be. It’s also more common that you think, according to the American Kennel Club. In fact, many 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 him kick the habit. Here’s some insight into why dogs eat poop and how to get them to stop.
When Eating Poop Is Normal
Did you know that there’s a technical term for poop-eating? Coprophagia is the scientific word for this icky behavior. Although it sounds like a medical condition, coprophagia is almost always done by healthy dogs that don’t have any nutritional deficiencies. About 25 percent of dogs have been observed eating poop at some point in their lives. Up to 14 percent may have a serious waste-gobbling problem.
Some experts believe that coprophagia is a survival mechanism that helped wild dogs get nutrients even when they couldn’t find real food. Others believe that it’s a way for dogs to consume digestive enzymes that help them break down the foods they eat. Some animals, like rabbits, produce poop that’s rich in enzymes and nutrients. This helps explain why your dog goes crazy for those little pellets.
Mothers of puppies will lick their babies’ bottoms to encourage them to go to the bathroom. They’ll also eat the poop to keep things clean since newborns aren’t all that mobile. As the young pups begin exploring, they may also eat the poop because it happens to be there and it smells somewhat like food. This is normal behavior. Eventually, the animals learn that there are better options for appropriate nutrition for dogs.
When Eating Poop Signals A Behavior Problem
Some dogs eat poop because they’re anxious, frustrated, bored or stressed. 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.
If your dog is stressed, he might eat non-food objects besides animal waste. Some nontoxic items commonly eaten by dogs are crayons, chalk, glue, beauty products, cosmetics, candles, and toothpaste. If your dog shreds anything he can get his teeth on, he might be telling you that he needs more play time. Eating non-edible items could also be a sign of a medical problem.
Medical Reasons Why Dogs Eat Poop
Medical reasons for coprophagia are not very common. In rare cases, dogs have a deficiency that makes them unable to produce enzymes to process food. They may also have parasites that interfere with digestion and make a dog more likely to eat feces. Malabsorption issues and irritable bowel syndrome could cause your dog to engage in this behavior.
How to Treat Coprophagia
There are no proven methods to stop dogs from eating feces 100 percent of the time. One of the best ways to stop the behavior is to prevent it. Pick up poop from the yard immediately. Don’t make the cat litter box accessible to your canine.
If you can’t restrict your dog’s access to feces, refrain from scolding your dog. In most cases, the punishment doesn’t occur at the same time that the dog did the offensive activity. Therefore, the dog doesn’t understand why he’s being punished. In other instances, the punishment can be interpreted by the dog as attention. Therefore, he might keep up this response-seeking behavior because you are attentive to him when he does it.
You can make poop taste bad by using coprophagia pet products. Some products are added to the dog’s food and make the waste unappetizing. (You’d think it was already unpalatable, but your dog doesn’t think so.) Some products can be sprinkled on the poop to deter your dog. If you use one of these remedies, all of the waste to which your dog is exposed must be treated. Otherwise, your dog will simply sniff out the better-tasting feces.
Give your dog enough attention and mental stimulation. A frustrated or bored dog can quickly become an anxious dog with a poop-eating problem. Give your dog plenty of exercise and play time. Taking a dog for a walk employs his sensory processing system, his nervous system, and his brain. Even just taking the time to train your dog can give him something to work on. Dogs like to please their owners. The combination of intellectual processing and rewards can help curb a dog’s anxious behavior. If your dog is motivated by food, turn meal times into training sessions by offering pieces of food in exchange for carrying out commands like “sit” and “stay.”
Keeping Your Dog Healthy
Keeping your dog healthy involves more than just taking him to regular veterinary visits and feeding him a few times a day. It also entails giving him opportunities to exercise his 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 into making sure your dog gets regular activity and limit his exposure to feces to help him stop eating stuff that’s not good for him, including poop.