Coprophagia — the consumption of feces — is a fairly common form of feeding in many animals. In dogs, this behavior is believed to date back to the Paleolithic Age, when they began to associate with humans. A very “nutritious” food was thus easily accessible to them: human excrement.
Why do dogs eat feces?
Consuming their own feces or those of other animals is a fairly common behavior in dogs: 1 in 400 would be affected. Among the factors pushing dogs to coprophagia, we find medical causes such as intestinal problems, gastritis, or even an enzyme deficiency. It can also be a dietary problem when the dog eats low-end, hard-to-digest food.
A lack of nutrients
The body is a complicated chemical ‘factory’, which is the case with us humans, but also with the dog. And if there are shortages somewhere in this factory process, things will not work as intended. I mean, there are books written about the symptoms that we humans feel when we are deficient in certain vitamins, minerals or other substances.
This is undoubtedly also the case with dogs. Perhaps the dog does not get enough minerals, or perhaps his digestion is temporarily disturbed, and the body does not absorb certain substances properly. The pancreas may not produce enough insulin or other enzymes, or there may be a disruption in the intestinal flora.
We’d like to believe that dogs eat poop out of necessity, but not because they love it.
If your dog regularly eats poo, you could therefore start to take a closer look at his diet: is your dog getting enough nutrients? This particularly necessary if your dog gets a rather monotone diet. If you feed your dog the same food every day, a deficiency might arise.
A dog suffering from a lack of nutrients in its diet might therefore prefer to eat fresh feces. The latter contains a high proportion of bacteria (intestinal flora) and enzymes that are indispensable for healthy digestion.
A behavioral problem
A dog eating poop can also be the result of a behavioral disorder. Here is a list of behavioral reasons why your dog could start eating poop:
If you punish a dog for defecating (or urinating) in the house, the dog may try to solve the problem in its own canine way. Indeed, the dog might thing that defecating is very bad behavior and tries to erase the traces of this (for fear of a punishment from the owner) by eating it.
The dog is stressed
Eating poo can also be a sign of stress. A dog that is under stress for a longer period of time can start to show this behavior (known, for example, in dogs that are locked in a kennel for a long time).
The same thing also occurs in puppies from puppy mills, where hungry puppies are sometimes taken away from their mothers too quickly, or always have to fight with many other puppies to get food. A rumbling stomach can easily lead to the puppy eating everything that looks like food, including excrement.
This is particularly true at puppy farms where the conditions are extremely bad, where puppies often sit ‘crate’ for weeks with their brothers and sisters in a small room without any stimulation, it is logical that these dogs start adopting all kinds of unwanted behaviors, such as eating poo.
Thinking of helping the owner
For most of us, the sight of poop is enough to generate a response of disgust. This stressful reaction can be felt by the dog. To prevent this, the dog might start eating the poop thinking of helping the owner. To prevent this, it’s better not to react negatively to the poop and take care of it quietly while training the dog to poop in a dedicated area.
Is eating poop dangerous for your dog?
Poo often contain dangerous and sometimes even deadly “ingredients” for dogs. Think of parasites or toxins. But some poops are worse than others.
Beware of horse poop
If a horse has only just been dewormed, then the horse’s stool contains the remains of the worm agent. This can be fatal for some dogs. The latter is especially true for Collies and Shelties!
Beware of human poop
Human poop would normally be harmless to a dog. However, if the poop is from someone who has consumed certain drugs, than the dog will also consume remnants of that drug, which can be damaging to the dog’s health.
Indeed, of most drugs that are taken, a small proportion end up unchanged in the stool. Theoretically, this drug can cause issues to dogs, especially in very small dogs with a low body weight.
Beware of Neospora Caninum in dog poop
Neospora Caninum is a parasite that affects the nervous system of dogs. A dog can get this parasite by coming into contact with everything that is infected with the parasite. That can be dog poo, but also eating raw meat from an infected beef for example.
What to do if your dog eats poop
If your dog eats poo, you can follow the following tips. Unfortunately, however, no simple solution can get rid of the problem with the snap of a finger, you’ll have to be patient and adapt as necessary.
Take a look at your dog’s diet
Take a thorough look at your dog’s diet. Is he really getting everything he needs in it: enough vitamin, minerals? And if your dog seems to be suffering from digestion problems, supplements might help. Think, for example, of probiotics. However, if in doubt, consult your veterinarian and possibly have a further (stool) examination done.
Or is your dog hungry? If your dog is very skinny, he may need more food. Especially young dogs can get into a growth spurt and then suddenly need more food.
In any case, make sure there is enough variety in your dog’s diet: a dog that eats the same thing every day for years is most likely to suffer from a deficiency.
Are there any recent changes or tensions in the family? Stress and changes can be a cause of unwanted behavior in dogs.
This can sometimes also be seen in dogs with a ‘crowded agenda’. Most owners want to lead a nice active life with their dog, but for some dogs, this is too much. Analyze your dog’s schedules to see that if it’s not overloaded.
Don’t get me wrong: there is nothing wrong with going out with your dogs to different events but sometimes the tensions (for the dog) run so high that the dog is often (and sometimes for a long time) under stress, which can easily cause behavioral problems.
Entertain you dog
Is your dog bored? It is important to give your dog sufficient exercise, but above all to give your dog enough variety and challenge. Many dogs simply lie around all day waiting for their food bowls to be filled. But that is of course a very boring life. Playing with the same toy all day is also very boring. And in the long run, you end up with a completely bored dog.
In short: take a look at how you can enrich your dog’s life: fun toys or food search games help with this. Take a different path from time to time, in a different environment, when taking your dog out. And give your dog time to sniff and look around.
Avoid getting angry at your dog
Remember, preventing your dog from eating poop is about patience and training. Avoid getting angry at your dog if he does eat poop. Ask yourself if you can prevent it next time. Try not to yell at your dog or express disgust, and work on the above points. Normally, the behavior will become less frequent and even pass.
A dog eating poop can have multiple causes. Usually, it’s a lack of nutrients, which can be solved by providing your dog a varied and adapted diet. Your dog may also be experiencing some behavioral problems. A specific approach may be needed in this case.
If despite everything, the behavior does not decrease, or perhaps even becomes more aggravated, it is advisable to seek expert help. You may want to ask the vet to rule out medical problems or call in a good behavioral therapist to break through the behavioral problems. And for a good nutrition plan, a pet nutritionist might be needed.
Betsy is a true science nerd, down to the glasses. Her words, not mine! She works as a nurse specializing in pediatric nursing. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She is passionate about all thing pregnancy and baby-related.