Why do dogs eat poop?
Coprophagia is the formal medical term for eating faeces, which, while it may be disgusting for owners, is not uncommon in dogs. That’s not to say, though, that it’s something you can ignore, as it can be a sign of medical or behavioural problems.
Coprophagia in dogs takes three forms – dogs eating their own poop, dogs eating other dogs’ poop, and dogs eating the poop of other species, with cat poop being a particular favourite.
What are the medical causes of dogs eating poop?
Any condition that leads to poor absorption of nutrients or an increase in appetite could lead a dog to start eating faeces. That includes medical treatments, such as a restricted diet or use of steroids. If your dog is particularly attracted to its own or another dog’s faeces, it may be a sign that food is not being digested properly by that dog, and is still present in the stool. It could also be a sign of an underlying condition, such as parasites, diabetes, Cushing’s disease or thyroid problems. In all cases, you should rule out the medical possibilities before looking into behavioural reasons, and you should arrange a visit to the vet as soon as possible.
What are the behavioural causes of dogs eating poop?
Again, there many possibilities here. Eating poop can be a learned behaviour from very early in life. Bitches will often eat their puppies’ poop to clean up a den, a behaviour that likely goes back to pre-history to avoid attracting predators. A puppy may pick up on this and adopt the behaviour itself in adult life. It can also be a sign of abuse in the past, or simply boredom, if a dog is left to its own devices for long periods of time. You should also be careful about how you address the problem. If a dog perceives it’s getting your attention when it eats poop, even if that attention is negative, it may encourage the behaviour. So it’s best to remove faeces, especially in its home area or in the garden, when the dog is elsewhere or distracted. The final reason is fairly simple – it may smell or taste good to a dog – this is often what attracts dogs to the poop of other species, like deer, foxes or cats.
How can you stop your dog from eating poop?
As mentioned, a vet visit is first on the agenda in treating coprophagia, to check for medical issues that may be causing the habit. The vet may carry out a physical examination, blood tests and check stool samples for evidence of parasites or other problems. If problems are found, your dog will be treated appropriately, including food supplements if there are dietary deficiencies, or worming tablets if parasites are found. Find out more about worming here.
If your dog gets the medical all clear, you can look at trying to change their behaviour. This may not be a quick process, and require considerable patience and consistency. To start with you should do your best to restrict their access to faeces. In the home and garden, this should be relatively easy, regularly cleaning any litter box and picking up after them in the garden. When taking them out on walks and runs, however, this will require constant supervision. As soon as they show any interest in faeces, interrupt their investigation with a sharp command or a pull on the leash. As soon as they move away from the faeces offer them praise. If they’ve had a preference for eating their own faeces, then as soon as they eliminate, take them elsewhere, get them to sit and give them a food treat. With time and luck, these procedures could instil new habits.
Another method that is said to help with dogs that eat their own poop is adding something to their food that will make their faeces taste bad. Suggestions include garlic extract, pineapple, cottage cheese and even breath freshener, though these are at best unproven folk remedies, and you should consult a vet before trying any of them. You can also find further information on what to feed your pet here.
If your dog persists in its coprophagia in spite of your best efforts, then you may need to consult a professional behaviourist. Your vet may be able to recommend one.
Get peace of mind with Pet Insurance
Throughout, we’ve suggested that your first stop if you’re worried about your dog’s behaviour should always be the vet. Vet’s bills can soon add up, so you might want to consider taking out pet insurance. While our Pet Insurance doesn’t cover routine veterinary visits or vaccinations, it can help you to cover the cost of unexpected bills when your pet needs treatment due to an accident or illness. (Please note: we do not cover behavioural treatment unless as a result of an insured condition or illness and also pre-existing conditions are excluded).
We offer three types of Pet Insurance:
Lifetime – our most comprehensive policy providing cover new conditions or accidents that appear over the course of your pet’s lifetime, so long as you renew the policy.
12 month – provides cover for the first 12 months after a condition occurs as long as the policy remains in force. Your pet has 12 months cover from the onset of each new condition, and once the financial limit has been reached or 12 months has passed, whichever is sooner. Any on-going treatment required as a result of this condition will be excluded from future claims and treated as a pre-existing condition.
Accident only – covers your pet’s treatment in case of an accident up to the cover limit.