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Bernese mountain dog watching cat friend

The essentials

  • Scientists aren’t sure why — Scientists, vets, and dog professionals aren’t 100% sure why dogs eat cat poop, but they think it may be the taste or smell, or a nutritional deficiency.
  • There are ways to stop it — From eliminating access to using non-toxic deterrents, there are ways to discourage your dog from dining on cat poop.
  • It’s called coprophagia — Eating feces is called coprophagia, and it isn’t just dogs that do it. Other mammals eat feces as well, including humans .

Many have often wondered: why do dogs eat cat poop? While gross to dog owners, it’s a very natural behavior. Unlike their pack-oriented wolf ancestors, dogs are scavengers and will eat most anything. To your pup, cat poop likely smells like cat food and cat treats — often a delicacy to dogs of any breed. Here’s more behind the science of why dogs eat cat poop.

Understanding a dog’s behavior 

Over thousands of years, humans developed loyal companions in dogs that could perform a service. Despite the strong canine-human bond, certain instinctive behaviors are still a fundamental part of dogs. This may include traits that have been encouraged, like hunting, or some characteristics that we’d rather see fade away, like eating anything and everything. Because of these instincts, it’s important to know what survival mode is in dogs.

How to recognize survival mode in dogs

Survival mode is akin to the “fight or flight” mode that humans can experience in unpredictable, stressful situations. Their senses and psychological responses may be heightened and different when they are lost and unable to find their owners. Here are the signs of a dog in survival mode:

  • Scavenging for food. Some dogs may behave oddly, such as scavenging for food (like cat poop) or hunting when they ordinarily wouldn’t.
  • Increased awareness. Dogs in survival mode may be hyper-vigilant and intensely focused on shelter, food, and water.
  • Reactive or defensive. This heightened sense might also make dogs more reactive to perceived threats.
  • Lack of recognition. Dogs in survival mode can sometimes recognize their owner, but due to stress and anxiety, they may not.

The risk of eating cat poop 

While eating cat poop may seem like a gross, but harmless habit for dogs, it can actually pose a risk to your dog’s health. Here are the two biggest problems that coprophagia can cause.


The biggest risk that eating cat poop poses to your dog is infection. Cat feces can contain numerous harmful organisms that can make your dog sick, including:

  • Toxoplasmosis. Carried by wild and domestic cats worldwide, this parasite infects warmblooded mammals, including dogs.
  • Intestinal parasites. Cats, particularly feral and stray cats, not on preventative medications can carry internal parasites like roundworms, tapeworms, and whipworms.
  • Salmonella. While not as common in dogs, salmonella, and other harmful bacteria, can be transmitted to your dog through cat feces, and then onto you from your dog’s saliva.

Stomach upset

Due to both infections and introducing hard-to-digest matter into your dog’s diet, gastrointestinal issues like an upset stomach, diarrhea, or vomiting can occur when your dog has eaten enough cat poop. Also, clumping litter in particular, when enough is consumed with the cat feces, can lead to blockages in the digestive system.

Signs your dog has eaten cat poop 

Determining if your dog has been helping themselves to these gross treats can depend heavily on lifestyle. For some dogs who share a home with a feline or two, look for signs that the cat litter has been disturbed in a way that’s abnormal for the cats. Tracks in the litter, a moved litter box, or for covered litter boxes, a dislodged hood can all indicate that it’s not just the cats that have been visiting the space.

For situations where a cursory look isn’t helpful, it’s important to watch for changes in your dog’s behavior. Fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, and overall illness can not just indicate an underlying condition, but also that your pup got into something. It’s important to visit your vet when your dog is showing signs of illness.

Preventing your dog from eating cat poop  

While a vet visit may be in order to rule out underlying medical conditions, there are some things you can try at home to curb your dog’s interest in eating cat poop.

Provide safe alternatives — If your dog just likes different textures and treats, explore other safe foods for dogs that your pup might enjoy more than what the cat leaves behind.

Use non-toxic repellents — Sprinkle a product like For-Bid on your dog or cat’s food at the recommended dose for five days.

Clean litter boxes regularly — Use automatic litter boxes or scoop a few times a day so that your dog can’t eat the poop.

Limit access — Covered litter boxes may also be an option for pet parents who have the space for one. Other options include using a baby gate or restricting access with a cat door for large breed dogs.

Focus on training — Either using DIY methods, tips from trainers, or expert help, train your dog to “leave it!”  This is a good command for dogs to know with other things that could pose a risk to your dog.

A quick and simple ‘don't’ also works, and just like routine basic commands like sit, stay, and down could even be life-saving in certain instances to avoid poisoning, vehicle trauma, dog fights and such things. And, a well-trained dog is usually happier and more confident in stressful situations as they have ‘learned’ to cope.

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

Pets, especially curious dogs, can get into all sorts of things when our backs are turned. From the cat’s litter box to a cleaning solution left out, the inside of your home can pose just as many hazards as the great outdoors. It’s important to be aware of everything your dog is exposed to, and more importantly, what your dog can eat that they shouldn’t.

Frequently asked questions

Is it bad for my dog to eat cat poop?

Cat poop can have harmful bacteria and parasites that can make your dog sick. Additionally, cat litter and poop can also cause your pup to have an upset stomach.

What should I do if my dog keeps eating cat poop?

Training, non-toxic deterrents, and restricting your dog’s access are all good ways to eliminate or minimize your dog from eating poop.

What is it called when a dog eats cat poop?

Eating feces is called coprophagia, and it is a condition that applies to more than dogs. Humans and cats can also be diagnosed with coprophagia as well.