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dog parent must-knows

Why does my dog eat poop?

Poop eating might seem gross to humans, but dogs have their reasons. Learn why they do it and how to stop them.

Updated August 24, 2021

Created By

Jared Wilder,

The essentials

  • It’s not usually serious At least ¼ of dogs will consume stool at one point or another; in most cases, it’s not a habit nor reason for panic.
  • Poop eating is most common in puppies The behavior typically goes away over time as dogs grow and learn what is good and not good to eat.
  • Sometimes it’s caused by medical issues Puppies and adult dogs that habitually eat stool may have a nutritional deficiency.

So, why do dogs eat poop?

A study conducted by Dr. Benjamin Hart, from the University of California, found that nearly one in four dogs has been observed eating their poop at one time or another. The study also reported that the majority of dogs (more than 80%) eat the stool of other canines, but not their own poop.

The underlying reason is almost always behavioral, but nutritional deficiencies and medical conditions can also cause pups to eat poop (their own or another’s). 

What is this disorder called?

Coprophagia, much like geophagia (dirt eating), is a form of pica disorder in dogs. One of the most common signs of pica is seeing your dog eat non-food materials (rocks, grass, dirt, shoes, etc). If your dog is only interested in eating lots and lots of poop, then they may specifically have coprophagia — which is the practice of eating feces. 

Eating poop isn’t always — or even usually — harmful to your dog. In many cases, nothing bad will happen from this behavior. However, there are things that can go wrong when a dog engages in coprophagia (especially when they eat another animal’s feces), so it’s best to discourage and prevent the behavior.

Common reasons your dog might eat poop

Behavioral

  • Anxiety/boredom. Dogs, just like their humans, respond to anxiety and boredom in a number of ways. Coprophagia may be one of them. If your pup is displaying other signs of anxiety, such as whining or panting, they may be engaging in coprophagia to cope with their emotions.
  • Attention seeking. Dogs that want attention, much like young children, may resort to destructive behaviors or actions they know are “bad” in order to get it. This isn’t the most likely explanation, but it’s possible, especially if your dog is engaging in other unwanted behaviors.
  • Curiosity. Puppies sometimes play and investigate their poop. Sniffing, biting, and eating are a pup’s most effective tools for learning about the world around them. 
  • Greedy eaters. Some dogs seem to have an insatiable appetite. If there’s something edible around, your dog might decide to eat it, regardless of whether or not they’re actually hungry. 
  • Instincts. Dogs and other canines have scavenging instincts in their DNA, so they aren’t picky when they’re hungry. If there’s no other easy source of food around, fresh poop may be something your dog considers eating if they’re hungry.
  • Observed behavior. Mother dogs ingest puppy poop in the nest when grooming and cleaning their pups — some puppies learn to mimic this behavior.

👉 Never stick your dog’s nose in their poop as a form of punishment — this could lead to further behavioral issues.

Medical

  • Parasites. Some experts have theorized that eating poop was a way for adult dogs to protect their pack from intestinal parasites. Den mothers would eat poop to keep the area clean for their pups. If the stool was consumed before larvae could hatch, there was no threat to the pack. This was long before the domestication of dogs (and pooper scoopers!), and today’s stool-eating may be a result of this ancestral instinct.
  • Nutritional deficiencies. If your dog is lacking in key nutrients or has an enzyme deficiency, they’ll try to find solutions — including poop eating. Ask your vet about your dog’s diet, they may recommend a new food or additional supplements.
  • Drugs.  Especially true of steroids, the medications your dog is on might increase appetite and have them eating things they normally wouldn’t.

Is poop eating something to worry about?

While eating poop once or twice isn’t usually an issue, repetitive stool eating is.  Dogs that are fully up-to-date on their heartworm medications are also not as likely to get sick from eating poop. However, an underlying illness could be causing your dog to eat poop. It’s best to take your dog to the vet if you suspect something’s wrong or notice other unusual symptoms. 

That said, bacteria in stool can still cause sickness and stomach problems. If your dog has been eating their stool and is vomiting, has diarrhea, is acting lethargic, showing weight loss, or whining, they may have contracted an illness from it.

The most common illnesses or parasites that dogs can contract from eating poop are:

  • Parvo
  • Heartworms
  • Worms like roundworms, tapeworms, or hookworms
  • Other intestinal parasites such as Coccidia and Giardia
  • E. Coli

None of these things are to be trifled with; if your dog is showing symptoms of one of these illnesses or parasites, head to the vet!

⚠️ If you have a new puppy, be sure to keep them away from other dog’s poop until they're fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated puppies are at risk of contracting parvo from poop.

When should your dog visit the veterinarian?

If the behavior continues for long periods of time or if there are other symptoms of illness/behavior changes, it’s time to make an appointment with your vet. 

If your pup eats poop and isn’t up-to-date on their medications for heartworm and other parasites/diseases, you’ll want to call your vet sooner rather than later. In that case, it’s wise to get ahead of potential health problems rather than waiting to see whether or not they’ll arise. Your vet will evaluate your pet and may also test their feces to determine whether or not they have any intestinal parasites.

How do you get a dog to stop eating poop? 💩

If your dog is eating poop, don’t worry — there are several things you can try to stop the behavior:

Monitor your pup — Both outside and on walks, a little vigilance can go a long way. If you see them sniffing at feces, use vocal commands and reward with a treat if they listen. The more you reinforce the idea that poop is to be left alone, the less you’ll have to worry about it.

Remove it — Clean your dog’s stool immediately after they poop, and if your pup plays/roams in public areas, try to survey the ground for feces every once in a while. If there’s no poop to eat, there are no problems. Here are our favorite leak-proof poop bags to keep handy. 

Confinement and isolation — Keeping your dog away from poop is the easiest thing you can do. If you can keep them isolated from certain areas, you can prevent this behavior.

Training and positive reinforcement — Train your dog not to eat their poop. If you’re unsuccessful with training, a professional trainer can help.

Monitor their diet — Ensure that their nutritional needs are being met. Proper nutrition is essential for healthy, happy dogs. Always remember to talk to your vet before implementing a new diet. 

Introduce supplements — Some dietary supplements change the taste of your dog’s poop so they won’t eat it. 

👉 Never start your pup on a new supplement without discussing it with your dog’s vet. 

Use a basket muzzle  If you aren’t able to remove feces from your dog’s environment, using a muzzle may be a good idea when you can’t monitor them. 

Here's how to clean your pup’s mouth if they eat poop

Couldn’t stop your dog in time? Cleaning your dog’s mouth is important after they’ve consumed poop.

Using dog toothpaste (see our favorites here), gently brush your dog’s teeth, making sure to be patient. Give them plenty of water, too — that’ll help flush out their mouths and ensure there isn’t any fecal matter sticking around. After you finish brushing their teeth, make sure you give your dog a treat as a reward!

While it's unpleasant, eating poop is somewhat normal

You shouldn’t be shocked to see your dog eat poop, nor should you panic about what might happen when they do. Your dog should be fine; if you see them eat poop, keep an eye on them for a couple of days afterward, just in case. 

If your dog is compulsively eating poop, that’s a different story. A repetitive or compulsive behavior is a sign that something more serious is probably going on. If your dog engages in this behavior once or twice, or significant time passes between each occurrence, you don’t have to worry. Keep an eye out for signs of illness and make sure they don’t eat it again!

Frequently asked questions

Does pineapple stop dogs from eating poop?

Pineapple is a healthy treat for dogs, provided it’s in small quantities. This tropical delight is rich in many vitamins and minerals (especially b-vitamins and digestive enzymes) which may help your dog feel more whole and make them less likely to eat poop. It isn’t a guaranteed solution, but a little bit of pineapple may help!

Why does my dog eat poop out of the cat’s litter box?

Your cat’s poop probably smells like their food — which to dogs, smells good. Because dogs are natural scavengers by nature, this is normal behavior. You should try to keep your dog away from the litter box as consuming cat litter could potentially be harmful to your pup.

Why do dogs eat vomit?

Chances are, you’ve seen your dog throw up and then almost instantly eat their vomit. It’s a bizarre thing to witness — so why do they do it? Dogs vomit for a variety of reasons, many of them the same as the reason any animal would vomit: sickness, stomach trouble, or a sudden change in diet. 

The reason a dog would proceed to eat their vomit is that it contains nutrients — nutrients that they’ve just lost. Their first response would be to get those nutrients back. It’s not quite the same as eating feces, but there are some similarities. Oftentimes, they have just vomited food that isn’t fully digested, so they eat the vomit in order to replace the food that they lost.