Back to News

Published: Apr 30, 2012

It may be disgusting to pet owners, but dogs eating poop is an unfortunately common behavior. If you notice this issue in your canine, it's important that you talk to a veterinarian right away so the problem can be addressed. Eating feces of other animals poses a threat of exposure to worms and other internal parasites as well as deadly parvovirus.  Intervention is  necessary to try to stop this behavioral issue before it presents a serious medical problem, VCA Animal Hospitals reports.

Coprophagia in dogs is the medical term for eating feces - either their own or that of another animal. It is quite common for inquisitive puppies to go through an oral fixation phase during which time they pick up and “mouth” anything—including poop.  Many puppies exhibit this behavior from an early age, but it tends to subside as they mature.  The first step that owners need to take is to rule out any possible medical causes of the problem.

Possible medical causes

The main reasons for stool-eating from a medical perspective include nutrient absorption issues, conditions causing an increased appetite, or an increase in the appeal of the stool. Poor nutrition, feeding of an improperly balanced diet, or diseases of the pancreas or intestine may cause issues with adequate nutrient absorption resulting in coprophagia. These disorders may also result in foraging tendencies or attempting to eat other items the dog wouldn't normally eat.  Conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disease or Cushing's disease may result in a dog experiencing a markedly increased appetite which may cause indiscriminant eating of non-food items.  Certain conditions, including parasites or diseases that cause undigested food to appear in the feces, may make the feces appealing to the animal.

Possible behavioral issues

More commonly, the problem of stool eating is purely behavioral. As stated, the issue appears in puppies at an early age and may never subside. Several theories have been given for this behavior. It appears that dogs are naturally attracted to the stool of their pack mates, and dogs that aren't discouraged from this may develop a taste for excrement. Mother dogs may ingest feces when cleaning their puppies at early ages. Finally, humans can also trigger the behavior. The outdated method of punishing a dog for soiling the carpet by "sticking their nose in it" may contribute to the problem.  Dogs who are punished for pooping in their crate may begin to eat the feces in order to hide the evidence so they are not punished.  Many dogs who eat feces are mimicking the clean-up behavior of their owners.  In other words, these dogs watch their owners pick up feces and they decide to do the same thing.  Dogs seeking their owners attention also quickly realize this behavior gets attention—negative attention—but attention nonetheless.  

Getting treatment

If the underlying issue is related to poor nutrition or is medical in nature, the veterinarian will focus on taking care of these issues first. Once the medical condition is treated, the problem will likely solve itself. Dogs that are eating poop for behavioral reasons should be supervised at all times and given a treat after every defecation accompanied by a firm “leave it” command.  Without the dog observing, owners should keep the yard cleared of all feces.  When in a dog park or other social area, these dogs must be kept on leash and treats carried to reinforce the “leave it” behavior.  If a dog does eat their feces, it is important that owners do not over-react or it may further reinforce the behavior.  Just ignore the issue and continue rewarding for proper elimination and “leave it” behavior.  Make sure your dog has plenty of opportunities for oral investigation with toys and other appropriate objects so they don’t resort to poop eating out of boredom.

Although some owners have found success in feeding stool softeners, papaya or yogurt in attempts to make the feces less attractive, most often these attempts fail and true behavioral modification is necessary to curb this unsavory behavior.