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Dogs With Coprophagia: Why Does Your Dog Eat Poop?

Nicole Cosgrove

Coprophagia is a behavior that causes dogs to eat feces. Sometimes, the dog’s own feces are the primary object, though the feces of other animals can also be the source of consumption. This appears to be mostly behavioral, though several health conditions can cause this behavior as well.

Often, coprophagia is treated solely as a behavioral problem. However, there are various health conditions that you should rule out before attempting to train your dog away from this behavior. Most of these medical conditions are not serious and can be easily treated with the right care.

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What Are the Medical Causes of Coprophagia?

dog and vet._LightField Studios_Shutterstock
Image Credit: LightField Studios, Shutterstock

Any medical problem that leads to poor absorption can cause coprophagia. The dog may attempt to fix these digestive problems by eating their stool or the stools of other animals. Furthermore, the undigested nutrients may make the dog’s stool more appealing, which can make them eat it.

To determine if your dog has an absorption problem, you should take your dog to the vet because a stool examination may be necessary. A diet examination is also typically required. Testing for parasites is usually done, as these can also cause absorption issues. Stool that obviously has poor frequency and consistency may warrant further tests, such as blood tests. This can help determine the underlying cause of the behavior.

Poor diet, underfeeding, and other medical conditions can cause coprophagia. Conditions that affect the enzyme production will affect the absorption and therefore, may cause your canine to eat their stools.

Some diseases that affect appetite may also cause stool eating. These include things like thyroid disease and Cushing’s disease. Dogs with increased appetite may feel the need to find other edible items beyond their normal food, which may lead them to eat their stool. Dogs that are under extreme calorie restrictions may also eat their stool.

Sometimes, it isn’t the dog eating the stool that has the underlying condition. If one dog’s stool seems to be the primary target of other dogs, it is possible that that the first dog has an underlying absorption problem. This could leave large amounts of vitamins and minerals undigested in their stool, which can encourage other dogs to eat it.

What Are the Behavioral Causes of Coprophagia?

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Image Credit: Black17BG, Pixabay

There are also purely behavioral causes of this condition. Many puppies eat stool. This problem usually clears up when the puppy reaches adulthood. We don’t know exactly why puppies exhibit this behavior, though there have been many theories. Some suggest that the puppies are practicing foraging behaviors. Others believe that the puppies may be attempting to play with their stool, only to end up eating it.

Mother dogs often eat their puppies’ stool to keep their sleeping area clean. This is normal behavior. However, some puppies may observe this and imitate their mother.

The attention that owners often pay to coprophagia may cause it to be reinforced. This may be a cause of coprophagia in adult dogs.

Why Do Dogs Eat the Stools of Other Animals?

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Credit: Thomas_Ritter, Pixabay

When a dog is snacking on another animal’s feces, it is usually a scavenging behavior. Dogs are scavengers, which is why they will often go through trashcans and steal food items. The stools of other animals can also be seen as yummy snacks. Often, cat feces and those of some other animals seem to be particularly appealing to dogs.

There is a theory that dogs may be drawn to the stool of herbivores for the undigested vegetation material. However, we don’t have any scientific evidence to back up this theory.

How Do You Treat Coprophagia?

Coprophagia can be most easily prevented by restricting a dog’s access to stool. Usually, this involves monitoring the dog while outside and cleaning the pet’s roaming area. Your dog will likely have bowel movements at around the same time each day. If you take notice of this pattern, cleaning up after your dog is quite simple.

We recommend training your dog to return to the door after they do their business outside. This can be done easily by calling your dog when they are done and then rewarding them. Eventually, your dog will return to the door every time instead of hanging around their feces. You should discourage your dog from stool sniffing, though it is often easier to break the habit by simply removing the stool.

If you train your dog to come to you for a treat after completing their business, then this new behavior may replace the old habit of eating the stool. It is often easier for dogs to learn a new habit rather than stop an old one.

If your dog has medical problems, it is essential that their problems are treated. Afterward, the stool-eating habit may disappear completely. Sometimes, however, it has become a habit, and the dog will continue even after the underlying cause has been dealt with. At this point, it is a behavioral problem and needs to be trained out.

Sometimes, the dogs will need to be switched to a more digestible diet. Switching protein sources can be helpful. If your dog needs to lose weight, you may want to consider putting them on a high-fiber diet rather than simply cutting their calories. Added enzymes may help as well, especially if the dog is not producing the correct number of enzymes already.


Featured Image Credit: Kiadtisak-Khwanyu, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.