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Home > Dogs > How to Stop Dogs From Eating Poop: 9 Vet-Verified Tips

How to Stop Dogs From Eating Poop: 9 Vet-Verified Tips

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Dr. Chyrle Bonk

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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However revolting the idea of coprophagia—poop eating—is to us humans, it’s a natural and common behavior in some dogs. To put this into perspective, a 2012 study revealed that 16% of dogs observed were seen eating poop more than six times, while 23% of the dogs observed ate poop at least once.1 Poop-eating is especially common in curious puppies and mother dogs cleaning up after their pups.

All that said, though it’s a natural behavior, poop-eating is something you’ll want to nip in the bud due to the risk of bacterial infections or parasites like roundworms, hookworms, or whipworms. In this guide, we’ll share some tips on curbing your dog’s poop-eating habit and explain why dogs do this.

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The 9 Tips for Preventing Poop-Eating

If you regularly catch your dog chowing down on unmentionables, stay calm no matter how grossed-out you feel. Avoid getting angry or punishing your dog. Remember that this behavior is normal for them, and they don’t perceive it as disgusting like we do. Instead, try out some of these tips.

1. See Your Vet

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Image Credit: LightField Studios, Shutterstock

The first and most important thing to do is to get your serial poop eater checked out by a vet to make sure a medical issue isn’t causing the behavior. A nutritional deficiency is an example of a potential cause, and your vet may prescribe some supplements to help improve the situation if a deficiency is diagnosed.

Other potential underlying triggers could include conditions related to malabsorption, dementia, certain medications, diabetes, parasites, thyroid issues, or Cushing’s disease.


2. Limit Access to Poop

Pick up poop as quickly as possible—whether that’s from a cat’s litter box or your yard—to prevent your dog from getting to it. It’s wise to do a quick check of your yard before you let your dog out to play, too. If your dog is obsessed with your cat’s litter box, try putting it in a dog- inaccessible area.


3. Consider a Muzzle

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Image Credit: Reshetnikov_art, Shutterstock

Some people muzzle their dogs to prevent unpleasant incidents from occurring when out on walks. Popular choices for this purpose include basket muzzles, which are nice and roomy but bar the dog from scavenging, and field guards, which also protect your dog’s eyes, nose, and ears from foxtails.


4. Use Distraction Techniques

If you see your dog heading for some poop, call their name and distract them with their favorite toy, like a tug-of-war toy or a ball. Better yet, if your dog likes to carry items, give them a toy to carry when out on walks. Just be careful doing this if your dog is very protective of their toys, as they may not take kindly to other dogs approaching while they’re carrying their treasured possession.


5. Leash Your Dog

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Image Credit: N K, Shutterstock

Keeping your dog on a leash when out and about is the best way to stay in control of the situation. If you’re in a park or forest, longer leashes offer your dog more room to roam while making sure you maintain an element of control.


6. Check Your Dog’s Diet

Check that your dog is eating the right amount of food recommended for their body weight. You’ll find this information on the food’s packaging. If they’re not eating enough or the diet consists of low-quality food, the dog may scavenge to compensate.

Feeding small, frequent meals from a quality brand may help with this. If you want to change to a more filling formula, get the green light from your vet first.


7. Mentally Stimulate Your Dog

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Image Credit: Masarik, Shutterstock

It’s not uncommon for dogs to eat poop out of boredom or as an attention-seeking measure. If you think your dog may be doing this to get your attention, don’t react. This shows the dog that their behavior gets no response from you.

Instead, make sure your dog is getting enough physical and mental exercise throughout the day, as this will tire them out, release pent-up energy, and make poop-eating a less attractive prospect.


8. Teach a “Leave It” Cue

Sure, it’s not easy to condition dogs not to scavenge, as it’s an instinctive behavior for them. Nevertheless, it can help to work on a “leave it” cue you can use whenever your dog approaches something stinky or dangerous.

There are various ways to teach this command, but one method is to take a treat in your hand, make sure your dog knows it’s there, put your hand out to the side, and put the arm behind your back every time the dog tries to jump for the treat.

When your dog can break from trying to get the treat or staring at it in your hand to look elsewhere instead, they get rewarded with a “yes” or a click from a clicker and a treat from your other hand. After practicing this for a while, you can add the verbal cue “leave it.” Again, there isn’t only one way to teach a command, so you can always try other things if this doesn’t work for you.


9. Add Certain Foods to the Diet

golden retriever eating dog food from metal bowl
Image Credit: LightField Studios, Shutterstock

Some theorize that adding certain foods—like pineapple—to their diet can make poop less appetizing and may work as a way to prevent poop eating. There are even supplements in chew and powder form designed specifically for dogs who engage in coprophagia. There’s no guarantee these will work, though—some dogs can be pretty persistent– but it may be worth a try. Just be sure to speak to your vet before adding any foods or supplements to your dog’s diet.

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Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?

The most basic reason some dogs may like to eat poop is that they like how it tastes. Gross as that sounds, a dog’s idea of what tastes and smells good isn’t the same as ours. Moreover, dogs use their noses and mouths to navigate the world around them and get information about things. Other reasons your dog may be eating poop include:

Puppy Behavior

Puppies have an extra keen sense of curiosity and spend a lot of time exploring their big and strange new world, which may lead them to “experiment” with poop-eating. They may also do it because they’ve seen their mother doing it, and it’s normal for puppies to mimic their mom’s behaviors.

Motherly Behavior

One of the ways a mother dog keeps her puppies and their environment clean is by eating their poop. This behavior also stems from a dog’s wild ancestors who use it as a survival technique: If there’s no poop around, there’s a reduced risk of bacteria and parasites that could make puppies sick.

Furthermore, if puppies smell poop on their mother’s breath, it can make it hard for them to tell the difference between poop and food. This is referred to as “appetitive inoculation” by Steven R. Lindsay, an animal behaviorist who wrote the Handbook of Applied Behavior and Training.

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Image Credit: MDV Edwards, Shutterstock

Hunger or Greed

Some dogs are simply greedier than others. According to the 2012 study we mentioned in the introduction, dogs reported as being particularly greedy were among the more prolific poop eaters. Likewise, a dog that’s underfed or eats low-quality food may scavenge for poop to redress the balance.

Boredom or Anxiety

If a dog is understimulated, they may eat poop as a way of entertaining themselves or getting attention from you. Separation anxiety is another potential cause, which, in addition to triggering a dog to eat things they shouldn’t, can also trigger destructive behaviors like chewing or scratching furniture or going to the bathroom inside the house.

Illness

As we touched on further up, dogs with certain medical conditions or nutritional deficiencies may be driven to eat poop. Conditions that cause an increase in appetite are particular risk factors, but various conditions could be behind the behavior.

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Image Credit: Renko Aleks, Shutterstock

Breed, Type, or Sex

One of the findings in the 2012 study into canine coprophagia was that hounds and terriers are more likely than other breeds to eat poop. As for whether sex plays a role, the study revealed that spayed female dogs are the biggest poop eaters, whereas intact males are less likely to engage in this behavior.

Multiple-dog Households

The same 2012 study mentioned above also found that multi-dog households are more likely to contain poop-eaters. This is most likely because there is additional feces available to them.

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Final Thoughts

While your dog eating poop isn’t the most delightful scene to witness, the good news is that there are ways to turn things around for the better with a little patience and consistency. To reiterate, it’s wise to get a vet checkup first to rule out health conditions and pick up some expert advice on how to remedy the situation.


Featured Image Credit: Monika Wisniewska, Shutterstock

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