by Janice Jones |Last Updated January 30, 2020
YUCK! Dogs eating feces? Sound strange, but it is more common than you think. “My dogs eats her own poop!" the human mama cries in disgust.
This vile habit may be more common than you expect because the average person does not seem to discuss poop-eating dogs with friends and family, probably because it does not seem to be a socially polite point of conversation.
Even though it seems nasty or disgusting to humans, the habit of eating poop has a very natural beginning and seems perfectly logical and natural to the dog.
Coprophagia is the technical term for this most unpleasant habit of eating feces and may be caused by a nutritional deficit, an illness, or simply a learned behavior.
Many puppies pick up the habit from their mother at a very young age. Mother dogs must stimulate their newborns to defecate and will then clean their nursing puppies and eat the feces.
This canine behavior goes back to when dogs were wolves. It is still seen routinely in wild wolves and dogs. With pups in the den, the mother would eliminate the feces of her young to keep the area clean, but also at the same time, she would do this to avoid any smell that might be picked up by a predator.
Since dogs are pack animals, other adult dogs in the “canine” family will sometimes help in rearing the young and help keep the den clean through the same process. So through evolution, dogs eating feces is standard practice from a dog’s point of view.
As puppies mature and begin eating food, the mama dog often relaxes and relegates her former cleaning chores to the breeder. Nevertheless, whether this habit is hard-wired into her brain or the result of instinctual behavior, her insistence on cleaning seems to persist.
Her puppies notice the habit and may continue. Many puppies outgrow this behavior by six months of age with mild discouragement from their owners. A few dogs continue to ingest their own or other dogs’ feces into adulthood. Some of these dogs are highly motivated and the behavior seems to become compulsive. There are other reasons why a dog might eat poop.
A dog with a physical problem such as a condition that prevents the proper digestion of nutrients in the food. Other problems can cause excessive hunger, pain, or other sensations may resort to eating feces.
If your adult dog that has not previously had this habit suddenly develops it, take the dog to your veterinarian for a check-up. Although very rare, it is worth the trip to the vet.
It is possible that dogs get some nutritive value from eating feces. It is hypothesized that eating garbage and human feces was one function of dogs during their early domestication, some 12,000 to 15,000 years ago.
They served as our first waste management workers, helping to keep the areas around human settlements clean. A dog that is chronically hungry, meaning that they are not getting enough to eat or going too long between meals may eat feces.
Even a dog that has plenty to eat may have a dietary deficiency because the quality of the food is poor. Your veterinarian can help you evaluate the dog's weight and can suggest a feeding schedule and amount.
Sometimes it takes experimentation to see what works best for a particular dog. Here are a couple of products that I have had reasonable success with. It is worth taking a look
It may not be the nutrients that the dog is lack but rather the enzymes that digest the food. This popular theory states that dogs who eat their feces are actually trying to consume the digestive enzymes in the poop.
To support this, there has been some success from simply adding a digestive enzyme supplement to the coprophagic dog's diet, and/or the diet of other dogs in the household.
A dog with intestinal parasites or worms that produce feces that may contain blood or other changes may also eat poop.
A dog may eat the feces of another dog who is shedding something like this in the stools. A fresh fecal specimen to your veterinarian for evaluation can detect some of these problems.
Sometimes, dogs are severely punished for leaving “surprises” in the house. These dogs may develop a mental connection that they will be punished if their humans find them in the same room with feces.
Dogs react by eating the feces so it will not be there to make the human angry. This is one of many reasons not to use punishment when house-training a dog.
Boredom could be another possibility. Bored dogs do all sorts of unacceptable things, including eat feces. Interesting toys that have treats inside them for the dog to get out can help with lots of boredom-based problems.
Dogs may do just about any wild thing when suffering from separation anxiety, including eating feces. If the dog eats the feces when the owner is away, this too could be a possible cause.
Dogs with separation anxiety need to work through this problem before you can tackle the poop eating.
The behavior is learned from the puppy's canine mother as suggested
above. The behavior is repeated over and over and the habit sticks if no one stops the behavior.
The number-one thing you can do to help overcome feces eating is to keep
your dog's area clean of feces. This means house-training, and
supervising the dog whenever the dog is in the designated relief area.
It is not healthy for dogs to eat feces but in most situations, it will
not harm them. However, it is definitely unpleasant for their human
owners so preventing the dog from carrying out the habit is the first
step towards getting the habit to fade.
It is not healthy for humans or dogs to have the feces lying around. Until a dog is fully house-trained and the feces-eating habit has died out, picking up after each bowel movement is an important tactic. After the dog's habits are steady, you may be able to pick up just once a day if you have a private place for the dog to use.
Use taste deterrents on feces. Some people
find that finely ground black pepper, crushed hot pepper, Tabasco®
sauce, and Bitter Apple® works. However, you must apply the deterrent
consistently to all feces that your dog can access for a significant
period so that he comes to expect that all feces taste horrible. You
may need to use the deterrent weeks or even months, depending on the
length of time the coprophagia has been going on.
Some medications on the market also create nasty tasting feces. Forbid® and Deter® are a couple of products that have proven to help some dogs stop eating feces.
Dog Food Diet
Sometimes, changing the dog’s diet will help reduce the problem. There does not seem to be any one food that is right for all dogs, and your dog may need something different than you are currently feeding.
Be sure to make any changes
of diet gradual, mixing the new food in with the old over a period of
several days or weeks, to give the dog's intestines time to adjust and
avoid diarrhea from the change.
Some people swear by food additives to stop a dog from eating feces. Sometimes the theory is that the additive provides a nutrient the dog is seeking when eating feces and thus the dog will no longer crave feces.
Other times the theory is that, the additive makes the feces taste bad and the dog will not want it. One example that often works is pineapple. You can add a bite of pineapple to the dog’s food or feed it directly as a treat.
Another idea is to feed your dog broccoli, cabbage, or Brussels
sprouts. The idea behind these remedies is that the fruit or vegetable
makes the poop so undesirable that the dog will not touch it. Some of
these additives seem to work in some dogs, but not all.
Adding enzymes to the dog’s food may also help. ProZyme, for example, is one popular and readily available brand. A similar home remedy is to add meat tenderizer to the dog's meals to stop coprophagia.
tenderizers contain an enzyme called papain that helps to more fully
digest the meal, so this tends to support the notion that it is enzymes
that may be lacking, not nutrient themselves.
Before you try adding any of these things to your dog's food, consult your veterinarian about whether the particular additive is safe for your particular dog. Do not expect any additive to be a miracle cure. These things tend to work for the occasional dog, but chances are good that your dog will not be the one.
Take your dog out to potty on leash. As soon as the poop hits the ground and the dog shows interest in it, call the dog to you. Use the leash not to jerk the dog, but simply to keep the dog from being able to reach the feces. Keep the treats out of sight.
The instant the dog reaches you, praise the dog and give it a treat. Then back away from the dog, praise and give another treat for coming to you. At this point, you have taken the dog's mind off the feces.
Go on indoors with the dog and come back out without the dog to clean up. Once you have good control and a good rapport with the dog, you can go ahead and clean up while the dog is still outside.
As you set this habit more strongly through repetition, you will be able to do this with the dog on a long line, coming to you at the back door for a treat. Eventually you'll be able to do it without a leash on the dog. Keep up the same energy and level of reward, if you want the dog to keep responding!
In summary, there may not be one single cause of coprophagia so the one cure fits all will not work. Sometimes it takes some detective work to determine the cause, but once the cause is found, it is easier to discover a cure.
Certainly, there are things that you should never do such as rubbing your dog’s nose in the feces to punish him. This will not work and will likely cause your dog to be afraid of you and of leaving poop in a room. Secondly, you should not punish your dog for eating poop. Serious problems such as fear or aggression can often be traced back to physical punishments.