Reasons Why Dogs Eat Poop
Just like stalking prey or circling before lying down your dog may have this remnant instinct still lurking under their skin. Occasionally, we see dogs that are of lower ranking status eat the stool of higher ranking pack members.
In other situations, such as when a mother has young puppies, the mother will clean her puppies to stimulate them to “go” and then will proceed to ingest any excrement. This keeps her puppies and den clean and prevents predators from finding the babies based on excrement scent.
With wild dogs and other scavengers, they will frequently consume whatever stool they come across to gain any leftover nutrients and/or enzymes that are found in the stool.
Dogs are amazing at learning things from other dogs. Litters of puppies who have had the chance to watch other puppies or adult dogs completing a task are 50% faster at figuring out how to complete the same task when it was their turn. Same thing happens with other behaviors such as barking, dogs who are escape artists, and yes, poop eating. Puppies grow up seeing mom eat the stool and when they start exploring (mainly with their mouths of course) they may pick up the habit. Most of the time this is eliminated by the time the puppy is 8 weeks old and ready to leave mom.
Dogs who live in a multidog household or who frequent places with multiple dogs (dog parks, daycares, boarding facilities, etc) are more likely to eat poop. In a 2012 study, researchers led by Dr. Benjamin Hart, from the University of California, Davis, found that 20% of dogs in single dog households ate poop while 33% of dogs who lived in households of three or more dogs ate poop.
Dogs also learn from you. If you punish your dog by rubbing his nose in his poop (which is a terrible way to deal with the issue and can cause other problems) or if your dog sees you disposing of his poop, he may try to “dispose of the evidence” or clean up after himself.
Your dog’s digestive system has various enzymes to break down food. Dogs that are on processed (kibble, canned, or dehydrated) diets with increased carbohydrates and plant proteins seem to pick up the habit of eating poop more frequently than dogs on low/no carbohydrate, high animal protein diets. Some veterinary nutritionists have suggested that eating stool helps replenish enzymes and recycles waste.
Overfed dogs and dogs on diets with carbohydrates and plant proteins leave wasted nutrients behind and the dog (or other dogs who have access) may feel inclined to eat the stool with excess nutrients. By improving your dog’s diet, you can decrease or eliminate the odds that your dog will eat or continue to eat stool (more on this in part 2).
In many cases, a dog’s behavior is directly related to the owner’s behavior. Attention is attention, whether it is good or bad, and even bad attention can be reinforcing the dog to continue the behavior. Dogs that are bored, lonely, anxious, or stressed may pick up the habit simply out of not having a better outlet or to keep their living area clean just like their mother would have.
A lack of various B vitamins is often a cited cause for dogs who consume stool. Brewer’s yeast, a multivitamin, or both, can help. Brewer’s yeast is a well-known nutritional supplement known for being packed with chromium and B vitamins as well as helping aid in digestion. There are many brands of brewer’s yeast and multivitamins available at pet specialty stores. Brewer’s yeast should not be given to dogs with any sensitivities to grains.
Dogs with an enzyme or nutrient deficiency, parasites, pancreatitis, or other illness are likely to eat stool. All coprophagic dogs should be examined by a veterinarian. There is little scientific knowledge or studies on coprophagia itself but there are both medical and behavioral causes. We urge you to rule out any medical causes with a veterinarian before setting out on any dietary changes.
Here are a few of the most common medical conditions that can be linked to coprophagia –
- Pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas that can be triggered by several factors. Infections, metabolic disorders, medications, obesity are just a handful of possible causes of pancreatitis.
- Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency: EPI is the result of a malfunctioning pancreas that is not creating enough digestive enzymes.
- Intestinal Infections & Parasites: Infections can happen for any number of reasons, but parasites are a common cause of intestinal stress and infection.
- Malabsorptive Syndromes: The exact cause of this disorder is unknown, but it may be related to allergies to grains (corn, wheat, soy, etc).
Dogs who have lived in a home with an ill dog are more likely to begin eating stool. Common theories include that the ill dog is not absorbing all nutrients and thus is leaving behind nutrient rich stool as well as that, from a survival standpoint, cleaning up behind the sick dog will decrease the likelihood of other predators from trying to take advantage of a disabled member of the pack.
A recurring theme throughout this article you’ll notice is a lack of nutrients in the dog, an excess of nutrients in the stool, or another type of illness (such as those listed in section 6). These three things are the most common causes of a dog eating stool. If the dog is allowed to continue eating the stool it may simply become a behavioral habit. It is important to prevent and treat coprophagia as soon as it begins.