Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?

Dogs are amazing, not many people can argue this fact. They love us unconditionally, and their whole goal in life is to sleep, cuddle, play, and to adore their pet parents. That said, there are some annoying and sometimes gross habits that your fur baby can exhibit.

One of the grossest is eating their own feces, or that of the neighborhood cat. There is a scientific name for this disgusting habit, it's called coprophagia, and it stems mostly from behavioral issues, however, there may be a medical component to it in certain instances. 

In a 2012 study presented at the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior annual conference, researchers led by Dr. Benjamin Hart, from the University of California, Davis, discovered that:

  • 16 percent (one in six) of dogs are classified as “serious” stool eaters, which means that they were caught in the act five times.
  • 24 percent of the dogs in the study (one in four) were observed eating feces at least once.

According to Vet West Animal Hospitals, "any medical problem that leads to a decrease in absorption of nutrients, causes gastrointestinal upset or causes an increase in the appeal of the dog’s stool, could lead to coprophagia."

Some of the possible medical conditions that can cause coprophagia include:

  • Parasites
  • Diabetes
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Thyroid disease

These medical conditions need to be ruled out first through a complete physical examination including stool and blood testing. If your pooch receives a clean bill of health, then you can assume that their gross habit is more of a behavioral issue. 

The study from Dr. Benjamin Hart also noted some additional observations as to why dogs choose to eat their own stool. These include the following:

  • Coprophagia was more common in multi-dog households. In single-dog homes, only 20 percent of dogs had the habit, while in homes with three dogs, that rose to 33 percent.
  • Poop eaters are no harder to house train than any other dogs.
  • Females are more likely to eat poop, and intact males were least likely.
  • 92 percent of poop eaters want fresh stuff, only one to two days old.
  • 85 percent of poop eaters will not eat their own feces, only that of other dogs.
  • Greedy eaters—dogs who steal food off tables—tend to also be poop eaters.

Some behavioral reasons dogs will eat their own poop include, isolation, attention-seeking, and being restricted to small spaces for extended periods of time. 

According to the American Kennel Club, there are some things you can do to stop this foul habit from continuing with your dog.

  • Vitamin supplementation: There’s been a long-standing theory that dogs eat feces because they are missing something in their diets. Vitamin-B deficiency, in particular, has been a prime suspect, and studies have backed this up. In 1981, scientists showed fecal microbial activity synthesized thiamine, a B-vitamin. Other research found other missing nutrients.
  • Enzyme supplementation: The modern canine diet is higher in carbohydrates and lower in meat-based proteins and fats than the canine ancestral diet. Some people have had success with a meat tenderizer that contains papain, an enzyme.
  • Taste-aversion products: The theory is that certain tastes and smells are as disgusting to dogs as the idea of stool eating is to us and that spraying certain substances on poop will make it less appealing. Many of these products contain monosodium glutamate, chamomile, pepper-plant derivatives, yucca, garlic, and parsley.

 

There are ways to overcome this issue, the best of which is to monitor your pooch. Always keep them on a leash, or immediately pick up any feces. No matter how gross this seems to humans, we have to remember that dogs have us beat in many other areas, including unconditional love, affection and a stress-free happy lifestyle, so we can give them a little room to be gross once in a while. We can be grateful that they don't judge us by our annoying actions, and instead just want to give us licks and love.