Dogs usually eat poop because of issues with their food or overall gut health. However, it can be a result of disease, dietary insufficiencies or behavioral problems. It’s important to evaluate all of the possible reasons and consider your dog’s age, training, living conditions and overall diet.
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While poop eating is a difficult (and disgusting) problem from a pet-parent perspective, it’s actually pretty normal. About 16% of all dog owners have this problem at some point in their dog’s life.
Poop eating behavior is called coprophagia and it can be caused by many different things, most of which you can read about below. However, be aware that most of the time it comes down to two things: diet and gut health. I’ll tell you how to troubleshoot and deal with these issues later in this article.
So, why is your dog eating poop? It could be any of the following:
Instinctual Reasons: Your Dog Was Born to Eat Poop!
Before dogs were domesticated they were scavengers, living off of whatever they could find. Dogs commonly fed on the waste of other animals (and other dogs) thousands of years ago. Poop eating may just be a remnant of dog history.
In certain situations, as with a newborn litter of puppies, eating poop is instinctual and completely normal. A mother with pups is wired to keep her den clean so as not to attract predators with scent cues. Thus, she quite often will clean up after her young by consuming their poop.
For households with multiple dogs there is often a pecking order of dominant and submissive roles. Submissive dogs will sometimes eat the stool of their dominant counterparts.
Another rather interesting phenomenon is when multiple dogs are in the same household and one gets sick, the healthy dog will sometimes eat the feces of the unhealthy dog. This may be an instinctual reaction to hide the weaker dog from “predators” much as a mother does with pups. It may also have to do with parasites.
A recent study from the University California at Davis surveyed 3,000 dog owners that had poop eating problems. The only commonality that they found among all these dogs is that more than 80% had a preference for poop that is less than two days old.
Benjamin Hart, a veterinarian who directs the Center for Animal Behavior at Davis suggests that this preference for fresh feces goes back to dogs’ wolf ancestors over 15,000 years ago. Wolves usually defecate outside of their dens because feces contain intestinal parasite eggs.
However, if a young pup or injured wolf did happen to poop in the den, the waste didn’t become dangerous for a couple of days because it usually takes at least 48 hours for parasite eggs to hatch into infectious larvae.
By “cleaning up” quickly, wolves were able to avoid parasite infections, and that behavior has propagated to modern dogs.
Environmental Reasons: Seasonality
For some reason, outside temperature can have a significant impact on poop eating behavior. In fact, during the cold winter months, this site gets 4x as search traffic from terms like “why dogs eat poop” than in the middle of the summer. Much of our traffic also comes from cooler northern climates.
If you look at Google trends over the past 5 years you can clearly see these seasonal fluctuations. What is causing this? We don’t know for sure, but my theory is that seasonal changes in the microbiome (gut health) of dogs has an effect on their behavior.
As a side note, there are many dogs that only eat poop that they find frozen in the snow, or “poopsicles” as some people have taken to calling them.
Behavioral Reasons: Dogs Are “A” Students
Dogs pick up things quickly and will often learn things that you don’t want them to. For instance, consider a dog that is punished for a housebreaking accident. If he is punished by having his nose rubbed in poop (which is absolutely not a good way to deal with the problem) he may try to “dispose of the evidence” the next time around.
If you clean up after your dog while he looks on, he may misunderstand your intent and try to copy your actions in some fashion by “picking up after himself”. Your dog might also see other dogs eating poop and learn the behavior from them.
For puppies, eating feces may simply be a learning experience. Puppies learn things by putting nearly everything that comes in front of them in their mouth. Most puppies will develop a distaste for poop in fairly short order. So, if your dog is a puppy, you can relax… chances are that they will change their behavior in due time. Just make sure you keep an eye on things and try to remove waste whenever possible so that your dog doesn’t develop bad habits.
In many cases, a dog’s behavior can be linked directly to the owner’s behavior. Many dogs will eat stool simply for the attention that they get from their owner. Negative attention is still attention, and owners who scold their dogs for the behavior will quite often only reinforce it.
Dogs that are bored and lonely may play with and eat stool as a pastime. Karen Becker, a prominent naturopathic vet believes that dogs from puppy mills are at particular risk of coprophagia as well as all kinds of other behavioral issues.
And, some dogs may resort to eating stool because they are not getting enough real food. If a dog’s living area is not kept clean, some dogs will resort to their own “housekeeping” efforts by eating stool.
Health Reasons: Your Dog Might Have a Problem
If your dog eats poop, you should make sure it’s not because of a health issue. Some dogs will start eating poop when they aren’t absorbing enough nutrients, they have parasites, or they have issues with their pancreas.
All dogs that exhibit poop eating behavior should be examined by a veterinarian.
Of particular concern is exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). This is a condition where the dog’s pancreas in no longer producing enough enzymes to digest its food properly. Coprophagia is one symptom of this condition, but other things to look for are weight loss and diarrhea. If left untreated, dogs with EPI will die of malnourishment.
Dogs with EPI may not show visible symptoms until 80-95 percent of the pancreas has atrophied, so it’s important to get your dog to the vet if it’s eating poop.
SIBO & Malabsorption
Similar in symptoms, and sometimes a result of EPI, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is a condition where the number of bacteria in your dog’s bowel increase far beyond the normal numbers and start to damage the absorptive surface of the bowel.
Because of the damage, the absorption of digested food into the bloodstream is restricted as it passes through the bowel. This causes malnourishment, weight loss, diarrhea, and if left untreated, death.
Depending on where you live, there are any number of worms, protozoa, and other nasty parasites that may take up residence in your dog’s gut. These often interfere with digestion, which in turn can cause poop eating behavior.
Some dogs with parasites are completely asymptomatic, so it’s important to get a work up from your vet.
Dietary Insufficiencies & Enyzmes
A dog’s digestive system is dependent on a specific mix of enzymes to break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats. There is some evidence that suggests that dog digestive systems haven’t quite caught up to modern diets that include less animal protein and far more carbohydrates and plant proteins. Some veterinary nutritionists have suggested that dogs eat stool to replenish enzymes so that they are better prepared to digest their food.
Before dogs were domesticated, they caught, killed and consumed whole prey, including the guts of animals that were rich in digestive enzymes. Most modern dogs spend their lives eating kibble and highly processed foods and no longer take on enzymes from their diet.
There is also evidence that dogs that aren’t getting enough of certain nutrients will resort to eating poop. Dr. Joseph Demers, DVM, believes that coprophagia is caused by trace mineral deficiency. A lack of B vitamins is also often said to be a cause of coprophagia.
Another vet, Roger DeHaan, DVM, believes that dogs develop a hydrochloric acid deficiency as they age, particularly if they eat a poor diet. This acid deficiency means that proteins are not properly broken down, which leads to dogs trying to get nutrients from already digested sources (i.e. stool).
Another common theory is that overfeeding a dog can lead to coprophagia. A dog that is overfed can’t absorb all of the nutrients in his food, and thus may try to “recycle” his nutrient rich waste.
Underfeeding can also be a factor, especially in multi-dog households where one dominant dog takes more than its fair share of the food. Sometimes dogs eat poop simply because they’re hungry.
Your Dog’s Diet: Usually the Source of the Problem
This average dog diet is the most common reason for coprophagia. The vast majority of dogs in the modern world eat a daily diet that is not biologically appropriate based on their ancestry.
In my experience, food is the #1 factor in dealing with a coprophagia problem. The #2 factor (pardon the pun) is gut health, which I will get to in a minute.
Just changing your dog’s diet to more biologically appropriate foods often solves the problem within days.
What is biologically appropriate? Sadly, the answer is almost nothing you can buy as a packaged option at your local pet supply or grocery store.
Most packaged dog foods (even premium brands) are highly processed and contain numerous additives like supplemental vitamins, stabilizers, and fillers.
Sure, packaged foods are convenient for us humans, but your dog simply wasn’t built to eat that stuff!
We’ll talk more about how to deal with this in the “Solving The Problem” section below.
Gut Health: The Other Main Culprit
In the last few years there has been extensive research on the human microbiome, the collection of trillions of microorganisms that live in your body and have a profound effect on your health. For every one of our cells, there are 10 microbial cells that live inside of you.
A dog’s health is also closely related to the health of its microbiome, and veterinary scientists are just beginning to investigate the various influences that this system has on animal health.
What we do know so far is that the microbiome can be thrown out of balance very easily. Antibiotics and other drugs are frequently responsible for these imbalances but there are other chemicals that have been closely linked to dysbiosis as well.
Chief among them are glysophates, the chief ingredient in a weed killer called Roundup, made by the Monsanto company. Over 185 million pounds of glysophate are used in U.S. agriculture each year, and the chemical is pervasive in the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe.
It turns out that glysophate not only kills weeds, it is very destructive to beneficial gut bacteria. That’s a big problem for both humans and animals, and it’s only getting worse.
The number of people that have measurable glysophate in their bloodstream has increased by 500% in the last 20 years. The levels measured in people that have been exposed has increased by an average of 1208% in that time period.
While there have been no studies on glysophate levels in dogs, it’s safe to assume that if you are exposed to glysophate, so is your pet.
So what does all of this have to do with dogs eating poop? They are instinctively trying to restore their gut health by ingesting microorganism rich “foods”.
Solving The Problem
There are dozens of food additive products that claim to stop poop eating behavior (For-Bid, NaturVet Stool Eating Deterrent, ProSense, Solid Gold, etc). However, a recent study on coprophagia from UC Davis found that these “remedies” are less than 2% effective!
It is a very difficult problem to solve, and that’s why I’ve written an entire ebook detailing a protocol for solving tough coprophagia problems.
I’ll tell you here the basics of what I teach:
Change Your Dog’s Diet
Always start here. Even if you are feeding your dog the most expensive, highest quality, most natural, best dog food on the planet, it’s still processed and packaged food.
If you’re more comfortable with cooked foods, I’ve had almost as much success with cooked homemade dog food, so that’s what I tend to suggest nowadays. You can find dozens of recipes by Googling. Just be sure to pick ones that have high protein, high fat and has very low carbohydrates and contain no grain whatsoever. Dr Karen Becker, one of the smartest veterinarians I know of, also has an excellent book of recipes that I’ve used quite a bit.
If you don’t have the time / patience / kitchen space to be cooking for your dog all the time, then I recommend services like PetPlate or Ollie that prepare and ship fresh meals. They’re not as expensive as you’d think and they are both very high quality options.
As is normal when switching up a pet’s food, do it gradually so as not to make them uncomfortable or cause digestive issues.
Also, I know it’s not always possible to feed your dog fresh food 100% of the time. In cases where you must feed dry packaged food, I would recommend something with less than 10% carbohydrate like KetoNatural.
Restore Your Dog’s Gut
This can take a few weeks. You can start right when you change your dog’s food, or you can wait to see if the food change stops the coprophagia before you work on their gut.
If you’re going to start giving your dog gut supplements, you might as well give them a probiotic that also has prebiotic support and enzymes that they may be lacking as well. The brand I use is called VetionX. It contains a compound called arabinogalactan which helps your dog produce short chain fatty acids which play an important role in gut health.
I also prefer VetionX because it’s much easier to give your dog a chewable vs remembering to sprinkle powder on their food every day. The most important thing is to use a high quality probiotic, even if it doesn’t have other digestive components. Feel free to do your own research on dog probiotics, there are dozens of them available on the market today.
In the last year, I’ve also discovered something called Lumapet which strengthens your dog’s gut lining. It is truly a miracle substance for digestive issues and I highly recommend it!
If you’re interested in my ebook, you can watch a short video here: