It’s not something any dog owner wants to see, yet it’s almost inevitable that you’ll have to deal with it at some point: your dog sniffing a turd and then, before you can stop him, gobbling it down.
Science confirms that dogs love eating poop. In a 2012 study, 24% of dogs were observed eating poop at least once, and 16% ate poop at least 5 times.
The study showed that over 90% of dogs prefer poop no older than 2 days, and 85% of dogs prefer eating other dogs’ poop. Some breeds like poop more than others: 40% of shelties and 38% of border collies were poop-eaters.
These statistics illustrate that poop eating is hardwired into the canine brain. It’s displayed by dogs of all ages, temperaments and health levels, and there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to it.
But there must be a way to stop your dog from eating poop… right? Let’s get to the bottom of this disgusting habit and find out how to make it stop, for the good of your dog — and your sanity.
Call It Coprophagia
We have many terms for the act of eating poop, some more vulgar than others. But the scientific term for it is coprophagia — “copro” meaning poop and “phagia” meaning eating.
Dogs aren’t the only animals that can exhibit coprophagia, but they’re among the most likely to. There are several reasons for this, and you’ll need to pinpoint the right one to put a stop to your dog’s behavior.
Your dog is lucky: he gets reliable, nutritious meals handed to him on a platter multiple times a day. His ancestors didn’t live such cushy lives; they had to take what they could get, and those circumstances could be the root of coprophagia.
When food was scarce, ancient dogs would turn to less-desirable food sources to survive. Often, this meant poop, and today’s dogs may retain those ancestral poop-eating drives.
Poop-eating may also have been a preventative measure taken by ancestral canines. Feces often contains harmful parasites and bacteria, so rather than leaving it in their dens, ancient dogs may have eaten it instead to prevent the young, sick and elderly pack members from contracting anything nasty.
The drive to eat poop may also begin early in puppyhood. Mother dogs will lick their puppies’ butts to encourage them to poop; the puppies may pick up on this and develop an early taste for feces themselves.
Many puppies grow out of this behavior by the time they’re a year old. But for some, these early tastings spark a lifelong craving for poop of all kinds.
Hungry for More
When dogs are lacking in nutrients or calories, they’re happy to gobble down some poop. Nutritional deficiencies, particularly of protein and vitamin B, can drive a dog to eat poop.
Some illnesses, such as diabetes and Cushing’s disease, cause an increase in appetite. When the kibble’s all gone and the treat supply has dried up, dogs with these conditions will put just about anything in their stomachs, including poop.
Stress can prompt a dog to do some strange things: pace in circles for hours, chew on himself and, yes, eat poop,
It’s not clear why stress causes coprophagia, but if your dog is highly anxious or undergoing stressful situations like moving or ongoing medical treatment, he may turn to poop eating to cope.
Stopping Your Dog from Eating Poop
Breaking the poop-eating habit means treating the problem at the source. Once you’ve figured out why your dog is eating poop, try one of these methods to nip the behavior in the bud.
Coprophagia caused by nutritional deficiencies is usually easy to resolve once the deficiency is remedied. If you’re feeding low-quality food, consider upgrading your dog’s diet to one that contains more vitamins and protein, or supplement with fresh vegetables and meat for treats.
Internal parasites like worms can leech nutrients from your dog’s GI tract, making him hungry and malnourished no matter how much he eats. If you suspect worms, see a vet to determine the type of worms and get the appropriate treatment.
Manage Medical Issues
Untreated or unmanaged medical conditions can make your dog feel like he’s starving all the time, increasing the likelihood that he’ll eat poop. If you notice other symptoms like weakness, weight loss, increased thirst or mood changes, see a vet for diagnosis.
Stress-induced coprophagia can be remedied by removing the stressor or providing other anxiety relief. If it seems related to a recent change, like furniture rearranging, try reverting back to how it was and see if that helps.
Situational stress, like moving or a new baby, often resolves itself with time. If it doesn’t, or if you can’t figure out the cause, see a vet for anti-anxiety medication.
Use a Taste Aversion Product
When all else fails, you can stop your dog from eating poop by making it taste bad… er, worse, that is. Dogs hate the taste of hot peppers and citrus, so a few drops of hot sauce or lemon juice on a turd will keep your dog away from it.
Commercial products like For-Bid can be added to your dog’s food to make his poops less palatable. It can also be added to other animals’ food, so if your dog likes to eat out of the cat’s litterbox, adding some deterrent to your cat’s food should stop the behavior.