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Why do dogs eat poo?

Why do dogs eat poo?
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We all love dogs, they’re silly, adorable, and a whole lot of fun. But it’s no secret that they get up to some pretty revolting stuff. Tucking into their own poo in the garden and then running up to greet you with a big sloppy kiss, sound familiar? We say we love our dogs unconditionally, but this habit is one that probably makes you question all that. It really is enough to make your stomach churn.

Any type of faeces can be a delicious snack for plenty of dogs, it doesn’t even have to be their own. Cat, horse, sheep, cow, you name it, they’ll probably eat it!

Strangely, some animals actually depend quite heavily on eating poo. For instance, rabbits do this to consume important nutrients that they’d otherwise not receive. However, our dogs aren’t in need of any added extras. Unfortunately, eating poo is just relatively standard canine behaviour, and our furry friends probably just enjoy it. The scientific name for this habit is ‘coprophagia’.

There isn’t one definite reason why our dogs like to make a meal out of their poo, but there are definitely a few possibilities which we’re going to explore.

Why do dogs eat poo?

A tasty treat

You might not want to hear this, but the most likely reason for your dog’s disgusting habit is simply that they think it tastes nice. Dogs are naturally attracted to things with a strong smell, and animal poo definitely ticks that box! Also, if it’s fresh, 1-2 days old or less, dogs seem to prefer this and will be more inclined to have a little taste.

It’s common for dogs to be partial to cat poo, for some reason it’s very appealing to them. If you’ve got a feline friend, keep your eye out. If your pooch genuinely just enjoys eating poo, it’ll probably take some time and patience to discourage the habit, but we’ll discuss those tips in more detail later on.

Curiosity

You bring a puppy home, your tiny, adorable, cuddly new member of the family. That is until they go outside and start to have a taste of their own faeces. Not so cute anymore.

A new puppy needs chance to explore their surroundings and they generally investigate everything using their mouth. Mischievous little pups will chew furniture, sticks, your hands and will try to eat just about anything, which much to our dismay, does include poo.

Eating poo is incredibly normal for puppies, and many grow out of it when they reach about 9 months old. However, for a large number of dogs, this habit extends right into their adulthood.

Hungry, or just greedy

Your dog may genuinely just be hungry, meaning more food could be required in the day to sustain your poo-eating pup. Or it could be that the length of time they go between meals is too long, so they treat themselves to a little snack outside.

Alternatively, a very likely possibility is that you just have a very greedy dog on your hands. Many dogs are extremely greedy, eating just about anything they can get their hands, or should we say paws, on, and this unfortunately includes faeces. Dogs that are food driven and are always on the lookout to steal some food are more likely to have this behaviour.

Like mother like daughter…or son

Pups are very easily influenced by those around them and copying the behaviour of others starts with their mother.

A litter of pups can get very messy, so to keep their area tidy the mother might eat the poo that the litter produces. Often, a puppy of the litter will learn this behaviour and take the habit into their new home. Even the mother of the litter can continue this habit after her pups have been taken to their new homes.

Also, if you own multiple dogs, this habit seems to be more prevalent. As stated, younger pups can be influenced by other dogs, so if you already have one dog that has this horrible habit, your new pup may start to copy.

Boredom

Your dog’s emotions can play a huge role into why they may be displaying this strange, and pretty disgusting behaviour. Simply, your dog could just be bored and making a little snack out of their own poo is a way to pass the time. It can be compared to when we humans reach for a snack merely out of boredom.

Boredom can be linked with attention seeking. Dogs are smart, and they might know that eating their own poo will elicit a reaction from you. Gaining a reaction, even if it’s a negative one, is exactly what your dog is seeking by doing this.

Stress and anxiety

Your dog may become stressed and anxious when you leave the house, and for some reason, eating their own faeces is a way to relieve their stress and anxiety.

This type of behaviour is an indicator of separation anxiety, which is the behaviour and emotional state your dog demonstrates when you’re not there. Typically, it arises in destruction, barking, howling and even eating their own poo.

Separation anxiety is something that needs to be addressed as it can cause your dog severe distress. Solving the issue will depend on the severity of your dog’s anxiety around being left alone. Some dogs will respond well to slowly progressing the amount of time they spend alone, along with lots of positive reinforcement, whereas some may need help from a behaviourist.

Fear

Though not the most likely answer, your pup could be eating poo out of fear of being punished. During house training, a puppy may have been punished for having an accident in the house, sparking the association that the presence of faeces means punishment. By eating the poo before you spot it, your dog destroys the evidence and thereby avoids getting told off.

Medical concerns

If consuming poo is a relatively new thing for your dog, it could be a warning sign of a medical issue, especially if it’s accompanied with other strange and new symptoms.

For example, eating poo can be a sign of other conditions such as parasites, diabetes, thyroid conditions, and Cushing’s disease, as these can all trigger an increased appetite.

Seek medical advice quickly to rule out any health problems.

Can it be harmful?

Generally, if your pooch is only partial to their own poo, it likely won’t cause any health issues.

Sometimes, parasites such as hookworm, roundworm and giardia can be lurking in the infected faeces of other dogs. Consequently, your pooch could potentially pick up these little creepy crawlies when they treat themselves to this smelly snack.

However, many dogs that eat their own faeces enjoy that of other animals too, which is where potential issues can arise. Livestock poo often contains worming medication and consuming this medication can cause health complications for your dog.

So, if your dog tucks into just about anything they find on their travels, it’s recommended to try and discourage this behaviour.

Nevertheless, this is easier said than done when your dog genuinely likes the taste. Convincing a dog that loves to eat (which is probably the majority) can be incredibly hard.

How do I stop it?

As stated, stopping your dog from demonstrating this habit is quite difficult. However, there are many methods to stopping your poo-eating pup, such as:

  • If possible, simply picking up dog poo in the garden instantly is the most effective. Limiting access to it will limit their consumption
  • Teaching your dog the command ‘leave it’, although, this one will take time and practice. If your pooch manages to crack this trick though, it will not only help break this habit, but it’ll be beneficial for preventing your dog picking up anything dangerous on a walk
  • Solid recall training or employing a distraction to divert your pup from any poo on the ground
  • Lots of positive reinforcement, if they ignore it, reward and praise them
  • Never shout at, fuss over, or drag your dog away from eating poo. This will only get them excited and maybe start to use it as a ploy to get your attention. All in all, it just makes them more interested in trying to access it.

Don’t worry, you really aren’t on your own if your pup finds poo to be a delicacy, the habit is common in many of our four-legged friends. However, it’s definitely undesirable behaviour. Understandably, it’s going to be something you’ll want to prevent, if possible.

Stopping the habit will take time, patience and vigilance, but it’ll definitely make giving your dog a kiss and a cuddle a lot more pleasant!

Sources
  1. Pilot study to identify risk factors for coprophagic behaviour in dogs PDF Wageningen University & Research, 2006
  2. The paradox of canine conspecific coprophagy Veterinary Medicine and Science, 4, (2), May 2018, 106-114, doi:10.1002/vms3.92

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