Why Is My Dog Eating Poo? · The Wildest

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Why Do Dogs Eat Poo?

What to do when your dog has questionable tastes

by Colleen Stinchcombe and Dr. Amy Fox, DVM
Updated 2 February 2024
Labrador retriever licking their lips
Mike Fusaro / Adobe Stock

The harsh reality: some dogs eat poo. No one knows for certain why dogs engage in this behaviour despite our revulsion, but it is more common than you might think. There are many possible theories as to why they do it and these can be divided primarily into medical and behavioral motivations. Consistently eating non-food items is known as pica, and specifically eating faeces is called coprophagia. In general, an underlying medical condition may lead dogs to crave non-food items; this is often due to gastrointestinal disease, nutritional deficiencies, anaemia or neurological disorders.

Other conditions can make dogs ravenously hungry to the point where they may eat anything they find; this can happen when dogs develop diabetes or Cushing’s disease, or if they are taking high doses of steroids to treat other conditions. Finally, behavioural causes of pica can include anxiety, compulsive disorders, and/or boredom. Coprophagia is a very specific form of pica and while any of the above causes can be at play, it also has its own unique motivations.

In most cases, coprophagia tends to be more of a behavioural problem than a medical one. The majority of dogs who exhibit coprophagia are considered to have voracious appetites and live in multi-dog households. This may be related to scavenging behaviour seen in stray dogs and wild dogs who are constantly looking for scraps of any kind in order to survive. Additionally, there may be a link to innate behaviours seen in wolves that do this to keep their den clean and free of faeces.   


Apparently, poo eating is super-common with dogs

“I wouldn’t say all dogs eat poop but a decent amount eat poop,” says Dr Ashley Rossman, DVM, a veterinarian at Glen Oak Dog and Cat Hospital. A study published by the University of California at Davis on poo eating (scientifically known as coprophagia or coprophagy) found that 24 percent of dogs have tried it, while 16 percent eat it regularly, meaning six times or more.

Worse, many dogs typically eat it fresh. Yuck. In fact, researchers learnt that eating poo less than two days old was far more common than consuming older poo. Dogs who savour eating poo also enjoy eating dirt and cat stool. A previous study found that dogs with anxiety disorders or oral disorders such as pica and plant-eating were more frequently coprophagic.

What is coprophagia?  

Coprophagia is defined as the act of eating faeces. It does not have to be the dog’s own faeces specifically. In fact, many dogs that exhibit coprophagia will eat other dogs’ poo as well as cat poo if given the opportunity. Dogs may do this for different reasons so it is always important to rule out underlying medical causes and make sure to treat any problems effectively to resolve the urge to eat poo.

In most cases however, there is no underlying medical cause and therefore, nothing to fix exactly. For most dogs, this is a behavioural idiosyncrasy that does not have a clear cause. There are some associations between dogs that eat poo and other characteristics though. In the study at UC Davis, over 1,500 pet parents were surveyed about their dogs and certain correlations among the coprophagic dogs stood out. These dogs tended to live in multi-dog households with at least one other dog. They also tended to be considered ‘greedy eaters’ meaning very enthusiastic eaters that are not picky. Certain breeds also seemed more inclined to be coprophagic, including Terriers, Hounds and Shetland Sheepdogs.     

But why do dogs eat poo?!

Coprophagy is a bit of a paradox because dogs can be house-trained easily due to their aversion to poo. It’s also one of the reasons that some advocate crates when housetraining – dogs rarely defecate where they eat or sleep. So, then why do some dogs eat their poo?

Inherited survival behaviour

One theory: it’s in their DNA. Not only did the study suggest it’s a survival mechanism that dates back to our dogs’ wolf ancestors some 15,000 years ago, it’s also not uncommon behaviour at certain life stages even today – mother dogs will clean up after their puppies for the first few weeks of their lives, and pups themselves don’t really refine their palates until they’re about nine months old.

It’s thought that wolves would consume “fresh faeces of injured or sick pack members that might be deposited in the rest areas near the den. If wolves were to remove the faeces from rest areas where infective larvae from intestinal parasites would become more numerous over time, consumption is the only method available.” If this idea is correct, then poo-eating dogs might just be showing off their wolfish roots, a more imaginative and less worrisome explanation than the other options.

They get a kick out of it

Or, “Some dogs will eat their poo because they think it tastes good,” says Dr Sara Ochoa, veterinarian at Whitehouse Veterinary Hospital. The UC Davis veterinary researchers did find some solid evidence: the habit is more common in multi-dog households, among females, and – no surprise here – pets that are considered food greedy in general by their parents. In many parts of the world, dogs live as strays and scavenging keeps them alive. Only those that find enough to eat will survive long enough to reproduce, thus passing on these same traits to their offspring. Many dogs may have a built-in urge to scavenge and eat anything that can provide them with nutrients as a result. 

Underlying medical condition

While there are no conclusive links to medical conditions, your vet should test your dog for parasites, nutritional deficiencies, or other diseases that can cause an increase in appetite, such as diabetes or Cushing’s. You should also consider environmental triggers. Does your dog suffer from anxiety or separation anxiety? Do they spend much of the day alone, crated or otherwise confined? Stress can lead to all sorts of undesirable behaviours.

Dogs are smarter than we realise, and sometimes, they put together causes and effects that we don’t even realise we are linking. For example, your dog may start off spontaneously doing something you don’t like, such as barking or pawing at your lap while you are occupied with a gripping TV show, or who knows, your job. You reflexively stroke your dog to redirect them or stop what you’re doing to investigate what kind of mischief your dog has concocted. Inadvertently, you are rewarding your dog’s behaviour by giving them attention even though you don’t intend to.

When this pattern is repeated, dogs learn that these behaviours get your attention. While coprophagia is not a classic attention-seeking behaviour, it has the potential to be one since it would definitely elicit a big reaction from most pet parents. And that reaction can be fun and exciting to dogs and encourage them to continue with the unwanted behaviour. The key to extinguishing this pattern is through a combination of ignoring the unwanted behaviour while redirecting your dog to a more constructive activity that you then reward. This should also be done in combination with consistent obedience training and physical and mental enrichment, so your dog knows what you want from them and has lots of positive outlets for all of their energy. 

Learned behaviour

Coprophagia is not typically a learned behaviour, meaning that most dogs are not eating poop because they saw their friends doing it. However, dogs are social animals and they can learn from one another, for better or worse. It is important to keep this in mind in multi-dog households. If you have a dog who is exhibiting an unwanted behaviour, be sure to work on constructive solutions to resolve it and also be mindful to give your other dogs plenty of attention so they don’t feel ignored. If your problem-pup is getting extra attention, treats or other rewards to help redirect their behaviour, your other dogs may exhibit signs of jealousy and/or their own attention-seeking behaviours. 

Tips to stop your dog from eating poo

The main priority in these cases is to search for and treat any underlying medical or behavioural conditions that are leading to this behaviour. If those conditions are well-managed or cured, a dog’s urge to eat poop should be curbed. Then, you’ll want to work on diversion tactics, especially since this habit could put your dog’s health at risk. Their own poo is full of bacteria, but worse, “other dogs’ poop may contain parasites that can infect your pet”, cautions Dr Ochoa. The best way to stop this unwanted behaviour is by cleaning up all poo in the garden and trying to avoid it when out on walks or in other areas. “If you train them when they’re young, it’s a behaviour you can get rid of,” adds Dr Rossman. 

But let’s say you didn’t catch them in the act till they were older. Both veterinarians suggest spicy or bitter food additives designed to make your dog’s poo less palatable – apparently, that’s possible. At the very least, Dr Ochoa explains, “It will break the cycle for a few weeks and, usually, this will stop your dog in the long run.” You can also supplement your dog’s diet with vitamins or enzymes to ensure they’re getting a complete and balanced diet from their food… and food alone. 

While the focus of the UC Davis study was not on determining how to stop poo-eating pups – the results showed that behavioural management, enzymes and taste-aversion products did little to alter the desire. The ‘leave it’ command scored the highest rate of four percent. Training can be helpful, so if you haven’t started, work on improving your dog’s ‘leave it’ cue. Should all else fail, the only other option is on you – pick up your dog’s poo ASAP. Well, shit. 

Can you train a dog to stop eating poop?

Most dogs with coprophagia will stop eventually when they seem to lose interest. The best way to initiate that is to create a pause in their access to poop and if enough time passes, they will often outgrow the impulse to eat it. This means being hypervigilant about preventing your dog from having any access to poo. In addition to keeping your yard clear of poop, there are some other helpful techniques to add on including:

  • Lead walks only: if your dog is quick and/or sneaky about eating poop, you may have to stick to lead walks only for a bit. This way, you are always with your dog when they are outside. You’ll have the ability to help them navigate any potential temptations and pick up their poo as soon as they defecate. This is a great opportunity to practice obedience skills and sneak in some extra enrichment for your pup, too.

  • Leave it cue: teaching your dog to respond to the ‘leave it’ cue is helpful for tons of situations when you need your dog to avoid things that are gross, dangerous and/or toxic. Some dogs with coprophagia are so driven to eat poop that this does not always stop them from indulging, so you may need to use this in combination with other strategies.

  • Target training: this technique takes training a step beyond the ‘leave it’ cue in that it involves training your dog to touch a designated target on cue. This can be extra helpful if you train your dog to touch a certain target right after pooing so that your dog gets into the habit of physically leaving the scene of the poop, giving you time to clean up. Be sure to provide your dog with lots of praise and treats as you work on these skills so it is fun and rewarding for your pup, too.  

  • Basket muzzle: training your dog to comfortably wear a basket muzzle is a great way to protect them from eating unwanted things. It may take time to gradually introduce the basket muzzle, but it is worth it if you can help your dog to associate it with positive things like treats, going for walks and praise. Once your dog makes a positive association with it and wears it comfortably, it can be a great tool to keep your pup safe. 

Frequently asked questions

Is it safe to use commercial coprophagia deterrents?

In most cases these are safe but unfortunately not very effective. Always check with your vet to be sure a specific product is safe for your dog’s situation. 

Can professional training help with a dog eating their poo?

Yes. A professional can help identify behavioural conditions that may be causing the problem and can teach you techniques to redirect your dog to other activities.

What vitamins or nutrients do dogs obtain by eating poo?

There are no specific nutrients in poop, however, it contains small amounts of undigested food which can be digested the second time around, providing limited nutrients. 


Colleen Stinchcombe

Colleen Stinchcombe lives near Seattle, WA, where she works as a writer, editor, and content strategist. Her two rescue pups wish she were a professional ball-thrower.

Amy Fox

Dr. Amy Fox, DVM

Amy Fox, DVM is a small animal veterinarian in New York City. A lifelong animal lover, Dr. Fox studied biology in college and then worked as a veterinary nurse before pursuing veterinary school at Cornell University.  She has worked in many different settings including shelter medicine, emergency medicine, general practice, and animal cruelty and forensics. She is especially interested in nutrition, preventative medicine and care for senior pets. Dr. Fox also enjoys writing about veterinary medicine and teaching. In her free time she loves to cook, garden, and go for long runs. 

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