Dog Photograph by DogmaPetPortraits.com
When dogs eat their poop, it’s called coprophagia; the thought of it sounds absolutely disgusting. Yet the consumption one’s own fecal material is not uncommon among animals, and in some cases (as with rabbits), is an important part of their metabolism and nutrition.
But dogs aren’t’ rabbits (and humans think it’s gross) – so why do dogs eat poop and how do you stop it? Well, to know for sure, you’d have to ask the dog. Since it is unlikely we’ll get an answer, the next best option is to know the working theories many veterinarians have on why dogs eat poop. They can be categorized into three main reasons: 1) Medical, 2) Behavioral, 3) Extrinsic/Environmental.
There are certain conditions that can cause your dog to eat his own poop. For example, the pancreas produces enzymes that help digest fats. In cases of Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) those enzymes are missing and fat cannot be digested. The results are usually fatty, yellow, greasy stools that your dog may be consuming in an effort to recover the fat nutrition lost. Parasites can compete with your dog for nutrients and cause your dog to “go for seconds” on his stool. Some diseases (or medications) can increase a dog’s appetite, making coprophagia more likely; a few examples include diabetes mellitus, Cushing’s disease, intestinal malabsorption, and malnutrition. If your dog appears to be ill, or hasn’t been seen by a veterinarian in over a year, or has yellow greasy stools and starts to eat his own poop – it’s probably best you make an appointment with your vet to have it checked out.
The most widely accepted theory of coprophagia related to behavior is that some dogs have an obsessive/compulsive-like need to clean up after themselves. Female dogs will instinctively do this for their pup newborns to keep their nests clean, therefore the genetic programming for this behavior exists in all dogs. The key to curbing this habit, if it is suspected to be due to this reason, is to clean up after your dog before they do. This means picking up the poop right as it is deposited. If you do this consistently, a dog that is “cleaning up” may eventually grow out of the behavior. Other behavioral reasons behind poop eating may include stress, boredom, or attention-seeking. Dogs that are left alone all day or are stressed out may lack positive enrichment and may become interested in behaviors that they would otherwise avoid. These dogs may resort to eating poop, and if you make a big deal about it when you get home, you may inadvertently reinforce the behavior. Depending on how you respond to the behavior, they may end up believing it is their job to clean up. This can also happen if your dog is punished for pooping in the house. They may start “clearing the evidence” if they believe what they’ve done is very bad.
Some other reasons why dogs eat poop might not have to do with the dog’s physiology or behavior, but instead, with the way he’s cared for. JustFoodForDogs recipes are usually very palatable; dogs that weren’t usually food motivated become so overnight. Some of these dogs may want more of the delicious meal, and are perfectly fine settling for feces as “seconds.” Remember always that initial feeding recommendations are only a starting point, you transition dogs onto our food (or a new recipe) they may need more food than originally recommended. Dogs that are underfed may be resorting to their poop as “seconds.” Finally, what you feed your dog is important, and if the recipe is not complete and balanced, as is the case for many home-made recipes, then your dog may be responding to deficiencies by going back for more. JFFD recipes have all gone through AAFCO feeding trials so you know they are complete and balanced, and using our DIY kits ensures they are getting the same nutrition if you make the food yourself at home.
Finally, only dogs know why they do it – we are left guessing. Nevertheless, if your dog doesn’t seem well, please have him seen by a vet. If you suspect the problem is behavioral, take a look at your own habits and see if there are changes you can make to reduce its occurrence. If needed, ask your vet about training aids that you can add to his food to help him be less interested in his poop.
Less interested in poop? Why in the world would we have to make dogs less interested in poop?
Well, because they’re dogs, and it’s just what they do sometimes.
Blog post written by:
Dr. Oscar E Chavez BVetMed MRCVS MBA
Chief Medical Officer