Dogs eating poop, or coprophagia to give it its scientific name, is very common in dogs – but, of course, us humans find it repulsive.
In order to know how to stop your dog eating poop, we need to understand the reasons behind the habit, and thereby stop it becoming a regular one.
Why does my dog eat poop?
In some cases eating poop can be totally normal, for example when a puppy is born, the mother will lick it to stimulate going to the toilet, occasionally consuming the waste. Young puppies will also occasionally eat their litter mates' faeces (poop), but we expect most dogs to have outgrown this habit by nine months of age.
Dogs may also eat other animal’s poop (e.g. that of a cat or a horse), and this behaviour can be explained in terms of a dog being a natural scavenger. It is more common in multiple dog households and dogs most commonly eat other dog’s poop, but sometimes they do eat their own.
Is it harmful for my dog to eat poop?
Generally speaking if a dog ate their own poop it wouldn't cause too much of a problem. However, if they ate another dog's or animal’s faeces then they could catch an infectious disease such as parasites, viral or bacterial infections.
To work out how to stop your dog from eating poop, you need to find out why your dog is eating poop. Is it a behavioural problem or is there a medical reason? To diagnose a behavioural problem you must first of all rule out a medical problem, so it is recommended to seek advice from a veterinary surgeon. A full history will be taken, along with a physical examination of your pet. Faecal samples and blood tests may then be recommended.
What are dogs lacking when they eat poop?
The underlying medical reasons for a dog eating poop could include lack of nutrition, calories, vitamins or minerals. This can be due to poor nutrition, under feeding, inability for the dog to digest food properly, stomach upsets, lack of digestive enzymes from the pancreas, vitamin deficiencies – especially B vitamins or gut bacterial imbalances.
Other medical reasons for coprophagia include conditions that make the dog more hungry e.g. diabetes, Cushing's and thyroid problems. Some drugs will make the dog want to eat more e.g. steroids, and so do parasite infestations e.g. intestinal worms, which will increase a dog’s need for nutrients.
An imbalance in the dog’s natural gut microbes (known as the “microbiome"), which can occur with some illnesses or after antibiotic treatment, may also lead to coprophagia in a self-medicating way – a great deal of research is currently being done in this area.
Behavioural reasons for coprophagia
It is relatively common in puppies as a behavioural trait to eat their own poop. This is in part due to their inquisitive playful natures. They also may be copying their mother’s behaviour of cleaning their siblings' bottoms.
Because we are easily repulsed by the behaviour, any attention can lead to repeat offences. Dogs left alone or in confinement for long periods and suffering from anxiety can make them more likely to display unwanted behaviours such as coprophagia.
Why is my dog eating poop all of a sudden?
This is a common question from dog owners. It is more likely that an older dog who suddenly starts eating poop has a medical condition, so it is advisable to get him checked by a vet. In some cases, if a dog is only eating the poop from one specific dog, the other dog should also be checked by a vet, as he may have a medical problem where undigested nutrients are passing through into the faeces.
What is the best coprophagia deterrent?
The best thing you can do to prevent your dog from eating poop is to allow dogs access to it in the first place. Carry out good hygiene practices – clean up immediately after your pet. Supervise your dog on walks and in the yard/garden.
Try not to make a big deal of cleaning the poop up and try not to let the dog see you doing it – otherwise it can become a game of who can clean it up first.
Try to train your dog to come for a treat immediately after he’s been to the toilet. When your dog is seen sniffing poop, use a firm command, such as "leave" to distract your pet. This could be followed by “come” and once he returns to you a treat reward should be given.
How else do you stop your dog eating poop?
Check your dog is on a good quality, complete food, and that they have the right amount of food for their size and activity level.
Some supplements may help to stop poop-eating behaviours:
B vitamin or a dog multivitamin supplement.
Fresh pineapple can be added to the diet.
Enzyme supplements to reduce the amount of undigested food in the faeces, and make it less palatable.
Other products may be added to a dog's food to make the poop taste horrible – although often dog's learn to tolerate the taste.
Treatment of any underlying medical condition to be prescribed by a vet.
Try to train your dog to come for a treat immediately after he’s been to the toilet.
Why does pineapple stop dogs from eating poop?
Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain. This enzyme helps with digesting proteins but is thought to cause the poop to taste horrible and deter dogs from eating it. Pineapple is high in natural sugars and fibre, so only give it in small quantities to not adversely affect the digestive system. The core and spiky skin can cause blockages, so only feed your pet the soft flesh.
Do probiotics help stop dogs eating poop?
Probiotics may help reduce coprophagia if there has been a recent infection or course of antibiotics. Probiotics are used to try to help rebalance the gut’s “good bacteria”.
How do I clean my dog's mouth after eating poop?
Allow free access to fresh water, so the dog can take a drink and rinse its mouth. Toothbrushing with a dog-specific toothpaste is recommended twice daily for good oral hygiene. Good hygiene and regular hand washing is important. It may also be prudent to wear disposable gloves, as some of the infections dogs can get from eating poop may also infect us.