No matter how much we love them, some of the stuff our dogs do is pretty disgusting. Eating their own poop is one of them. So why do dogs eat poop? And how can we prevent it?
Why do dogs eat poop?
Dogs aren’t the only animals that eat poop. Otherwise known as coprophagia, poop eating is common in many other mammals. Rodents, rabbits, elephants, and chimpanzees regularly consume their own faeces. Scientists believe it's a way of extracting the maximum amount of nutrients from limited resources. It sounds strange to us modern humans, but we live in a society of abundance and excess. When hunger strikes us, we can visit the supermarket and pick food off the well-stocked shelves (or we can always give our favourite takeaway a quick call.) The vast majority of our mammalian relatives don't have access to such resources. They never really know where the next meal is coming from; stocking up on as many calories and nutrients as possible is vital for their long-term survival.
But eating poop can also be a sign of an underlying health issue. Medical conditions like diabetes, Cushing disease, and hypothyroidism can affect the way a dog's body stores, absorbs and processes nutrients. Diet can be another factor. If your dog's diet is lacking certain essential nutrients, they may start eating poop to compensate for the deficit. Research published in the American Journal of Veterinary found that a diet low in the B1 vitamin can cause coprophagia.
Malabsorption syndrome is another possibility. This condition affects the gut and digestive system. Food passes through the dog without being broken down and absorbed properly. As a result, your dog doesn't get enough nutrients or calories.
Why does my dog eat poop?
Much of the time, a dog with coprophagia appears well nourished and in good health. This means it's a behavioural issue. Although the exact reason for their strange taste remains unclear, experts have a few ideas. One hypothesis is that poop eating is a normal part of a scavengers behaviour. From this perspective, coprophagia is a remnant of a dog's feral nature. Remember, these guys lived wild for thousands of years. No matter how domesticated they might seem, dogs carry the same genes as their feral ancestors. In fact, in areas like Thailand or subcontinent India, the large populations of wild dogs regularly consume poop as part of their diet.
Poop eating can also be a learned behaviour. A mother will often lick her puppies genital and anal to stimulate urination and defecation. She will also eat her puppies poop. This keeps the den clean, reducing the risk of infection and parasites. Some puppies can mimic this behaviour, although most stop by the time they've been weaned.
Why do dogs eat their own poop?
We know the medical reasons for eating poop. We understand it’s evolutionary history. But lets' face it, eating poop is still a bit weird. So is eating poop a sign that something is wrong with your dog? Possibly.
They might be feeling anxious or stressed, both of which can lead to all kinds of strange behaviour and odd coping mechanisms. Your dog may also be confused. For example, if you punish or scold your dog for defecating inside the house, they may associate the punishment with the actual stool, rather than its location. Eating poop is a dogs way of concealing the evidence.
Is my dog going to get sick?
The stool itself is relatively harmless. Our dogs have a much sturdier digestive system than we do, and the healthy bacteria in their gut does a really good job of dealing with toxins. However, eating poop transmits worms and parasites, both of which can be passed onto humans. You'll need to find a way to stop your dog from eating its poop. In the meantime, make sure you keep your hands clean and sanitised.
How to stop a dog from eating poop
The first thing to do is rule out any underlying medical issues. If your dog keeps eating poop, take them to a local vet. They can rule or treat any health problems. They can also advise you on diet or additional supplements.
Changing your dog's behaviour can be tricky, especially if it's particularly deep-rooted. But start with the practical things. Keep your garden or outdoor space free of any other animal poop, and clean up your dog's faeces as soon as possible. If the poops aren't there, then your dog can't eat them.
You can modify their behaviour with the right training methods. For example, when your dog poops, immediately grab their attention with a “look” or a “come here” command. Then reward your dog for ignoring the poop. Do this enough times and your dog will learn new and positive associations. Just remember to reward good behaviour rather than punishing bad behaviour. Your dog will learn much quicker this way. They’re also much less likely to fall back into bad habits.
Despite being a natural behaviour, eating poop can have serious consequences for your dog's health. And, let's be honest, its pretty gross to watch! It could also be a sign of an underlying physical or mental issue. So get the root of the problem by speaking to a local vet.
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