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Why do dogs eat cat poo?

Grey yorkshire in the grass

Does your dog eat cat poo? Here's why 

© Pixabay

Dogs are scavengers and will eat anything, sometimes even another animal's poop. It might even belong to the family cat! But why do dogs eat cat poo?

By Karen Wild, CCAB Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist

Updated on the 08/02/2021, 13:34

You need to remember that some dogs will eat anything on offer, no matter what the source may be. Commercial cat food is usually quite strongly flavoured, to encourage cats to eat it, so there’s no surprise that dogs may enjoy it too (even secondhand).

Let’s find out, as delicately as possible, why dogs eat cat feces and also, is there anything we can do about it?

Why is my dog eating cat poop?

As strange as it sounds, eating poop is pretty normal for many animals, including our dogs. The scientific term is coprophagia, which literally means “to eat faeces.” It's hard to get our human heads around the idea, but poop eating is a natural part of a dogs instinct - particularly when it comes to mums cleaning their puppies. As domesticated as they might seem, dogs carry the same DNA as their wild ancestors. It is a natural behaviour for a mother dog to eat their puppies’ poop and wee, in order to keep the litter clean. Some researchers think that dogs might do the same when their living environment contains poo.

Dogs are also scavengers and will investigate any potential food source. After all, the more places you look, the more options you consider, the more likely you are to find some food. It sounds unpleasant, but they might actually enjoy the aroma and taste - it is food for them after all. And dogs really will look anywhere for that, including a cat’s litter box.

A peculiarity of cat poop is that it is very high in protein. Indeed, cats are obligate carnivores and their protein needs are much higher than that of dogs. Consequently, cat food is very protein oriented, and accordingly, their poop contains much more protein than the poop of other species.

Why do dogs eat cat poop? And is it bad for them?

We can agree that eating poop is pretty gross, but is it dangerous? According to some experts, it just might be - to us humans.

The poop itself is not the problem. Dogs have very strong digestive systems; they can tolerate things that would make a human very sick. Their iron stomachs are an essential part of being a successful scavenger. However, dog and cat poop can contain bacteria like salmonella. Your dog might be able to deal with this, but you certainly can’t. Salmonella can be transmitted from animals to humans, and it makes us very sick. However, this bacteria can only be ingested from faecal matter, so good hygiene is essential when you’re cleaning your cat’s litter box or picking up after your dog.

Think about where your dog is finding the cat poo. Some might go digging in the garden, while less refined dogs will eat it right out of the cat's litter tray. They could end up eating the actual cat litter. If they eat it in large quantities, it will cause a very uncomfortable blockage.

Can dogs get worms from cat poop?

Poop munching can also spread parasites. These are treatable, but they can lead to other health complications, some of which are very serious. Some of these parasites can be passed from animals to human, in the same way that Salmonella can. Make sure that your dog is treated regularly for worms and other parasites, as recommended by your Veterinarian.

And remember that dogs love to lick people. They even like licking our faces. This means that whatever has been in their mouth is now on your skin, or even inside your body! it’s probably better not to encourage your dog to lick your face, but if you do, be ready to wash your face properly after.

How to keep my dog from eating cat poop?

Poop eating can be a difficult habit to break, so start with the most practical options. In other words, if your dog can't find poop, your dog can't eat poop. The simplest thing to do is put the cat litter tray where your dog can't get to it. Try keeping it in a separate room, or restrict your dog's access by using a baby gate. Your cat can still access the tray, but your dog is kept away.

You can also invest in a dog proof litter box. You can find this at any decent pet store or online.

It’s often not your own cat that poops in the garden. Neighbouring cats will, however! Cats tend to poop away from their own home location. Keep your garden or outdoor spaces cat poop free. Most felines bury their poop in the ground, but others will leave it out in the open. It’s usually on soil, so if it’s really an issue, apply a ground covering such as large stones or other decorative surface (be sure your dog won’t eat this too) to deter cats. Clean any poop up as quickly as possible. Again, if it's not there, your dog can't eat it.

How to stop a dog from eating cat poop?

Training a dog to stop eating cat poop is pretty tough, because your dog will be tempted to eat this delicious treat (to them at least). Training works best when it's based around rewarding good behaviour. It doesn't work well when it’s focused on punishment.

You can practise calling your dog to you in the house and garden, and rewarding with a tasty (it has to be really nice) treat. Repeat until your dog happily runs to you. Then, keep a lead or longer line on your dog when they are in the garden, and call them away from any signs of temptation that they are about to find some poop. Reward them for coming back (and if they don’t come back, gently guide them to you using the line). Practise this every day and aim to spend this time teaching so that you don’t need to get stressed about it later on. Before too long your dog will still locate the cat poop but will ignore it because they know that you are about to give them a very tasty food treat. It does work - but you have to put the time in.

On top of the methods of prevention mentioned above, the main thing to remember is that you shouldn’t make a fuss over your dog’s behaviour because your attention would feel like a reward to him. Your dog may also be eating poop out of boredom, so make sure he has lots of environmental enrichment to keep him occupied.

In most cases, eating cat poop won't do your dog any harm. However, there are some health risks for both you and your dog. And it's also pretty gross! All things considered, it's best to help your dog kick the poop munching habit.