While you look on in shock and horror as you watch your dog down a mouthful of poop, you’ll get some solace in the fact that you are not alone. Many dogs perform this tummy-turning habit, called coprophagia.
In fact, a preliminary study out of the University of California, Davis, found that up to 16 percent of dogs eat feces frequently, with 85 percent of the stool eaters consuming the feces of other dogs. Among the eaten stools, 90 percent were chomped within two days — in other words, while they were fresh.
“It’s normal for dogs to eat the feces of other species, especially cattle, horses, rabbits, and deer, sometimes even cats and other dogs,” says Pam Reid, Ph.D. Nursing moms, for instance, clean their puppies and their nest, often ingesting poop. Outside of that, there’s little explanation about why dogs include poop in their diets.
Puppies in particular are drawn to feces, perhaps because they put everything in their mouths and feces just add to the intrigue, but they usually grow out of the habit by 6 months of age. As to why some dogs continue the behavior when they’re older, one theory suggests that their diet may be lacking certain nutrients. Reid offers a simpler explanation: “They obviously derive some sort of pleasure from it.”
Is Eating Poop Bad for My Dog?
Although gross, stool eating is generally considered harmless in a healthy dog free of intestinal parasites, especially if he’s eating his own stools that are less than two to three days old, says Benjamin L. Hart, D.V.M., Ph.D., distinguished professor emeritus at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and co-author of the above study. Eating other species’ stools also carries a low infection risk, since bacteria and intestinal worms that might cause illness are generally species-specific.
However, there is a slight risk your dog could develop an intestinal infection if he already has such an infection and is eating his own stools that are five days or older, which increases the intestinal parasite load. Consuming bacteria-laden feces from other dogs could also pose a risk, Hart adds.
How Do I Stop My Dog From Eating Poop?
To get this behavior under control, if your dog eats poop frequently and isn’t a puppy or nursing mom, don’t yell at him — and certainly don’t rub his nose in feces, which is inhumane — as this could inadvertently cause him to become compulsive about this behavior, Reid says. Instead, confirm that you’re feeding a high-quality food. Then clean feces from your yard frequently, especially if you have multiple dogs, and teach your dog the Leave It command, which you can use if you see him sniffing feces.
You can also add taste deterrents to his diet, as they can make poop less palatable, or apply taste deterrents to feces in your yard, along your walking routes, or even in litterboxes if he’s eating cat poop — better yet, move the litterboxes out of his reach. Consuming litter can potentially cause digestive issues, or in rare cases, an intestinal blockage.
Taste deterrents you can sprinkle on feces include crushed hot pepper, Tabasco sauce, or Grannick’s Bitter Apple spray, according to the ASPCA. Consult with your veterinarian before using a deterrent to determine if it’s safe for your dog.
Yet another strategy is to try distracting your dog — Reid tells of a dog owner who barked at her dog every time she saw her eating feces — and asking him to do something else. If he obeys, reward him with a treat, which he may learn tastes better than poop.
Why Do Dogs: