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Coprophagia in Dogs

4 min read

No one likes to admit that their dog eats faeces, but many do and as a dog owner you may want to understand why they do it, and what you can do about it. Read on the find out more information on dogs eating their own poop.

What is Coprophagia?

Coprophagia is when dogs eat their own poop (faeces) – either their own or that of another animal. It’s a rather unpleasant behaviour that many of us will wrinkle our nose up at, but it’s common for dogs to eat their own poop some stage in their lives.

Dogs often start this behaviour as puppies, but they can grow out of it as they get older. However,  given half a chance, a lot of dogs will quite happily tuck into horse manure, cow dung, rabbit droppings or other similar offerings!


Why do dogs eat poop?

There are different theories as to why dogs eat poop. There isn’t one correct answer, so to get to the bottom of this behaviour you’ll need to consider a few options. It’s worth contacting your vet to discuss this behaviour and rule out any underlying issues, especially if it’s a new and unusual behaviour for your dog. Here are some reasons why your dog eats poop:

They like the taste of dog poop

Some dogs simply like the taste and texture of dog poop – especially if it’s fresh. Dogs are omnivorous scavengers and faeces contain some nutritional value such as undigested fat and protein. Their sense of smell is different to ours so it’s likely that dog poop smells nice to them!

They're eating dog poop because they’re anxious or bored

Some dogs might be eating poop as a coping mechanism for anxiety, stress or boredom. Things like being left alone for long periods of time can bring this on, as well as a lack of stimulation. It’s important to play with your dog and provide enrichment to avoid them eating poop due to boredom. If you’re concerned that they’re eating dog poop due to stress and anxiety, you should discuss this with your vet. Remember to never punish your dog for eating poop as this could lead to even more stress for them. Some dogs may also be eating poop for attention, so even telling them off could reinforce the behaviour.

Dog could be eating poop due to a medical condition

Worms in dogs, dog dementia, an increased appetite due to a medical condition or medicine, and problems with digesting food are all possible reasons for your dog eating poop. Be sure to contact your vet if you’re concerned about any of these.

It’s learned or copied behaviour

Dogs may think eating poop is a normal behaviour after observing their mum clearing up after them. Dogs may also copy a ringleader and begin to eat poop due to this. We have more on this below.

One old wives’ tale, that has been largely disproved, is that it’s a response to something lacking in their diet. There are some rare medical disorders are thought to contribute to coprophagia, so if you have any concerns over your dog’s health you should always consult your vet.

Why do puppies eat their poop?

Coprophagia can be a learned behaviour, caused by a puppy watching and copying their mother or friends. Bitches often eat their puppies’ faeces to keep the nest area clean and, perhaps instinctively, to avoid attracting predators to the nest. Puppies might copy this by eating their own or their littermates’ poop.

Why do dogs eat cat poop? 

Cat poop, like other kinds of poop, is something for dogs to scavenge. Like eating dog poop, eating cat poop can be due to behavioural reasons, especially if a big fuss is made when they eat it. It could also be due to medical reasons – they might be looking for nutrients in cat poop, or they might have an intestinal parasite, like flatworm in dogs .

Is eating cat poop dangerous for dogs?

If a cat has a health issue, like a harmful bacterium or a parasite, this could be passed on to your dog through their poop. 
Similarly, a cat might be on medication which is eliminated in their poop. If a dog eats this, they may be ingesting a drug that isn’t safe for them.

If you’re concerned about your dog eating cat poop, or other animal faeces, make sure to contact your vet.

How to stop dogs eating their own poop

If your dog is partial to eating their own faeces and you’d like to put a stop to it, there are several possible solutions and dog training methods you can try. 

  1. Restrict access to faecal material, supervise all outdoor access and clean up as soon as your dog has done their business.
  2. If they ignore faeces, reward them with a tasty treat.
  3. Give your dog something else to do with their mouth! Provide a wide variety of chew toys and increase your quality time with your dog.
  4. Some dogs eat faeces as an attention seeking behaviour. While it’s good to try to distract your dog from approaching a poo, if you catch them in the act it’s best to ignore them.
  5. Increase the number of feeds (not the amount of food) during the day so that your dog is never hungry and doesn’t feel the need to hunt down food anywhere else.
  6. In extreme cases you can try fitting a basket type muzzle on your dog while you’re out walking, but never leave your dog alone when they’re wearing it. This may help in some cases, but could cause a worse mess in others if your dog still attempts to eat poop.

Further preventative steps to stop dogs eating faeces 

There are some home-remedies that you can try to stop your dog from eating their own poop. Try these one at a time so you can work out which, if any, are successful. However, if your pooch is young, very old or has a history of gastro-intestinal problems, these methods aren’t recommended without consulting a vet first.

The pineapple method

There is no scientific evidence to support this method, but anecdotally some people believe pineapple prevents coprophagia in dogs. Try putting small chunks of fresh pineapple into your dog’s food. The theory is that any subsequent faeces then have an unpleasant, bitter or acidic taste, which deters your dog from eating it.

The courgette method

Again, there is only anecdotal evidence to support this method. Simply put a few diced pieces of raw courgette in your dog’s food. For the same reasons as the pineapple method, this may make their faeces less palatable.

How do I clean my dog after they’ve eaten poop?

Of course, we like kisses from our dogs but not after they’ve eaten poop. To clean them and their mouths, you can:

  • Give them a dog dental stick for fresher breath
  • Clean the outside of their mouths with a cloth or rag and water
  • Give them food and plenty of water to ‘wash’ their mouths
  • Clean their teeth with a dog toothbrush (but never human toothpaste)
  • Give them treats and praise whilst you’re doing so! We don’t want this to be a stressful experience for either of you.

However, be aware that you can’t fully clean your dog’s mouth after they’ve eaten poop, so it’s best to avoid kisses and be extra careful with hygiene.

Professional help for coprophagia (dogs eating their own poop)

If your dog is only eating faeces when they’re left alone, for example at night, it is possible that there is an emotional reason for their behaviour. It could be related to them being left alone. If you suspect that this may be the case, speak to your vet who will be able to refer you to an animal behaviourist.

Equally, if you’re concerned about your dog eating faeces over a sustained period of time, it may be a good idea to enlist the help of an animal behaviourist. Your vet will be able to refer you. You can find out more about dog behaviourists at The Coape Association of Pet Behaviourists and Trainers and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

Want to find out more about an equally-baffling dog behaviour? Find out why dogs like to scoot with our article, next.