Why Does My Dog Eat Poop?

Closeup of the hand of a man picking up some dog poop with a bag while his dog sniffs it

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Everybody poops. That’s just a fact. But not everybody has the habit of giving digested food another round through the body. Eating poop is actually not all that uncommon among dogs. It’s called coprophagia, and it’s generally a natural behavior with a few different causes. So why is your dog eating poop? Here are some possible reasons.

Information Gathering

A dog smelling another dog's feces.

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Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, a dog cognition researcher and expert on how dogs use their sense of smell, suggests that eating feces can be a way for dogs to gain information about whatever animal left the droppings. Dogs have an olfactory organ that humans lack called the vomeronasal organ. This allows them to detect the chemical makeup of whatever they’re smelling. Eating poop may be a way of bringing information to he vomeronasal organ, which would help a dog detect the pheromones, diet, species, and other data through the feces. It’s kind of like Google for dogs.

Keeping Things Clean

Dog examines his dirty deed

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When female dogs breed, they are programmed by evolution to keep their den clean, which sometimes means eating poop. In the wild, canines don’t want to attract predators to their puppies with scent cues, so keeping their living space free of feces is important. The same can happen if you have multiple dogs. The one that is more submissive may eat the poop of the dominant dog.

Keeping things clean can also be a learned behavior. If you punish your dog for having an accident in the house and they see you cleaning their mess, they may start to learn that the poop is causing them to get punished. Eating the mess could just be a way of getting rid of the evidence to avoid punishment. For the record, this is not the proper way to train your dog as it can lead to nervous, anxious behavior like poop eating.

Puppy Stuff

A cute golden retriever puppy, learning potty training

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Eating feces is actually pretty common among puppies. It’s a natural behavior for them. This is for a few reasons. The first is that they’re still learning, so a lot of puppies will put things in their mouth as a means of exploration. They are just trying to discover the world around them and figure out if the thing in front of them is food or not.

Another reason puppies eat poop is that it can be similar in texture to the food that their mama dog has chewed up for them when they are too young to start chewing food on their own. Most puppies will grow out of the behavior by the time they are grown up, but it can be hard to retrain a dog that hasn’t kicked the habit by adulthood.

Poor Nutrition

Dog eating scraps from plate between children (6-8) at kitchen table

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Some dogs have trouble digesting modern dog foods completely. This is because they lack sufficient enzymes to break down the carbohydrates and plant proteins found in these foods. Eating poop may be a means of replenishing some of the enzymes that will help with digestion.

A lack of Vitamin B or overfeeding may also lead to coprophagia. If a dog is being overfed and can’t absorb all the nutrients in their food, they may try to recycle their waste to get more of the nutrition from their digested food.

You may also notice if you have a cat that your dog loves your kitty’s droppings. Cat food is higher in protein than dog food, and cats are less efficient when it comes to digestion. Dogs eat cat poop because it is a source of protein. This can be especially dangerous if your dog swallows kitty litter, which is absorbent and expands in the digestive tract. If your dog eats it in large quantities, it can cause a blockage.

Medical Issues

Vet talking to woman holding pet dog in veterinary waiting room

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A dog’s poor nutrition may have less to do with diet and more to do with an infection or medical issue. Parasites or pancreatic problems can cause your dog to not absorb the appropriate amount of nutrients, leading to coprophagia. If your dog is eating poop, you should definitely consult your veterinarian.

As for transferring diseases between dogs via fecal matter, that is a possibility. Dogs can get all sorts of diseases from coming into contact with another pup’s dung. Generally most of these diseases, including worms, can be vaccinated against. That said, the more your dog sniffs or eats the feces of other dogs in the neighborhood, the greater the chance of spreading infections.

Attention-Seeking Behavior

Young woman squatting on knees while cleaning after her dog in the kitchen

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Eating poop is more common among neglected dogs who don’t get enough attention from their owners. They eat poop to elicit a negative reaction from their humans because even negative attention is some form of attention. Boredom or loneliness can cause a dog to consume feces, and dogs need an appropriate level of stimulation to stay happy and healthy.

In extreme cases of neglect, a dog may eat poop simply because they are starving. A lack of food may cause them to try to gain nutrients from their feces as a last resort. This is the worst case scenario and probably doesn’t apply to your dog, but it can happen.

If your dog is eating feces, you should consult your veterinarian. The behavior is harder to train out of an adult dog that still eats poop, but it is possible. Dietary changes may also be in order if your pup isn’t getting the right nutrients. Make sure you are training your dog properly, giving them appropriate levels of stimulation and attention, and tend to any medical issues they may have. For more information about breaking your dog of this gross habit, check out this article.