Dogs are often considered man's best friend, known for their loyalty, companionship, and unwavering affection. However, there is one aspect of their behavior that leaves many dog owners puzzled and slightly disgusted: coprophagia, the act of dogs consuming poo. While it may be a distressing sight for pet owners, this peculiar behaviour is surprisingly common among dogs of various breeds. In this article, we delve into the fascinating world of coprophagia to understand why dogs engage in this unsightly habit.Table of Contents
- 7 reasons why dogs eat poo
- Is it normal for dogs to eat poo?
- How can I prevent my dog from eating poo?
- Are there any medical conditions that can cause dogs to eat faeces?
- Is it safe for dogs to eat the poo of other animals?
- Can dogs vomit after eating poo?
- Can eating poop indicate a nutritional deficiency in dogs?
- Is my dog eating poo because he's hungry?
- How do I clean my dog’s mouth after eating poo?
- Is there a difference between dogs eating solid poo versus diarrhoea?
7 reasons why dogs eat poo
Dogs and puppies eating faeces is known as coprophagia (eating their own poo is known as autocoprophagia). Most dogs eat poo out of habit, hunger, stress, or boredom. Only a very small number do it because of illness or something lacking in their diet. There are are 7 main points to consider if a dog often eats poo.
- Instinctual Behaviour: Dogs are instinctively driven to keep their living area clean, similar to their wild ancestors. By consuming their own faeces, they are attempting to tidy up their immediate surroundings, as well as eliminate any potential odours that could attract predators.
- Habit: Some dogs develop a habit of eating poop from a young age, and it becomes a behaviour that they continue as they grow older.
- Attention-Seeking: Dogs are social animals and crave attention from their owners. If a dog eats faeces, it can be a way to gain attention, even if it results in negative reactions or anger from their owners. The dog will learn that engaging in this behaviour elicits a response from their humans.
- Boredom or Stress: Dogs that are bored, anxious, or under-stimulated often engage in various repetitive behaviours, including consuming faeces. This behaviour can serve as a way for them to alleviate stress or occupy themselves when they lack appropriate mental and physical stimulation.
- Motherly Instincts: In some cases, a bitch may consume the faeces of her puppies to keep the den clean and reduce the chances of attracting predators. Occasionally, this behaviour can persist in adult dogs, especially if they have a strong maternal instinct.
- Nutritional Deficiencies or Hunger: If a dog's diet is lacking in certain nutrients or if they are not getting enough food, they can resort to eating their own faeces in an attempt to extract any remaining nutritional value. This behaviour is more commonly observed in dogs that are not receiving a balanced diet or are underfed.
- Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions or digestive issues can contribute to coprophagia. Dogs with malabsorption disorders, pancreatic insufficiency, parasites, or other gastrointestinal problems may be more prone to eating faeces. If you suspect an underlying medical issue, it is important to consult with a veterinarian.
Is it normal for dogs to eat poo?
Whilst it is not considered ‘normal’ behaviour, a study of over 1,500 dog owners found that 23% of dogs were seen eating poop at least once, with 16% of dogs being described as ‘frequent stool eaters’.
How can I prevent my dog from eating poo?
For dogs that like to regularly eat poo, it is worth implementing tactics to reduce this unwanted behaviour.
- Training: Teach commands like a strong recall or "leave it" to keep them away from poo during walks. Use positive reinforcement and be patient. Reward them with praise and a treat when they respond appropriately.
- Positive Reinforcement: Whenever your dog chooses not to eat faeces, provide plenty of praise and attention to reinforce the desired behaviour.
- Distraction: Offer your dog an alternative item to carry in their mouth, such as a ball or a toy (avoid sticks as they can be hazardous if swallowed), to redirect their focus away from poo.
- Keep them on a lead: Keep your dog on a lead during walks to have better control over their behaviour and prevent them from accessing faeces. Consider avoiding areas where faeces is easily accessible.
- Muzzle: Consider using a basket-style muzzle during walks. It allows your dog to pant and drink but prevents them from consuming faeces, helping to break the habit.
- Prompt Cleanup: Always pick up your dog's poo promptly to minimise the opportunity for them to eat it. Keep your dog on a lead whilst they go for a poo to ensure proper management.
- Feeding Routine: Adjust your dog's feeding schedule to more regular intervals or consider a diet that provides longer-lasting gratification.
- Unpalatable Additives: Some suggest adding ingredients like pineapple or courgette to your dog's food to make their faeces less appealing. However, there is limited scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of these methods.
- Mental Stimulation: Increase mental stimulation for your dog by engaging in playtime, interactive games, or considering activities like obedience training, agility, rally, or flyball. Providing mental enrichment can help redirect their focus and reduce the likelihood of engaging in coprophagia.
Are there any medical conditions that can cause dogs to eat faeces?
Yes, whilst rare, there are certain medical conditions that can contribute to coprophagia in dogs.
- Malabsorption Disorders: Conditions that affect the dog's ability to properly absorb nutrients from their food can result in nutritional deficiencies. This can lead to an increased inclination to eat faeces in an attempt to compensate for the lack of nutrients.
- Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI): Dogs with EPI have insufficient production of digestive enzymes by the pancreas. As a result, they may have difficulty properly digesting and absorbing nutrients from their food, which can potentially trigger coprophagia.
- Intestinal Parasites: Parasitic infestations, such as worms, can disrupt the digestive system and nutrient absorption in dogs. This can lead to increased hunger or nutrient deficiencies, prompting them to consume faeces.
- Gastrointestinal Disorders: Certain conditions affecting the gastrointestinal tract, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or intestinal infections, can cause discomfort, inflammation, or malabsorption, potentially contributing to coprophagia.
- Diabetes: Dogs with poorly controlled diabetes may experience increased hunger and a lack of satisfaction from their regular meals. This may drive them to seek alternative food sources, including faeces.
Is it safe for dogs to eat the poo of other animals?
No. Consuming faeces from other animals can pose several risks to your dog's health.
It is important to discourage dogs from eating the faeces of other animals. Monitor dogs during walks or outdoor activities, and promptly clean up faeces as well.
- Bacterial Contamination: Poo can contain harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella, E. coli, or Campylobacter, which can cause gastrointestinal infections in dogs. By eating the faeces of other animals, dogs expose themselves to these potentially dangerous bacteria.
- Parasites: Faeces from other animals may contain parasites, including intestinal worms or protozoa, which can be transmitted to your dog if they consume the faeces. This can lead to parasitic infections that require veterinary treatment.
- Toxic Substances: The poo of certain animals, such as rodents or wildlife, can contain toxic substances or pathogens. Ingesting these substances can be harmful to dogs and may cause symptoms ranging from gastrointestinal upset to more severe toxicity.
- Unknown Health Status: It is impossible to know the health status of the animal whose faeces a dog consumes. They may be harbouring infectious diseases or have underlying health issues that can be transmitted to your dog through faecal consumption.
Can dogs vomit after eating poo?
Yes, dogs can vomit after eating poo. Consuming poo can lead to gastrointestinal upset and irritate the dog's stomach, causing them to vomit. The act of vomiting is the body's way of expelling something that it considers harmful or irritating.
Faeces can be difficult for a dog's digestive system to process, especially if the poo is from another animal. It can cause an imbalance or irritation in the stomach, triggering vomiting.
In some cases, a dog may overeat or consume a large quantity of faeces, leading to indigestion or stomach discomfort. Vomiting can occur as a response to the excessive intake.
Can eating poop indicate a nutritional deficiency in dogs?
Yes, in some cases, eating poop (coprophagia) can indicate a nutritional deficiency in dogs although this is rare. Dogs may engage in this behaviour if their diet is lacking certain essential nutrients. There are 3 main reasons where dogs will instinctively seek out faeces as a way to compensate for the nutritional deficiencies they are experiencing.
Protein Deficiency: Dogs require adequate protein in their diet for various bodily functions. If their diet lacks sufficient protein, they may be more inclined to eat faeces as a potential source of additional protein.
Enzyme or Digestive Aid Deficiency: Digestive enzymes help break down food and facilitate nutrient absorption. If a dog's diet is deficient in certain enzymes or digestive aids, it can affect their ability to properly digest and absorb nutrients, leading to an increased likelihood of coprophagia.
Micronutrient Deficiencies: Lack of specific vitamins, minerals, or trace elements in a dog's diet can contribute to nutritional imbalances. Coprophagia may be an attempt by the dog to acquire these missing nutrients from faeces.
Is my dog eating poo because he's hungry?
Not directly. Research has found that dogs that are described as ‘greedy eaters’ tend to be more likely to eat poo.
Do they eat poo at times when they’re most hungry, such as before meal times?
Consider giving a small snack between meals to stave off the hunger and poo eating behaviour
Are they having enough to eat?
Feeding guidelines are a rough estimate of what to feed a dog. Dogs who are active, have higher metabolism or are still growing need more food than an old dog with a sedentary lifestyle.
Do they have a consistent, regular feeding schedule?
Regular mealtimes are important to a dog’s routine. Dogs without a regular feeding schedule may scavenge or eat poo because they don’t know when their next meal is coming.Are they eating high quality food that meets their nutritional requirements?
Cheap food that is low quality contains grains and fillers that does not meet the needs of a dog, leading to nutritional deficiencies which can lead to poo eating.
How do I clean my dog’s mouth after eating poo?
When a dog eats faeces it is important to clean their mouth to eliminate the transmission of bacteria to their human family. There are 5 ways to clean a dog’s mouth.
- Offer Food and Water: Provide food and water to flush out any lingering residue and freshen the breath.
- Wipe The Mouth: Use a clean cloth or tissue dampened with water to wipe around the dog's mouth and remove any faecal matter or residue. This will help prevent them from spreading the smell or potentially transferring any harmful substances to owners or their surroundings.
- Dog Toothbrush: Use a dog-specific toothbrush (or a new, clean human toothbrush) to clean the dog's teeth and gums. Dog Friendly Toothbrush is useful if available but don’t use human toothpaste, as it can be toxic to dogs. A toothbrush with plain water is better than nothing.
- Dental Chew: A chew designed to promote dental health can help clean the teeth and freshen their breath.
- Praise: Whilst cleaning the dog, provide plenty of praise to make the process stress-free.
Is there a difference between dogs eating solid poo versus diarrhoea?
Yes, there is a difference in dogs' behaviour when it comes to eating solid poo versus diarrhoea. While some dogs may engage in coprophagia (eating poo) regardless of its consistency, others may show a preference for certain types.
Solid Poo: Dogs that consume solid faeces, whether their own or from other animals, might do so due to various reasons such as instinctual behaviour, curiosity, or even nutritional deficiencies. Some dogs are attracted to the smell, taste, or texture of solid faeces.
Diarrhoea: Dogs may be less inclined to eat diarrhoea compared to solid faeces. The liquid consistency and unpleasant odour of diarrhoea can be less appealing to them. Additionally, diarrhoea often indicates an underlying digestive issue or infection, which may deter dogs from consuming it.
Dogs eat grass for 5 main reasons and nutritional deficiency is not the main culprit. Whilst occasional grass-eating is considered harmless, it's essential to monitor your dog's behaviour and ensure they are not consuming grass treated with pesticides, chemicals, or toxic substances.
- Natural Instinct: Dogs are descendants of carnivores, but they have inherited some behaviours from their wild ancestors, including a tendency to consume plant matter. Eating grass is a natural instinct for them.
- Dietary Supplementation: Grass contains certain nutrients, such as fibre and trace minerals, that can be lacking in a dog's regular diet. By eating grass, dogs may try to supplement their nutritional needs. However, it's important to ensure that their regular diet is balanced and provides all necessary nutrients. Adding a supplement is a good idea if your dog has a tendency to eat grass.
- Digestive Aid: Grass acts as a natural digestive aid. When dogs have an upset stomach or feel nauseous, they may instinctively eat grass to induce vomiting, which can help them feel better. It can help to alleviate gastrointestinal discomfort.
- Boredom or Anxiety: Some dogs resort to eating grass out of boredom or to relieve anxiety. If they are not getting enough mental or physical stimulation, they may engage in grass-eating as a way to occupy themselves or as a coping mechanism.
- Taste and Texture: Some dogs simply enjoy the taste and texture of grass. It can provide sensory stimulation and be a source of amusement for them.