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11 February 2021

Why do dogs eat poop?

Does your dog eat his own poop? 

Fear not, you will find all your answers to how to discourage this behavior here. Keep reading all the way to the end.

Dogs have been known to have many weird habits like sleeping with their legs in the air, licking their butts, rolling in dirt and mud, drinking from the toilet bowl, etc. However, some puppies and dogs have also been reported to eat their own poop. This has been observed to be the most repulsive behavior of all. This behavior has also led to many dog guardians trying to rehome their dog or even opting for euthanasia.

Scientifically the habit of eating poop is referred to as COPROPHAGIA. Coprophagia is both a behavioral and psychological issue observed in dogs. There have been a few studies on this behavior of dogs. A study done in 2012 presented at the conference of The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior showed that:

  • One in every six dogs (16% of the dog population enrolled in the study) suffered from this behavior and were classified as serious poop eaters. These dogs had been caught in the act at least five times.
  • 24% of the dogs who were a part of the study were observed to have eaten their own feces at least one time.


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Why dogs eat poop?

On the basis of the study (led by Dr. Benjamin Hart from the University of California), it was concluded that it is a part of the innovative predisposition of the ancestral canids who were living in nature to protect their own pack members from intestinal parasites present in feces. In simple words, it is in a dog’s natural behavior to eat poop.

In the handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, animal behaviorist, Stephen R Lindsay wrote that coprophagia evolved in animals to make them able to cope with the periodic adversity of starvation. In simple words, it is not possible for an animal to be picky when the food is scarce. Thus, dogs are programmed evolutionarily to act as scavengers, eating whatever they can find for the purpose of survival. Even today, dogs have a tendency to eat whatever they find in the ground or hunt in the trash heaps. So, even though poop eating might be repulsive to humans, is not really all that bad from a canine point of view.


Poop eating is a common behavior for dogs as well as puppies

There are some animals like rabbits that depend on food eating as a means of obtaining the essential nutrients needed for growth. If rabbits are prevented from indulging in this behavior, the young ones may not obtain the essential nutrients needed for proper growth and they will fail to thrive.

Fortunately for us, dogs do not need to get their nutrition from eating poop. Mother dogs tend to lick the puppies to urge them to poop and clean up the feces by eating it for the initial part of the puppies life (from the time of birth to around three weeks of age). Puppies also engage in such behavior by eating their own poop as well as of other dogs. They may also eat poop of cats and other animals. It has been observed that some dogs may find horse manure very appealing for their diet. For dogs, eating their own poop does not cause any health problems, however, consuming other animal's poop may lead to problem if the poop has parasite, toxin or viral contamination. In most of the cases, it has been observed, that this behavior fades by the time the puppy is around nine months old

Even amongst poop, dogs have choices!

Dogs do not like poop which is poorly formed, soft or diarrheal. However, they do prefer hard stools. There particularly love frozen poops. That is why some of the dog guardians have come up with the term 'poopsicle'

A few facts about dogs who indulge in poop eating

In case of puppies, coprohagia is considered as a part of the puppy’s exploration of the world. Most of the puppies are usually satisfied with just a sniff. However, a few puppies just like human kids want to put everything in their mouth!

  1. Coprophagia has been observed to be more common in houses which have multiple dogs. In homes where there was only one dog, only 20% of the dogs including the study exhibited the habit. However, in homes which housed three dogs, this percentage rose to 33.
  2. Females have been observed to exhibit this behavior more than males. Intact males are least likely to exhibit this behavior
  3. Poop eating dogs are no harder to house train than any other normal dogs
  4. 85% of dogs who eat poop have been observed to not eat their own poop, they only eat the poop of other dogs.
  5. 90% of feces eating dogs want fresh stuff that is not more than two days old.
  6. Dogs who turn to steal the food off the table (greedy eaters) have a higher tendency to eat poop.

What are the reasons behind dogs eating poop?

There are many reasons, as to why your dog might just start eating poop. The reasons can range from environmental stressors to health problems. The primary health problems which can give rise to such behavior are

    1. Enzyme deficiency: Originally dogs were dependent on local vegetaion and prey hunting. When a dog would hunt and eat an entire prey, they would also eat the prey's digestive track which would provide them the digestive enzymes needed to digest the food. However, currently, dogs are fed highly processed diets which most often lack in digestive enzymes. Dogs normally do create their own enzymes but it may not be enough. Thus, the food might pass through undigested.
    2. Parasitic infestation: Parasites that make their home in your dog's intestine need food too. If your dog has worms in his or her intestine, the worm will compete for nutrients. This will lead to your dog getting fewer nutrients as the parasites mature.

    3. Hydrochloric acid deficiency: Dogs are also likely to eat poop if they have HCl deficiency. HCl’s primary function is to break down proteins. In the absence of an appropriate amount of HCl, the food is passed through undigested. Your dog will then seek the poop out for missing nutrients. Dogs also tend to exhibit his behavior if they are suffering from a mineral deficiency.

    4. Malabsorption: If your dog is suffering from a condition that causes malabsorption, it can lead to stool eating. Your dog might resort to eating his own poop to gain the missing nutrients or he might attack the cat litter box.
    5. Underfeeding: Make sure that your dog is fed at regular intervals with the appropriate quantity of food. Always stick to the feeding schedule so your dog does not go underfed. Underfeeding your dog can lead to him or her look for more food to eat. Due to this, your dog may start eating stool. 
    6. Use of corticosteroids: 
    7. Thyroid disease, Cushing’s, diabetes and other conditions
which may lead to an increase in appetite.
The environmental stressors or behavioral triggers which may lead to dogs eating their own poop are as follows:
  1. Studies have shown the dogs who are kept in isolation like in a basement or in kennels are more likely to exhibit social behavior that dogs who live close to or with people.
  2. Anxiety: If punishments or harsh methods are used to hearing house training the dog, dogs tend to start eating their own poop to get rid of the evidence that the deed was done in the house. However, if such behavior is discovered, they are tend to be punished more.
  3. Seeking attention: Dogs tend to eat poop to get attention from their human guardians. This behavior almost always causes a reaction out of the humans. So, in case you see your dog exhibiting such behavior, do not overreact.
  4. Restrictive confinement: If dogs are kept in smaller tight spaces for too long, it leads to such behavior. It is not unusual to see coprophagia in dogs who are rescued from very crowded shelters.
  5. Living with an elderly or sick dog: It has been observed not friendly and signal coloring together, the holy dog would likely eat of the sick dog. This specially happens in case of fecal incontinence. The purpose of this beer is to protect the sick dog from predators.
  6. Inappropriate Association with eatable food: If dogs are fed in close proximity to their own feces, they tend to start viewing their feces as food. Thus, they are unable to tell the difference between the real food and feces.
  7. Sniffing the fecal smell on their mother: If the mother eats the feces and proceeds to clean the pup, the pup is most likely to get confused by sniffing fecal odors on his or her mother’s breath. It has also been observed that mothers might regurgitate the food which is mixed with the pup’s fecal matter. Lindsey mentions that this behavior, also referred to as ‘appetite inoculation’, may cause a puppy to develop this bad habit.
  8. Scavenging habit: Dogs are natural-born scavengers. Their poop eating behavior might be the result of their scavenging habits.
  9. Stress: When dogs are under a lot of stress they might turn to eating their own poop to get rid of their stress.
  10. Puppy mills: It is a sad truth but dogs who are a part of puppy mills tend to exhibit this behavior more than others. Such puppies grow up with poor nutritional starts and highly stressful environments.
  11. Copying their siblings behavior: Dogs have the tendency to pick up habits of their doggie siblings. If the other dog/dogs exhibit this behavior, it can be picked up by the younger members.
 
Now that you know the reasons behind why dogs eat their own poop, it is time to discuss the preventive and corrective measures of the same. However, that is for my next blog post. So, keep reading and stay tuned to find out how to eradicate this behavior in your dog in my next blog post.

Does your dog eat poop? If yes, how did you get rid of this behavior? Please share your stories with us in the comment section. If you want me to feature one of the stories on my blog posts, contact me on one of my social media channels.

See you in my next blog post
Shruti

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