It’s not a subject anyone likes to talk about but it is very common for puppies to eat poop. Whether it is their own poop or another animal’s, they aren’t always discerning when it comes to chowing down on fecal matter. Though not every puppy will do this, research shows that more than 1 in 5 will.
Some dogs seem more likely to develop this behavior than their peers and some are much more prolific ‘offenders’ than others. While most agree it is a nuisance, rest assured that it is unlikely your dog will come to any harm from this unpleasant habit. Read on to discover why puppies do this and what can be done to prevent it.
Is It Bad/Dangerous For Puppies To Eat Poop?
If you’re worried about your puppy’s health because they have been eating poo, the good news is that you can relax. It is very unlikely that this would make them unwell.
Even dogs who eat poo won’t usually eat any old poo. They will generally only eat fresh poo (no more than 48 hours old) that is formed and not sloppy. This makes it less likely that they will ingest poo which an animal with an infection has passed.
Eating other animals or dogs poop:
Importantly, certain infections are passed through the ‘fecal-oral route’. This means that the infected dog would pass e.g. some worm eggs in their poo and your pup could potentially become infected after ingesting the poo. This is true whether your pup eats another dog’s feces or the poop of another species such as a sheep or cow. For this reason, ensuring your pup is up to date with their vaccines and worm prevention is paramount.
As for those who only ever eat their own poo?
They are in danger of nothing more than a case of bad breath!
Related article: How often should a puppy poop? Identifying normal puppy poop
8 Main Reasons Why Puppies Eat Poop
There is an array of reasons why your pup eats poo and every dog should be treated as an individual.
- It is entirely normal and natural for dogs to ingest faeces. Yes, that’s true, read it again. Normal. It sounds absurd but this is something dogs have been doing for thousands of years. Puppies often eat their own and their sibling’s poo until they are a few months old. Similarly, their mums will clean up her pups’ poops regularly. It’s important to keep a clean home, didn’t you know?
- It was once a matter of survival. While today’s dogs often chow down on steak and cooked chicken breast, it wasn’t long ago that dogs were roaming the streets. When food was scarce, sometime the only source of nutrition was some undigested food in another animal’s excrement.
- While curiosity may kill the cat, thankfully dogs do just fine! Curious puppies, much like toddlers, explore the world with their mouths. They lick, chew and swallow all sorts of things that they probably shouldn’t. This exploration of the world can easily result in a few piles of poo being snaffled up when out on a walk.
- It is a dog’s natural instinct to live in a clean spot and many are quite ‘house proud’. Thus, if they pass stool in their crate or yard they may feel that it is their duty to clean it up.
- Sometimes, a pup is so ravenous that they are willing to eat just about anything. This can happen when a stray puppy has a parasite burden and is starving. They are so hungry that they will eat scraps, vegetation and animal excrement in an attempt to fill the void.
- If your pupper is being fed an inappropriate diet they may be missing out on essential nutrients. These dogs can develop a condition called pica whereby they eat things that they shouldn’t. Coprophagia (ingestion of faeces) is one of the most common forms of pica that we see in our canine friends. Always ensure your pup is being fed a high-quality puppy food that is suitable for their needs.
- One of the more worrying causes of poop eating is when there is an underlying medical issue. Several health conditions including diabetes, intestinal malabsorptive disorders and Cushing’s disease can lead to an extreme hunger and coprophagia. Similarly, those on appetite stimulants such as steroids may be affected. If your dog is showing symptoms of being unwell or has suddenly started eating faeces out of the blue, a vet visit is needed pronto.
- By far the most common cause of eating poo would have to be behavioural disorders. When our dog’s conditions aren’t quite right and their needs aren’t being met as they should, they can develop bad habits. One of those bad habits is coprophagia. Whether a dog has severe anxiety (such as separation anxiety), are attention seeking or are lacking stimulation, they may end up eating faeces as an outlet. This should be seen as a ‘cry for help’ and discussed with both a vet and behaviourist so we can address the underlying behavioural problem.
Additional reading: Why is my puppy shaking so much? Advice from a veterinarian
The Best Ways To Stop Your Puppy Eating Poop
Most owners of a poo-eating puppy are very keen to know how to stop this from happening. This is understandable; no one wants a smooch from a pup who has just gobbled up the cat’s poo. Thankfully, there are plenty of things we can do to curb this behavior.
Firstly, do ensure that any underlying medical or behavioral issues are addressed. Before this is done, success will be rare.
Best ways to stop your puppy from eating poop:
- Feed a complete commercial diet and consider using vitamin supplements if needed.
- Use commercially available products which make the poo taste bad. If there are several dogs in the house, they should all be treated. However, it is important to realise that this won’t stop your dog eating other animal’s stool outside the home.
- Be in control. If your dog scavenges when on a walk, consider keeping them on lead and/or using a basket muzzle. This would also reduce the risk of an intestinal obstruction or toxin ingestion if you are dealing with a repeat offender who just won’t stop eating random things off the ground.
- Environment modification. Let’s face it, if the poo isn’t there, it can’t be eaten! Be diligent when it comes to ‘poo pick up’, especially if there are a few dogs in the home. Similarly, if you own a cat, be sure the litter tray is out of reach of any dog. Interesting fact: Cat food (and thus cat poo!) is higher in protein than dog food so most dogs prefer the taste of cat poo.
It is also worth mentioning at this point, that some owners decide to accept the coprophagia and to not stress over it. While this may seem lax, if you’re confident that your dog is happy and healthy, there is no reason this can’t be done. The odd ‘poop’ snack is no reason to stress.
Additional reading: Why is my puppy throwing up? Causes and what to do
Future Prevention Tips
It is technically possible to ‘train’ a dog to stay away from poo. As with any training, this is done with a mixture of repetition, reward, and the use of clear commands.
A good command for this instance would be the ‘Leave it’ command.
We teach our dogs to stay away from things when we tell them to and reward them with higher-value treats such as cooked chicken or sausage (at least initially while they are getting the hang of things). This command works well for poop but is equally useful if you see something ahead that looks like it could be dangerous such as rotting food, rat poison, plant feed, etc…
When/Should You Seek Veterinarian Help?
As discussed, for the most part, we shouldn’t stress ourselves too much if our dog is eating poo. It can be a normal activity and doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong.
However, if there are other symptoms (such as weight loss or a ravenous appetite), a check-up is sensible. Also, if your adult dog starts to eat poo and has never done this before, it is a good idea to have this looked into by a professional.
Of course, if you feel that poop eating is something you cannot deal with on a personal level, it’s still advised to address this issue even if it means calling in a professional. You want to have a happy and healthy relationship with your dog and we don’t want that to be harbored by behavior that you simply can’t stomach. Most of the time, something can be done to get a handle on things.
Poo eating in dogs is more common than you may have first thought. There are several reasons why it occurs and, most of the time, it isn’t something we need to get too worked up over. There are steps that can be taken to prevent it from occurring and we should always ensure we aren’t dealing with an undiagnosed medical or behavioral issue.