A Primer on Coprophagia: Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?

Does your dog eat poop? Why do they do that?

Canines seem to enjoy many smells and tastes that people find offensive. For example, dogs are generally attracted to the odor of feces while investigating their environment.  Some dogs, including puppies, will even eat the poop of cats and other animals. The technical term for that is coprophagia.

A Primer on Coprophagia: Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?

Behavioral reasons

This behavior is akin to scavenging, which is a common pack characteristic.

Eating feces is usually a behavioral problem. That is true, especially in curious puppies that explore different things by picking them up in their mouth.  In addition, coprophagia usually attracts a great deal of attention from the owner, reinforcing the behavior.  Coprophagia in puppies usually clears up by the time the pup becomes an adult.  However, taking early measures can help reduce the likelihood of the behavior becoming a long-term habit.

Preventing access to feces is the best way to correct behavioral coprophagia. Keep your yard thoroughly clean and your dog under constant supervision when outdoors.

As soon as your dog begins to sniff or investigate fecal material, interrupt it. There is no basis for punishments such as “sticking the dog’s nose in it,” Such punishment can actually increase the problem.

Medical reasons

Some medical issues can cause or worsen coprophagia. That is a more likely explanation for when coprophagia develops in adult dogs.

Your veterinarian may recommend some diagnostic tests to check for any underlying medical conditions, such as:

  • hormonal disorders
  • digestive problems
  • intestinal parasites
  • nutritional deficiencies

In addition, conditions that cause increased appetite (e.g., diabetes, Cushing’s disease, thyroid disease, or treatment with corticosteroids) can lead to an interest in consuming feces.  In these cases, correcting the underlying medical problem generally also corrects the coprophagia.

Sometimes you can correct coprophagia by changing the physical characteristics of the feces. For example, your vet may suggest adding a substance to your dog’s food that can change the odor of the feces and curb coprophagia. However, adding unpleasant tastes, such as hot pepper, directly on the feces is not often successful.

Related articles:
Pica in Dogs: Why Is My Dog Eating Non-Food Things?

Further reading:
Coprophagia and How it Relates to Digestive Enzyme Deficiency in Dogs

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