Cuckoo for Caca: Why Dogs Eat Poop

Like all best friends, humans and dogs have a lot in common. However, poop eating is where the two species generally part ways.

Unfortunately, I’m forced to say generally¬†here because there are plenty of examples of coprophagia in humans, which I will not go into in this article (you’re welcome).

Point is, the tendency of dogs to eat poop – their own, another dog’s, or that of a completely different animal – is one behavior that’s really hard for most people to understand.

Dog lying on side licking his chops
Just helping Mom and Dad clean up the yard!

The truth is, there’s no consensus among the experts on why dogs eat poop. They probably do it for many of the same reasons they eat other nonfood items (a disorder known as pica). However, that alone doesn’t explain much.

Here are some of the leading theories on why feces is on the menu for some dogs.

1. Instinct

Mama dogs instinctively eat the feces of their pups in an apparent attempt to clean up the den and hide evidence of their vulnerable offspring (and you thought changing stinky diapers was a sacrifice). Puppies may also help out either due to instinct or by learning from Mom.

This behavior normally stops on its own as the dog grows up. However, some dogs may never kick the poop habit completely.

2. Nutritional Deficiency

If Fido isn’t getting enough to eat, he’s going to find snacks in the yard – that’s just a no-brainer. However, some dog experts take it a step further and say that dogs eat poop not only when they’re hungry, but also when they’re lacking certain essential nutrients in their regular diet.

This makes a lot of sense, especially given what we know about pregnant women craving strange food (or even nonfood) due to vitamin deficiencies.

Only problem? This theory isn’t backed up by scientific studies. Still, if you have a poop eater on your hands, it could hardly hurt to revisit the dog’s diet and make sure he’s getting everything he needs.

3. Attention Seeking

A lot of dogs act out to get attention, even if it’s negative attention. The typical example is the neglected outdoor dog who barks and barks until his owner comes out to scold him. The same could happen with dogs who realize they can get a rise out of their owners by eating poop.

Some dog behavior experts claim that other psychological issues or general stress could trigger the behavior as well.

4. They Really Like It!

Some dogs eat their own poop, while others eat the poop of other dogs exclusively.

Some dogs only eat cat poop, or rabbit poop, frozen poop, or fresh poop.

The fact that dogs have preferences for one type of poop or another doesn’t necessarily rule out any of the other reasons behind the behavior, but it does make you wonder – do they simply develop a taste for it?

Much like little kids, dogs will put anything in their mouths. The difference is that dogs aren’t bound by taboos, and will continue sampling the things they enjoy.

How to Stop Your Dog From Eating Poop

The good news is, eating poop is normal dog behavior that in most cases doesn’t signify any serious health problems. It generally doesn’t cause any health problems either, unless the dog eats the stool of a sick animal.

That said, it’s really really gross – and not something most dog owners are willing to let slide.

Boston Terrier on a leash sitting down
Do NOT accept kisses from this dog.

Unfortunately, stopping a poop eater isn’t always easy. As funny as this topic is to talk and write about, it can be very frustrating for a dog owner who actually has to deal with it.

Food is obviously a powerful motivator for dogs. Once they start to think of poop as food, it can be a challenge to train them not to partake.

One strategy is to create an aversion to poop by dousing it in lemon juice, hot sauce, or some other substance the dog finds¬†unpalatable. However, this doesn’t work with a lot of dogs, who are either unfazed by the new flavor or learn to avoid the doctored turds.

A better method is to add something to the dog’s food that changes the flavor of his stool. Believe it or not, there are products designed for this purpose. Talk to your vet if you’re interested.

If training doesn’t work, then the only option is to limit the dog’s access to poop. Keep the yard picked up as much as possible. Watch your pooch when he’s outside so you can intervene. If the dog is raiding the cat’s litter box, put the kitty’s bathroom behind a baby gate. And, if all else fails, only let the dog out with a muzzle on.

Oh, and it goes without saying, but you might want to skip the dog kisses.