It’s certainly not the most pleasant thing to observe – especially as your remember your pooch giving you a big, sloppy welcome home kiss on the face.
Sometimes…dogs eat poop.
It could be their own feces, treasures in the kitty litter box, or another animal’s droppings your pet sniffs out.
Don’t worry! Your dog isn’t as disgusting as you think. In fact, a lot of other animals add a little poo to their diets – including horses, rabbits, elephants and gorillas.
There’s actually a scientific name for the act of consuming feces. It’s called coprophagia. And experts think there are several different explanations as to why your dog might take up this practice.
1. A Lack of Nutrition
One of the most commonsense reasons why dogs engage in coprophagy is that they are missing key nutrients from their diets.
If a dog isn’t getting what its body needs – it may look elsewhere. This could also be an explanation of why a dog eats garbage, dead animals and even grass. (Sometimes eating grass and vomiting is also a sign of a dog with digestive distress)
Many commercially-available pet foods could be lacking in good nutrition – even those recognizable brands at your grocery store. They can be made with carbohydrate fillers – and worse yet – some disturbing ingredients. (More on that later) That’s why food available at your vet’s office or a trustworthy pet food store is more expensive. It’s probably a lot higher in quality.
Think about how dogs and their relatives eat in nature…
Canines are mostly carnivorous meat eaters. But animals like wolves still got plant nutrients from eating the herbivores that eat plants. The problem is, livestock and poultry used to make dog food may not be consuming the nutrients that need to get passed on to your dog.
When a dog consumes its own waste more than just on occasion, it is wise to take that pet to the veterinarian so it can be determined if there is a specific nutrient deficiency, and to rule out the possibility of mores serious medical problems – such as parasites or conditions effecting the pancreas.
- Read More About Coprophagia and Illness in Dogs
Possible Solution – Provide your dog with better nutrition through higher quality food and possibly supplementation. If his nutritional needs are satisfied – hopefully his appetite for poop will be too.
Natural Healthy Concepts does offer certain Pet Products, including a multi-nutrient formula for dogs. However, it is important to keep in mind that you can give a dog too much of a vitamin or mineral. This might cause a condition called hypervitaminosis, which is essentially poisoning due to excess vitamins.
2. A Lack of Digestive Enzymes and Intestinal Microflora
A search for missing nutrients could be why dogs eat the feces of other species. They could also be looking for some digestive support.
Herbivores and omnivores have things in their guts that carnivorous dogs do not. That includes more plant-based enzymes and beneficial bacteria found in your stomach and intestines.
Some say that dogs are looking for help processing the carbohydrates found in typical pet food, which their stomachs aren’t made to digest. Experts theorize that animals engage in coprophagy in order to ingest intestinal microbes into their gastrointestinal tract.
These organisms have a job to do. But sometimes in dogs – just as in humans – levels of good and bad bacteria could become imbalanced, which can cause digestive problems and affect the strength of the immune system.
The idea isn’t as crazy as it sounds. In fact, a process known as a fecal transplant is becoming more popular with humans. It works just like it sounds – a healthy donor’s human waste is transplanted into a patient’s intestines to provide them with healthy intestinal microflora.
Of course – that’s an extreme option. Probiotics, digestive enzymes and eating food with live bacteria (like yogurt) is more commonplace.
Possible Solution – Dogs could benefit from probiotics and enzymes just as much as people. Consider trying Pet Enzymes or a probiotic formulated for pets. These products may help your dog better-absorb the nutrients it needs.
You could also try giving your dog leafy greens or veggies. Dogs do have the ability to eat like omnivores. However, remember that specific needs can depend on the breed, and every dog is different. Some vegetables could even make your dog extra gassy.
- Read More about Raw Food Diets for Poop-Eating Dogs
3. Dogs are Biologically Wired to Eat Everything
Dogs are scavengers in the wild. For example, hyenas feed off the leftover prey of larger predators. A hungry canine will chow down on just about anything to get nourishment and fill their bellies.
As the people at DoogPoopDiet.com explain…
“Dogs commonly fed on the waste of other animals (and other dogs) thousands of years ago. Poop eating may just be a remnant of dog history.”
Have you ever noticed how dogs gobble up their food when other dogs are around? This is also biological in nature. Some dogs are in survival mode, and they think they need to compete with other animals for available food. So they eat up everything they can while they have a chance.
Possible Solution – Make them think poo tastes yucky. We know – that seems like a given. But not for dogs.
If dogs really are hardwired to consume digestive waste, then your best option may be to make them dislike doing it. Dogs seem to like stinky stuff, but they may be turned off by bitter or super-spicy flavors. Some pet experts suggest pouring hot sauce over your dogs mess to discourage them.
Just don’t let the neighbors see you doing that.
There are also some commercial products that make dog excrement taste bitter. But because of the ingredients, pet health advocates suggest avoiding these things until you talk to your veterinarian about it.
4. Dogs Try to Keep Things Clean (in their own way)
Another instinctive reason a dog will eat excrement is to clean things up. This is particularly common in canine mothers caring for newborn puppies.
They will clean up after the pups in order to keep the living area spic-and-span. Eating it up is the best dogs can do. Dog mothers will even lick their young in order to stimulate the muscles that help puppies relieve themselves.
The ASPCA explains that humans may have trained dogs to clean up feces by eating it:
“Eating garbage and human feces is thought to be one function of dogs during their early domestication, some 12,000 to 15,000 years ago. They served as our first waste management workers, helping to keep the areas around human settlements clean.”
Possible Solution – You keep things clean so your dog doesn’t have to.
This could mean following your dog around in the yard and waiting for her to do her thing. At the very least, make sure to regularly clean the area where your dog lives and plays. That means the yard as well as kennels, crates and carriers.
5. Puppy Problems
Dogs are smart. They learn fast. Unfortunately – they can also quickly pick-up unsavory behaviors, especially when they are young.
So a puppy that sees its mother cleaning up poop by eating it may do the same. The dog may also be investigating. Sniffing other dogs’ waste is considered normal behavior. It’s just that some dogs choose to take it to the next level.
Puppies are curious in the same way little kids are. And human children go through periods of fascination with feces as well.
Your dog should simply grow out of it, and most dogs do by about 6 months of age. Still – sometimes, dogs develop a “taste for turds” – and have trouble kicking the habit.
Possible Solution – It could be just a phase – so wait it out. Coprophagia is common in younger dogs.
Rubbing a dog’s nose in his mess during house-training is likely a bad idea. This could instill fear in the animal and make it feel like it has to “hide the evidence” so it doesn’t get in trouble again.
Occasionally – dogs consume feces as a form of “attention-getting behavior.” Like children, they don’t understand the difference between good attention and bad attention. They just want to get your attention. Dogs may even engage in this activity out of pure boredom.
In those cases – you need to make sure you and your dog have some quality time together. You can also make sure there are toys around to keep your dog occupied.
Another recommendation is training your dog to let the poop be using the “Leave it!” command. You can also call your dog over for a treat immediately after he does his thing – sort of a bait and switch training tactic.
Start with the Right Food!
Whether your dog eats poop or not – it is extremely important to provide your pet with a proper diet.
You wouldn’t eat low-quality, processed foods and go to fast food restaurants every day. Why would you subject your dog to anything similar?
Many people are surprised to learn about what ends up in typical dog food.
I have a friend who is a veterinarian. While in vet school, she participated in an experiment in which students disintegrated different types of dog food. They found animal hair, remnants of feathers, bits of bone and other weird stuff in the cheaper brand-name foods.
This likely comes from an ingredient often described as bone meal. That’s basically ground up dead animals of any sort.
An article on DogFoodAdvisor.com explains the dark side of dog food in more detail. It gets much more disturbing than what I’ve described here.
Pet health experts like Dr. Karen Becker say that species specific meat meals are usually fine. It’s when things get vague that you have to be concerned. Dr. Becker wrote about these concerns for Mercola.com:
“Now, here’s where even meat becomes scary. When there’s no meat specified – like chicken, beef, turkey, etc. – the unspecified meat might be chicken, or it might be road kill. Could be rendered horse meat. It could even be the remains of dogs and cats euthanized at an animal shelter. All this garbage can be added to pet food as ‘crude protein.’”
We all love our dogs and want them to be healthy. Coprophagia could be an indication of a nutrition problem.
So don’t get mad at your pet – no matter how much it grosses you out. Instead, ask what it might really mean and begin with making an effort to feed your dog what his body needs.
Advice from You!
Do you have experience with a poop-eating puppy dog? If so – tell us what you’ve done to try and remedy the situation.
Leave a comment below with your tips and suggestions so other readers can try it too!
Featured Image Credit: Keith McDuffee via Flickr