Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?

Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?

Have you ever known a dog that eats poop? Maybe your dog is an occasional poop eater and you didn't even know it. Particularly in multi-pet households, coprophagic behaviors are common. Coprophagia is a Greek word that means the eating of feces. 

Many types of animals are coprophagic, including pigs, rabbits, elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, dogs and cats. In some animals, namely rabbits and hamsters, coprophagia actually has health benefits, allowing the animal to absorb more nutrients from the partially digested food during the second time it passes through the digestive system. There are even some people who display such behaviors at times, though coprophagia is generally only seen is humans with underlying psychological disorders, such as schizophrenia and dementia. For the purposes of this blog I will only focus on this behavior in dogs. 

Dogs have been observed consuming the feces of cats, rabbits, deer, and other dogs, as well as their own. But why do they do it? There is rather widespread speculation that dogs do this because they are trying to compensate for nutritional deficiencies, however there are no scientific studies which confirm this. Another speculation is that animals will become coprophagic when they have been starved , but again there are no studies to support this logic - well fed and healthy dogs appear to eat feces as regularly as emaciated, starved or undernourished dogs. A third theory for why dogs eat poop is that the behavior is an attempt at replenishing intestinal bacteria that they are naturally lacking. This theory is not supportable with current research either, as all dogs would be eating poop at some point when they end up lacking certain digestive enzymes.

Young puppies are the most common offenders when it comes to feces eating. This is because puppies are learning to be dogs by observing the behaviors of adult dogs, and when puppies are very young their mother will often eat the feces of the puppies in order to keep them (and the "nest") clean. This is a normal behavior that has evidence in the evolutionary history of wolves and dogs, and one should not be alarmed by it. There is only reason for concern if the feces eating behavior continues in the mother long after the puppies have been weaned, or if it continues in puppies past the age of one year. By this age, most dogs will have completely ceased with the behavior, assuming they are receiving a complete and nutrient-sufficient diet. 

Unfortunately, science has not yet been able to uncover precisely why it is that grown dogs eat feces, but there is a consensus that it is a behavior that should be discouraged. Though there is little direct evidence to show that feces-eating can be specifically dangerous to dogs, the behavior can lead to multiple health issues among the human members of households in which dogs eat poop. Zoonotic diseases (diseases that can pass between species) can be readily spread through canine saliva, including salmonella and E. coli, both of which can make humans quite ill. Dogs that eat feces may carry these bacteria in their saliva, even if it does not lead to any symptoms or illness in the dogs themselves. 

Some other reasons dogs (particularly puppies) may eat feces include: boredom, attention seeking, stress, and then also some dogs do it simply because they like to. Dogs may eat feces out of a desire for attention because, despite the best intentions of the owner, displaying strong reactions to any dog behavior may inadvertently reinforce the behavior. If a dog becomes accustomed to their owner becoming extremely upset, and therefore showing attention to and acknowledging the dog, the behavior is reinforced because the dog learns that it gets them attention. Your dog may also eat feces in an effort to hide their accidents if you regularly negatively react to finding them. Dogs that eat feces out of boredom may do so because to them feces is just another thing that they might play with when they run out of other stimuli such as toys or bones to chew. 

Ultimately, there is no one solid, conclusive reason why all dogs may eat feces, but rather there are several explanations which may apply individually or in combination to you and your pet. Next time you observe your dog eat feces, try to take a step back and consider the aforementioned possible explanations. Try to redirect your dog from the behavior rather than getting visibly and audibly upset - provide them with a distraction and simply remove the feces from their reach altogether by disposing of it. Be ever mindful of your dog's behaviors and notice what things your dog does, but there is typically no pressing medical concerns for your dog if you see them eating poop. Nevertheless, it is always advised to consult your veterinarian on any behaviors that your dog exhibits which you may find irregular or disconcerting, including coprophagic behaviors. 


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