Think of the most embarrassing moments you’ve had. Everyone that has lived a little knows the utter shame of waving at a stranger they thought was someone they knew. Not embarrassing enough? How about liking someone’s social media post from all the way back in 2009? Sure, these moments are enough to leave you with that sinking feeling in your gut, but none of these holds a candle to catching your dog eating poop. After serving your dog some top-of-the-range food from Hills, you catch them having a not-so-fine dining experience with a platter of poop. For all dog owners out there, dogs eating poop is probably one of the most embarrassing, distasteful (pun fully intended), and concerning things that can happen. As embarrassing and as concerning as it can be, it’s common. So, if you were throwing yourself a dog owner pity party and beating yourself up for being a terrible dog parent, that ends here because you are not alone.
Why dogs eat poop
“Where did I go wrong as a dog parent? I feed you top of the range dog food, enroll you in an elite dog behavioural school, and shower you with love (a bit too much sometimes). Why eat poop, Duke?” These were Jenna’s sentiments after witnessing her Corgi, Duke, eating his own poop. She just couldn’t make sense of it. She called her vet who explained to her that the scientific term for her dogs’ nasty little habit is coprophagia. Her vet also explained some reasons why dogs engage in coprophagia.
Are you, like Jenna, wondering why your dog is eating poop? These are some of the most common reasons for this not so pleasant habit:
- They are nursing and want to keep their den tidy
If someone close to you has been pregnant before, you might be familiar with the term nesting. Nesting in pregnant women is referred to as an overwhelming urge to clean and organise in the last few weeks of pregnancy before the baby arrives. With female dogs that are nursing, their coprophagia can be a form of them doing something similar to nesting. Female dogs that are nursing sometimes eat the poop of their puppies to keep their den clean. Whilst pregnant women fold, organise, and decorate, the mother dog eats the faeces of her puppies. As great as the mom instincts in the dog might be, it’s still pretty gross, right?
Giving the mother dog a hand and cleaning up her and her puppies’ living area is a great way to help your dog avoid eating poop in their living area.
- Puppies sometimes eat poop to explore the world around them
With puppies, sometimes sniffing and wandering about is not enough. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, they take their investigation of the world around them as far as ingesting that which they want to know more about. Unfortunately, this includes their own poop and that of other animals. Typically, your pup is expected to outgrow their dirty little habit at the nine-month mark, or generally as they get older.
Start them whilst they’re young and train your puppy not to eat poop. When they approach poop, you can calmly but sternly give them direct commands like “stop that”, and then offer a yummy treat as a reward.
- They have anxiety
You may have watched a scene in a movie or cartoon where a character is so terrified that they pee their pants. Well, an anxious dog may take that to the next level and poop, and then eat their own poop. Your dog may be anxious for several reasons including fear of harsh punishment, confinement, separation anxiety when you leave, or just general anxiety. Whilst the downward dog and a few other yoga poses may not help your dog, there are a few things that you can do to help your dog feel a little more zen.
If the anxiety is from separation when you leave, try and have someone watch your dog when you’re away or enrol them in a dog daycare. If your dog is anxious because of confinement, try and make the confinement area more pleasant. You could do so by adding more stimulating toys and adding more space if the confinement area is too small. If your punishment methods are too harsh, you could try a different disciplinary method that includes more positive reinforcement than scare tactics.
Of course, getting expert advice from your vet or dog behaviourist would be ideal.
- Your dog has a health problem
Your dog eating poop could be a tell-tale sign that they’re not feeling quite right, especially if you notice the habit starting out-of-the-blue. It could be anything from nutrient deficiency, gut problems, parasites, or other health issues. Along with the coprophagia, you might have also noticed other symptoms such as weight loss, vomiting, and other signs where you just know that your dog is “off”. In this case, get your vet on speed dial and get your dog some good medical attention as soon as possible.
- Your dog wants your attention
“Playing dead is so last year and fetch isn’t quite doing it for me anymore. I’m going to gross my human out. That should really get their attention”. These might be some thoughts running through your dog’s mind when they eat poop. Yup, sometimes, your dog will eat poop to get your full undivided attention.
When you notice your dog eating poop, your instinct may be to dart towards them and animatedly shout “eww!! Stop that!”. Guess what? Your strong reaction may be amusing to your dog. They might mistake your desire for them to observe basic hygiene with a game—they eat, you freak out, and voila, it’s playtime.
The key here is to not overreact. If you don’t overreact, your dog will learn that poop-eating is not a fun way to get your attention.
Your dog eating their own poop, as gross as it is, is generally considered harmless. Eating the faeces of other animals, however, is both gross and potentially dangerous. The faeces of other animals can contain parasites, viruses, and other disease-causing agents. While coprophagia might be common, it should be discouraged. Is your dog habitually engaged in coprophagia? As a Pet Club member, you can have a virtual consultation with a qualified behaviourist and get personalised advice for helping your dog break their smelly habit and pick up on good habits instead.