Why does my dog eat poo?

Coprophagia is the term for eating stools. While it may appear revolting to humans, in most cases it’s not due to an underlying disease.

Sometimes a dog will eat their stools if undigested bits of food are present. Bitches with puppies will also commonly eat the stools of their newborns. Puppies may eat stools having seen their mother do it, or simply out of curiosity.

There may, however, also be some medical reasons for this behaviour. These can include a vitamin or mineral deficiency, parasites, malnutrition, or certain illnesses such as diabetes or thyroid disease.

Another possible explanation for your dog eating faeces could be that he’s trying to attract your attention, responding to a punishment, hiding a mistake or simply that he’s trying to keep his environment clean.

But it’s worth bearing in mind that dogs are natural scavengers and their penchant for poo may be in their genes.

Animal behaviourist Steven R. Lindsay, who wrote the Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, believes that coprophagia could have evolved to help dogs cope with the “periodic adversity of starvation.”

If, however, your dog suddenly starts to dine on an unusual amount or, if you feel their behaviour is putting them at risk, you should consult your vet as it may be down to an underlying health issue.

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What should I do about my dog eating poo?

The simplest way to prevent this behaviour is to limit your dog’s access to faeces. You should always keep your dog’s area clean and dispose of his waste promptly.

You may find that changing your dog’s environment or using forms of behaviour modification, such as a muzzle, may help to break the habit. But be careful not to turn this into a game. Pet owners often inadvertently reward dogs by shouting and chasing them, which the dog thinks is fun. However, this simply increases the likelihood that they will repeat the behaviours you are shouting at them for.

Make sure your dog is up to date with their worming. You could also consider changing their diet to ensure they are getting all their nutritional needs.  It’s worth speaking to your vet for advice on suitable diets.

If you still suspect your dog is eating faeces because of an underlying medical problem, or it is an ongoing problem you can’t address, you should contact your vet or, out of hours, your nearest Vets Now clinic or 24/7 pet emergency hospital.

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Some stats around dogs eating poo

Dr Benjamin Hart, of the University of California, carried out a study into coprophagia. It involved two separate surveys sent to about 3000 dog owners. Among his findings were that:

  1. 16% of dogs eat stools regularly
  2. 24% eat it occasionally
  3. 92% only want fresh stools that are no more than one to two days old
  4. 85% will only eat the stools of other dogs
  5. Dogs are more likely to eat stools if they live with another dog
  6. Females are bigger stool eaters than males

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