Why do dogs eat poop?

Coprophagia is the term for eating poop. While it may appear revolting to humans, it’s not always due to an underlying medical disease (although this may be the reason).

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

Why is my dog eating poop all of a sudden?

There may be medical reasons for your dog eating poop, especially if it’s just started out of the blue. 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 they’re trying to attract your attention, responding to a punishment, hiding a mistake or simply trying to keep their environment clean.

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

Is it normal for dogs to eat poop?

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 eat 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.

What should I do about my dog eating poop?

The simplest way to prevent coprophagia is to limit your dog’s access to faeces. You should always keep your dog’s area clean and dispose of their waste straight away. 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.

Image of dog doing poo for Vets Now article on how do I stop my dog eating poop
According to research, 16% of dogs eat poop regularly (Photo by indi.ca on Foter.com / CC BY)

Should I take my dog to the vet if they are eating poo?

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.

More on this topic

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

Is it safe for dogs to eat sheep poo?

Sheep faeces are not safe for dogs and you should prevent your dog from eating them. One of the reasons for this is sheep poop can contain chemicals that are poisonous to dogs. For example, dogs with sensitivity to a dewormer called ivermectin have become seriously ill after eating faeces from sheep treated with the drug. Ivermectin is sometimes used to prevent heartworm in sheep and horses but breeds sensitive to it include collies, Shetland sheepdogs, old English sheepdogs, Australian shepherds and longhaired whippets. Our emergency vets have also seen dogs die after eating sheep faeces laced with toxic chemicals.