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Health & Wellness

This is why dogs eat poop and how to stop them

Eating poop is one of the grosser things you’ve seen your pup do. It’s not the safest habit either.

While there are many joys that come along with being a pet parent, one unexpected — and let’s say, grotesque — downside is some dogs can, and will, eat anything, including poop. If you’ve come across your pup munching away at poop, it’s important to stop them right away. As common as it may be for dogs to eat their own or others’ feces, it can also be dangerous. 

Why do dogs eat poop?

Dr. Sarah Greenwalt, DVM, a vet at Locke A. Taylor Veterinary Hospital, says your dog’s interest in poop-eating could be due to a number of reasons, from boredom to hunger — but mainly it stems from the nutritional benefits. 

Dogs who have just given birth will oftentimes eat their puppies’ poop to avoid having to leave their puppies to search for food. As Dr. Greenwalt puts it: “Scavenging is always easier than hunting.” 

This unexpected behavior is also a tactic used by sick dogs or dogs with poor diets because their fecal matter contains valuable nutrients. If your dog displays other signs of illness, a trip to the vet may be warranted.

“A healthy dog that is on routine parasite control eating feces at the dog park is unlikely to get sick, but I wouldn't want it to lick me,” Dr. Greenwalt says.  

It's important to remember that the fecal matter your beloved pet could come across could contain bacteria, viruses or even parasites. Not only could your best friend suffer injury from this, but the bacterial matter in poop could cause harm to yourself or other humans in your household, too.  

Why do puppies eat their poop?

Puppies might follow in their mother’s footsteps and try to eat their own poop. Just like all babies, new pups are exploring the world, so naturally, everything goes into their mouths for inspection. 

While their mothers usually take care of the clean-up, puppies may still come across some poop and take a bite (or two). Assuming all parties, both the giver and receiver of the excrement, are healthy, the best-case scenario is that your puppy will have populated their digestive tract with healthy bacteria. However, pet parents should not let this behavior become a habit as it can lead to picking up unwanted diseases, especially if your dog is eating the poop of other animals. 

Why do dogs eat cat poop? 

If you have a cat, you may notice your dog’s special attention to the litter box. 

“Dogs eat cat poop because, apparently, cat feces are delicious,” Dr. Greenwalt says. “Most vets call it ‘kitty cookies.' Cats have very simple digestive tracts and there's protein and fat in their feces that's irresistible.”  

Delicious or not, we still highly recommend nipping this behavior in the bud. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a scolding is in order. In fact, Dr. Greenwalt advises against it.  

“The important thing is to not freak out since any attention is better than no attention in the dog’s mind, and freaking out may reinforce the behavior.” She also strongly recommends against the age-old adage of rubbing a dog’s nose in feces to discourage the behavior, as it can lead to your dog developing anxiety and a taste for waste. 

RELATED: How to potty train a puppy

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Why do dogs eat deer and rabbit poop 

Outside of your home, your pup may come across feces belonging to other dogs or droppings from entirely different species, like rabbits or deer. While dogs might nibble on other dogs’ poop for the same reasons they eat their own, the poop of some other animals offers surprisingly different benefits.  

Because of the way animals like rabbits and horses digest their food, their droppings are supercharged with nutrition. While we would never let any dog eat poop, in rabbits, it’s a healthy behavior because their fecal pellets have ‘mucus plugs’ that contain all sorts of nutrients.  

“Dogs respond to rabbit feces because of that,” Dr. Greenwalt says. “There’s probably a predator behavior that helps with hunting those rabbits as well.” 

Pups have a similar appetite for horse feces for those reasons as well, meaning it might be best to keep your dog away from the stables and be mindful if walking where horses regularly ride. 

How to stop dogs from eating poop

In lieu of punishing your pup for eating poop, Dr. Greenwalt offers alternative solutions, with a swift clean-up being her top choice. If you pick up the mess before they can get to it, you prevent any unwanted snacking. It also stops the habit before it can even begin.  

For homes with dogs and cats, this might mean cleaning your litter box more frequently. Outside, parents may need to develop lightning-fast reflexes at the dog park (while also encouraging other pet parents to do the same with their pups), but it’s worth mitigating all potential health risks.

If your dog is trying to eat poop, your vet will likely check for any potential illness that could be causing this behavior (such as inflammatory bowel disease and similar conditions). They’ll also want to rule out any dietary deficiencies or medications that can cause an increased appetite for poop. If there are no underlying causes that need to be addressed, your vet may recommend vitamin supplements and enzyme supplements that will cause your dog’s poop to develop a bitter taste. 

Dr. Greenwalt also encourages increasing playtime by buying new toys for your dog to decrease boredom and training more so your dog will focus on you rather than looking at what’s on the ground. 

Regardless, even if your pet finds poop from all manner of species to be a gourmet treat, it’s important to stop this behavior as it could possibly lead to illness or even death.  

The Dig, Fetch by The Dodo’s expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too. Fetch provides the most comprehensive pet insurance and is the only provider recommended by the #1 animal brand in the world, The Dodo.

Photo by Nina Hill on Unsplash

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