Why your dog eats poop and what you can do about it

If you have a dog, chances are you’ve seen him or her eat some questionable things.

But nothing is quite as cringe-inducing as when your canine friend steals crunchy Tootsie Rolls form the cat box or saves you the trouble of poop-scooping by gobbling up what he laid down.

So why do they do that?

Search the internet or ask other dog-owning friends and you’ll come up with myriad possible reasons: nutritional deficiencies, to get attention, digestive issues, and even that (gulp) they like the taste. Problem is, there’s not a lot of evidence to support those theories.

There’s some new research, however, that might give us an answer. The Center for Animal Behavior at the University of California at Davis surveyed thousands of dog owners on their pets’ poop-eating habits, which is technically known as coprophagia. They found that about 16% of dogs regularly eat feces and—stop here if you’ve just had lunch—most prefer them fresh.

When it comes to why they do it, what you may not realize is that this behavior is quite common among many animals, including wolves. And while it’s not necessarily the best thing for your dog, chances are it’s not harming them, either.

The biggest problem is that people get so upset about it.

What the study didn’t find was any correlation between coprophagy and a dog’s diet, age, housetraining, or compulsive behavior. This study also ruled out a link between poop-eating and whether a dog was spayed or neutered, although earlier studies have shown that altering a dog may increase the risk of this behavior.

The only connection the researchers did find was that a significant majority of the coprophagic dogs were described as “greedy eaters”, and members of multi-dog households. Now keep those two things in mind while we check back in with those wolves.

As you likely know, wolves live in packs. What you may not know is that they prefer to defecate away from their dens, in part because their waste may contain intestinal parasite eggs. But if a wolf is sick or injured and must defecate close to home, those parasite eggs are a potential problem for the rest of the pack when they hatch and become infectious a few days later. Researchers think that the wolves—and your dog—may be eating feces as a way to protect himself and his pack.

Which is all very noble but, seriously—all you want to know is how to make the dog stop doing it, right?

Well, it’s not going to be easy. And it may not be possible at all. There are food additives, and supplements that claim to discourage coprophagy, but 11 different brands were tested and the highest success rate was 2 percent. You might do better with behavioral conditioning—such as offering praise right after your dog poops and offering him a treat to distract him, which is shown to be about 4% effective.

If you have questions about coprophagy or any other troubling behavior in your pet, don’t hesitate to call Dana Niguel at 949.558.3646.