Coprophagia: The Scoop on Poop Eating in Dogs

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By Dr. Sophia Yin

It seems like every few months a study comes out touting the benefits of pet ownership. According to the claims, stroking pets lowers our blood pressure, dog companions increase our exercise, and going to the dog park improves our sociability. But what most studies fail to reveal is the dark, dirty secret that up to 16% of dog owners don’t want you to know: THEIR dogs eat poop…a lot!

Yes, according to a study presented at the annual ACVB/AVSAB Behavior Symposium in San Diego last month, 16% of dogs are serious stool eaters. That means they have been seen doing it 5 times and 24% have been caught in the act at least once. Dr. Benjamin Hart, a board certified veterinary behaviorist at the University of California, Davis, conducted the study that consisted of two web-based surveys. The first yielded 1,548 usable returns and was about dogs and their traits in general. Dr. Hart also inconspicuously slipped in a few questions about stool eating so that researchers could compare non-stool eaters with stool-eaters to look at the numbers of each as well as the characteristics and factors associated with the behaviors. The second survey was just for pooches that had been observed eating poop more than 10 times. Hart received 1,400 usable surveys.

For those of you who are set on making sure you never get a dog with this despicable and stinky trait, the survey revealed some important factors you may want to know. For instance, Hart found, “The more dogs you have the more likely your dog will eat poop. The smallest percent (19%) of poop eaters were in single dog homes whereas 24% lived with two dogs and 30% lived in a three-dog household.”

Why would that be? It could have to do with the fact that while 15% of the stool-eaters ate their own poop, 85% ate the feces of other dogs. So more dogs probably equals more opportunity to eat another dog’s digested food. Yuck! Why is that somehow grosser than dogs eating their own?

Before you raise your hands wildly and proclaim that the dog must be lacking something in his diet, read on. “We found that diet of the dog had no effect,” says Hart. They did however find that gender and sexual status mattered somewhat. “Intact males were the least likely to eat stool. Neutered males were more likely, and spayed females the most likely at 19%.” says Hart.

My theory why this would be? Perhaps the intact males were thinking about other things (like sex!).

There were also some breed dispositions: 38% of border collies had a history of eating poop and 40% of shelties did, too. Now that’s something that probably will never show up in a breed description. Which breeds ate poop the least? Hart stresses there weren’t enough dogs to tell, but he points out, “None of the poodles in the study ate their stool”.

Now, Hart’s original hypothesis was that perhaps some dogs eat poop because they are messy….slobs. But the fact that both stool eaters and non-stool eaters were equally easy to house-train seems to discount this hypothesis. Perhaps the most likely predictor for a dog to exhibit this behavior is if he’s a greedy eater: 52% of the stool eaters would steal food off a table. Only 27% of the non–poop eaters showed this lack of impulse control. But even if they were greedy eaters and ate poop, they were still somewhat selective. Over 90% only ate stools one to two days old and 75% only ate stools within the first 24 hours.

Do Commercial Products for Poop-Eating Dogs Work?

Ok, so you finally admit to yourself that your dog eats poop. What can you do? First off, don’t waste your time with the commercial anti-coprophagia agents. Of the 12 on the market at the time— For-Bid®, Nasty-habit®, Copraban®, Deter®,, and Potty Mouth®,  to name a few—none worked in more than 2% of dogs. Many didn’t work in any dogs at all. Even placing chili pepper in the poop didn’t work. Of course, does this really come as a surprise? Clearly, dogs that eat poop don’t care about bad taste. The study also found that you should avoid wasting your breath and energy using punishment.  Yelling or chasing the dog away, electronic collars, and telling dogs to leave-it didn’t work either.

So What Should You Do?

First off, realize that dogs evolved over the last 10,000 + years as scavengers feeding off human trash. So it’s not that surprising that many are non-discerning about what they eat. Also, realize that mother dogs stimulate their puppies to poop by licking their butts and then clean up after them by eating the excrement. So poop eating is virtually in a dog’s DNA. Your best bet is to keep an eye on your dogs when they eliminate and clean up after them promptly. Also, if you have a known offender, make sure to be careful about letting your dog sidle up to you and slip in a wet kiss! At least now you don’t have to worry that your dog’s a freak. He shares this nasty habit with many of his friends.

Also read What to Do if Your Dog Eats Poop.

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6 responses to “Coprophagia: The Scoop on Poop Eating in Dogs

  1. This makes perfect sense, I have often wondered why dogs perform this behaviour, my rescue dog is a prime candidate, my husband jokes “we took on Brian because he had the cleanest kennel, and now we know why!!” joking aside, we made the conscious effort to remove any excretion from our back garden straight away and his horrible habit has since fazed out. Brian was a stray who probably fed off scraps he’s extremely greedy and would eat to the excess and will steal food from the counter if given the opportunity so he definitely backs up this theory. Thank you this will also be great news for some of my more modest training clients knowing their dogs aren’t ‘freaks’ will help them come to terms with their dogs behaviour!

  2. I find a probiotic helps quite a bit, especially if my dog has been on an antibiotic. But the biggest factor is as you suggest: watching him closely at potty break time and preventing him from eating the stool to begin with. smile

  3. Jen G, I am not entirely sure we can chalk up “poo” eating to being sick or imbalanced due to illness or medication. I think in some cases it I believe they are a component in maybe an increase in searching out “poo” but a cause…..? not so sure.

    My dog last year when though some intestinal issues, at the peak of this time period our walks had turned into one giant poo search by my dog. once the health issues were resolved, his search for and “taste” for poo was GREATLY reduced. not eliminated, just greatly reduced.

    If anything this suggests our dogs are trying to self medicate so to speak verse a “root cause” for what causes a dog to eat poo.

    I think Dr. Yin’s comment about dogs being scavengers and the theory that dogs evolved in part due their eating our “garbage” all those thousands of years ago is much more likely stronger case for root cause. which leads to the question……just what was the garbage all those years ago? Logic would lean towards more of what we flush down toilets, and less of what goes into our kitchen garbage cans.

  4. I had 2 Pomeranians that did this. And i would catch the one ALL the time. I did not know why she was doing it and after reading this article I still have no clue. There are so many theories like they still smell their food in their stool. Or they are trying to hide it so they eat it. The best was when I was told that she was helping me clean up.
    The way I handled it was just keeping an eye when they went out and making sure she did not eat it. That is all we can do. There is no explanation to why they do it. There is no way someone can tell us why either. Dogs cannot communicate with us….so in reality we do not know why they eat their stools.
    They just do it.

  5. Late to this party but my shih tzu does this. But she eats my mini schnauzers poop. I keep yard clean and have caught her circling my other dog waiting for him to finish to go after it. Some foods makes this habit worse than others. When I fed a completely raw diet she did it much less. But freeze dried grandma Lucy’s and any dry kibble (grain free) is like nirvana to this dog. Also notice that she is very finicky about food but readily eats poop. This means that there are no opportunities to take the shih tzu to dog parks or hiking trails because I’m afraid she may sample poop from unknown dogs or species. Not the reason I got a dog. I wanted a companion to walk with but this just not possible.

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