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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16 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.

  6. My Sheltie has never been coprophagic. Neither was my previous one when I was growing up. I have never heard of this pertaining to Shelties in general.

    1. I have had 7 sheltie rescues in my lifetime, and have seen this behavior occasionally. Currently, I have 2 neutered male shelties, ages 9 and 10. They both are coprophagic. My healthy one, the alpha male (and rather Border Collie-ish in his facial features), does it rarely, but for the one who is currently having health issues, it’s become an everyday occurrence. He’s a tall sheltie, 21″, almost a Collie. The vet suspects he has either Cushing’s Disease and/or Gall Bladder Mucocele , and has prescribed a diet for him that support renal functions. Since the switch to different dry and canned food a month ago, he has increased his coprophagia – eating both his own excrement and the other dog’s, who remains on their original diet (making me wonder if his expensive special diet is even going to have a chance to work, or am I throwing money away??) Anyway, all this to say yes, Shelties can have coprophagia. I appreciate the article, especially the advice about not buying a commercial preventative.

  7. This is just not helpful. My GSD puppy does this and yes, I clean up after him every time because he’s a puppy and I watch his every move. But what about when he’s older and I can let him out in the yard on his own, like I do my lab? There has to be an answer other than “follow your dog around at all times and clean up”. I cannot do that 24/7 for the next 15 years of his life.

  8. We have two dogs; a 15 year old miniature poodle and 3 year old Schipperke. The poodle is no problem. The Schipperke started eating his poop almost as soon as soon winter ended. He is pretty much confined to our house and our large fenced back yard. We tried to pick up after him as soon as he finished his business but couldn’t always pick up as soon as he was done. Because he earlier had a case of hookworms, we felt that he could re-infect himself by eating his poop. Because of that we tried several different natural ingredients to stop his habit (pumpkin, Pineapple juice, etc). Nothing worked until we picked up a product that works like a charm with our schipperke. Well & Good Coprophagia Dog Tablets, 120 count for $15. His dosage is 1/2 tablet so the container will last 240 days. We break the 1/2 tablet into small pieces with his dry dog food. I think he seems to like the tablets since he wolfs it down with his kibbles. When we bought it at PetsMart, the fellow mention that it doesn’t always work but we were ecstatic to see it does work with our 15 lb. schipperke.

  9. I have a 9 week old golden retriever that has eaten her poop since I got her. I tried over the counter supplements and banana. She has slowed down but still does this. I am cleaning up her poop. Will she always do this? Very frustrated.

  10. Well I guess I’m the only one in the world who has poodles who eat poop .Both of my poodles eat poop, my little one love’s cat poop and gets a dreamy look on his face when he’s eating it. My other 7 month old was doing it at the Breeders, it was like a game to them, someone would poop and they’d all run around trying to catch it and eat it. He eats his immediately, he poops then he turns around and poops more and while he’s doing the second pooping he’s eating the first one, if I’m not there right on the spot he’ll eat it. I find spots in the house where he has pooped and eaten it and I don’t know about it until I see a small amount stuck to the floor. I feel as if he is playing the poop eating game with me now instead of his siblings. Sometimes he doesn’t eat as much in a day and then I find out he’s pooped in several areas and eaten it which I assume is filling him up and he’s less hungry now.

    1. That is the funniest thing I have read this year! “turns around and poops more and while he’s doing the second pooping”! I gotta save this!!!

  11. My little girl is an obsessive coprophagic little fiend. She’s not at all interested in her own product or any dog poo, for that matter. Her passions are cat and rabbit poop. Every walk is a constant thing of telling her “NO!” every time she heads for a garden bed (cats love them for the easy digging) and calling-progressing-to-pulling her away when she starts rooting through the grass for bunny pellets. It makes our walks a bit tedious. Though I adore my dog, I really don’t adore her habit. She’s a terrier-mix rescue from Georgia, and was reportedly, per her rescue story, quite hungry as a pup foraging with her mom and litter mates (?). So far, my best remedy for my predicament is to keep bottles of hand sanitizer about every 5′ in my home, ‘cuz she’s an affectionate little licker, too. She’s smart, sweet, funny and really full of it in a fun way. Loves kids! I just try to stay focused on those qualities (SO wish SHE would do that!). She really is a great little dog, but….. OMG!

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