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Posted on 10-08-2015

Our dogs do many things that make us smile. They give kisses, wag their tails when they see us, perform tricks and run crazy loops through the living room. They also do things that make us unhappy. And even things that gross us out. Like rolling in dead things or, even worse, eating poop.

Yes, that’s right, we are bringing the taboo subject of poop-eating into the light. Because the simple fact is, you probably know a dog that eats poop. You may even live with a dog that eats poop. It’s a very common canine behavior. Whether from the diaper pail, the cat litter box, the yard or the dog park, poop seems to be on the menu for many of our canine friends.  And calling it by its medical term, “coprophagia,” does not make it any more palatable. 

The first question people usually ask about coprophagia is “why?” Why do dogs eat poop? The simple answer is that coprophagia is a normal behavior in many species including dogs. Mother dogs lick their nursing puppies’ bottoms to stimulate them to defecate and then ingest the poop to help keep the nest clean. Puppies commonly eat poop, perhaps as a part of investigating their environment, but usually outgrow the behavior. In adult dogs, poop-eating may be a remnant of wild canine instinct to eat the poop of prey animals for the plant nutrients. Or it may just be a compulsive behavior or a nasty habit.

The second question people ask about poop-eating is “how do I make it stop?” Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to that question. Coprophagia can be a challenging behavior to resolve. The first step is a good physical exam by a veterinarian to check for medical conditions such as parasites or malnutrition that may contribute to coprophagy. If your dog checks out okay physically, your veterinarian may offer some of the following suggestions for dealing with this behavior.

  • Limit your dog’s access to poop. Allow your dog(s) to poop in only one part of the yard, and don’t let them in that part of the yard except during potty breaks.
  • Pick up poop immediately.
  • Keep your dog on leash during potty breaks, even when in your own yard; you are better able to control him if he tries to eat poop.
  • Use baby gates to keep dogs out of the room where cat litterboxes are kept. Your cat should be able to jump over or go between the slats- make sure kitty can reach her box easily, or you may create a whole new problem!  
  • Add a taste-deterrent such as For-bid™ to your dog’s food to alter the taste of his poop and make it less palatable. If your dog eats his housemate’s poop, you will have to use the deterrent in everyone’s food. Most veterinarians recommend using it several days in a row, then using it occasionally to reinforce the idea that poop tastes bad.
  • Startle your dog with an air-horn blast or other loud noise when she attempts to eat poop. Talk to your veterinarian first if your dog is nervous or shy.
  • Teach your dog the “leave it” command and use it to keep him away from poop piles in public places.

In some cases, a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist or dog trainer is needed to make a plan to address and manage this behavior. While it can be frustrating, it is very important to persevere; coprophagia is not just a nuisance, it’s also a health concern as poop may contain bacteria and parasites that can infect your dog and possibly even your family. If you are dealing with this unsavory behavior, please call us for help right away.

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