Dogs eating their own poop or other dogs’ poop (also known as coprophagy) may seem like a gross concept, but it is actually quite common, especially with puppies. It is often a learned habit from their mother, who will eat the poop of her young in order to keep her “house” clean. Puppies take after their mother in this way, but they will often grow out of it as they begin eating a well-balanced diet.
Although this is generally a common habit that you don’t need to worry about, there are certain cases where it is important to take action in order to stop unhealthy habits from carrying into adulthood. There are also cases where adult dogs who previously did not participate in coprophagy take on the new behavior. This could be due to underlying health issues.
In this article, we outline five reasons that your dog is eating poop and what actions you can take.
1. Your puppy is trying to hide their mess
Your young puppy may associate being aggressively scolded for going potty in the house with feelings of shame and may try to cover up their mistake by eating it. You can avoid this problem by training your puppy to go to the bathroom outside at a young age and rewarding that behavior while not overly scolding any accidents that may happen. They will likely learn how to ask to go out as they grow up, so the shame can be avoided if you clean up their mess before they get to it and teach them instead to use a pad inside or go outside. The way you react to their accidents can make or break your puppy’s habits.
2. Your puppy needs balanced nutrition and exercise
A young puppy might be looking for nutrients that they may not be getting in their daily food. Make sure your dog has a well-balanced diet appropriate for their age. For puppies, make sure they’re getting all of the protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals they need, so they don’t need to look for those nutrients down an unhealthy avenue. Additionally, make sure they are getting plenty of exercise and playtime, so they don’t turn to coprophagy out of boredom.
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3. Your puppy is looking for attention
If your puppy feels neglected or wants to initiate playtime, they can see your reaction to them eating their poop as a way to get your attention or misread it as you being playful. If this is the case, do not engage in a way that encourages that behavior. Clean up the mistake, and turn their attention to a healthy outlet for playtime. Try playing fetch or tugging on a rope toy or taking them out for a walk. Allow them to make appropriate associations for playful behavior, and make sure they know that they will not get rewarded for intentionally eating their own poop.
4. Your adult dog has something internal going on
If your dog is well out of their puppy years and hasn’t engaged in coprophagy as a habit before, it may be a sign that they have something going on internally that needs to be looked at by a vet. If your dog has a disease within the intestinal tract or in another organ, like the liver or brain, there will usually be other symptoms present, including diarrhea, lethargy, vomiting, or other behavioral changes.
An adult dog usually doesn’t take on a new behavior like coprophagy unless there’s an underlying reason. Make sure to monitor your pet and take them to the vet if you notice coprophagy accompanied by other symptoms.
5. Your dog simply likes it
Coprophagy could be a habit that your dog doesn’t grow out of simply because they enjoy it. It is not necessarily dangerous but could lead to health problems if not dealt with in a timely manner. You can train your dog out of coprophagy by taking away opportunities for them to do it. Pick up their poop from the backyard before they get to it, keep them on a leash while on walks to avoid them finding another dog’s poop, and make sure to encourage a healthy lifestyle. If these still don’t work, see a vet to address possible behavioral issues.
Don’t fret if your dog is displaying coprophagy. There are many rational explanations for it, as well as simple solutions that you can put into practice to help alleviate the habit from becoming a permanent behavior. Watch out for other symptoms in accordance with coprophagy, as it could point to larger health issues.
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