Puppies are, without a doubt, one of the most endearing creatures on Earth. That’s why watching your precious new pet eat its poop can be more than a little off-putting! Many puppies eat their poop, and if you’re getting ready to adopt one, it helps to know what causes this strange and admittedly gross behavior.
Coprophagia is the technical term to describe the eating of poop, and to help get our heads around this particular habit, we’ve listed the seven typical reasons a puppy eats its poo.
The 7 Reasons that Puppies Eat Their Poop
1. Your Pup’s Mom Taught It the Habit
Some puppies, strange as it may seem, are copying their mom. Female dogs will often eat their puppies’ poop when they are cleaning them; partly for cleanliness, and partly due to a natural instinct to hide their scent from predators, which would have been vital in the wild. If your puppy saw its mother eating poop, there’s a good chance it picked up the behavior from her.
2. Your Puppy Is Seeking Attention or Is Bored
Puppies, like toddlers, are always looking for attention. They also get bored easily, which is a daunting combination that often ends in them eating their poop. We think you’ll agree; it’s a clever strategy. After a puppy eats poop, it will get all sorts of attention! Of course, it’s for the wrong reasons. However, puppies, like toddlers, don’t care how they get attention as long as they get it.
3. You Aren’t Feeding Your Puppy the Correct Food
A puppy has a different set of dietary needs than an adult dog, and an immature digestive system is one of the reasons. If your puppy isn’t eating the correct food, it might not be able to digest it all, which would allow some of the food to pass through its digestive tract and come out the other end relatively undigested. When it does, your puppy might smell the “food” and eat it with the poop surrounding it.
4. Stress or Anxiety Are Affecting Your Puppy
Puppies don’t often suffer from stress or anxiety, but occasionally, some will. Maybe other pets are in the house giving your pup a hard time, or you’re in the middle of a home renovation. Rowdy children might be causing your puppy to be anxious and stressed, also. Wherever the cause, the result can be that your pup consumes its excrement.
5. Your Puppy Likes the Taste of Poop
This one is a bit trickier to diagnose, but pups who really enjoy coprophagia will tend to eat feces hungrily because it likes the taste. Some puppies will eat the poop of other animals for the same reason, including other dogs, cats, cows, sheep, and other animals. Occasionally, puppies will even eat cat poop from a cat’s litter box.
6. Your Puppy Has an Intestinal Issue
Although this reason isn’t nearly as typical as the rest, it does happen. It occurs when a puppy has a problem with intestinal malabsorption, which means that its intestines don’t absorb enough nutrients from food.
When this happens, a puppy won’t get the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients it needs and will eat its poop to compensate. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is a similar problem where your pup’s pancreas doesn’t make enough digestive enzymes to digest the food it eats. It also has the same poop-eating results.
7. Your Puppy Doesn’t Want to Be Punished
Puppies, while young and immature, aren’t stupid. If, for example, you yell at your puppy or shove its nose in its poop when it has an accident (both are not recommended), your puppy will learn from that experience. Having learned, your puppy may eat its poop to keep you from discovering and punishing the accident. That’s why most veterinarians and dog trainers recommend using positive reinforcement training techniques with puppies rather than punishment.
How to Stop a Puppy from Eating Its Poop
Although the practice is natural and will usually stop on its own, you still want to prevent your puppy from eating its poop. Below are a few methods you can use to do just that.
1. Keep Your Puppy Engaged & active
As we’ve seen, a puppy will eat poop out of boredom or when it’s stressed or anxious. To prevent all three issues, play with your puppy as much as possible, and when you can’t, make sure it has toys and puzzles to stay busy.
2. Feed Your Puppy a High-Quality Puppy Food
Dog food made for puppies is the best food to give them. However, depending on your pup’s breed, it may need a specific diet. Be sure to provide the best puppy food so that your pup’s digestive system can do its job, and your pup will get the nutrients it needs to be healthy (and not desire to eat excrement).
3. Clean Up After Your Puppy
It’s always best to immediately clean up your puppy’s poop so that it can’t go back when you’re not looking and eat it. The faster you scoop, the less chance they’ll eat their poop!
4. Leash Your Puppy When It’s Outside
Some puppies can’t help themselves and will eat their poop right after defecating. Some will also eat the poop of other animals, which is why keeping your puppy on a leash when you walk or go outside is a great way to stop coprophagia.
5. Reward Your Puppy for Ignoring Their Poop
Once your puppy has passed feces, call them immediately. If they come and ignore their poo, give them a treat. In time, your puppy will ignore their poop completely, even without the treats.
Does Coprophagia Warrant a Veterinarian Visit?
Most puppies will either grow out of eating their poop or can be trained to stop. If your puppy doesn’t stop, even after multiple efforts, the issue might be with their digestive system, so seeing a veterinarian is highly recommended. This is particularly important if your puppy is losing or not gaining weight.
Also, a vet visit is essential if your puppy is lethargic, vomiting, or has severe diarrhea along with eating its poop. An experienced vet will know what to look for and will check to ensure your puppy isn’t suffering from a hidden health issue.
As we’ve seen, there are a number ofl reasons why a puppy will eat its poop or the poop of other dogs and animals. Most can be remedied easily and simply by following our tips. Luckily, very few severe health issues cause coprophagia, making it an easy habit to prevent or break. Very few puppies will continue to eat their poop into adult life. If they do, consult your veterinarian for advice and treatment. Plus, don’t let your puppy lick your face until the problem is solved!