Why do dogs eat poop?
Dogs eat poop for a variety of reasons including –
- Nutritional imbalance – When a dog eats his own poop, it may be because the stool still has undigested minerals and nutrients.
- Stress – A dog may poop because of extreme anxiety (e.g. when left alone), and then eat up his own feces as a displacement behavior.
- Boredom – Lack of activity and interaction may cause a dog to start playing with his stool and sometimes eat it.
- Enjoyment – Many dogs like the taste of leavings from cats or other animals. My dogs also like smelling the stuff and scenting it with their tongue.
- Clean-up – Some dogs may eat poop inside the house to keep their living space clean. Dogs that are physically punished for potty training mistakes, may learn to eat their own poop to avoid our anger or strong discipline.
- Any combination of the above.
Whether eating feces is harmful to our dog will depend on whether it is contaminated with worms, fleas, or other parasites that may carry bacteria and viruses. The consequences of eating contaminated feces will also depend on the immune system and general health of our dog. Young puppies, for example, have developing immune systems, and may be more susceptible to bad stool; especially if they have not been fully vaccinated. To be safe, I only take my puppy out on hikes and neighborhood walks, after he has received all of his vaccination shots.
The most effective method to stop our dog from eating poop, will depend on the reason for his behavior, his temperament, as well as our own preferences.
1. Feed our dog a healthy and balanced diet.
The easiest balanced food to give our dog is dry kibble. Dry kibble is nutritionally balanced and results in less teeth tartar.
Make sure to get a high quality kibble, with good protein sources, and no unhealthy fillers.
Some well reviewed kibble brands include Wellness CORE, Blue Wilderness, Nature’s Variety Instinct, and Orijen.
2. Fixed feeding schedule and on-leash supervision.
If we keep our dog on a fixed eating schedule, it will help keep his poop schedule regular and predictable as well.
A fixed schedule makes it easier for us to supervise our dog, and prevent him from eating his own feces or those from our other dogs.
During poop time –
- I put the problem dog on a leash, and walk him out on-leash to do his business first.
- If he tries to eat his own feces, I no-mark him (Ack-ack) and lead him away from it. I get him to do some obedience commands, and then try again. If he does not try to pull towards the bad stuff, I praise him and reward him well.
- I keep sessions short, and end on a positive note.
- I make sure to clean up after him.
- If we have other dogs, only let them out after cleaning up.
- Make sure to keep the problem dog on-leash, so that we may supervise and prevent poop eating when our other dogs are out.
3. Keep our dogs busy and well-exercised.
Bored dogs will frequently develop behavioral issues and cause property damage.
It is important to walk our dog regularly (preferably every day), and to provide structured, interesting activities, to keep his mind sharp and engaged.
My dogs work for all of their food, either by performing dog obedience commands, or through interactive food toys. If we provide a lot of alternative activities for our dog, he will be less likely to find unacceptable entertainment on his own, including eating his own feces.
If we are busy in the short-term, and do not have the time to give our dog the attention that he needs, consider sending him to dog daycare or hiring a pet sitter.
4. Keep our dog’s environment clean.
Scoop up after our dog, as soon as he is done with his business. If we keep things clean, there will be less chance for him to engage in opportunistic poop eating.
During retraining, it is also important to supervise our dog closely, so that he does not practice any bad behavior on his own. We may have to go back to dog potty training basics, to fully stop him from eating his own poop.
5. Help our dog reduce stress.
Identify situations that cause extreme stress in our dog, and try to reduce the number of stressful encounters. In the meantime, practice managed desensitization exercises, to help reduce his stress response.
To desensitize my dog-
- I make sure that I am in control of the training environment. Then, I start by exposing him to very low levels of the stressful stimulus. Low enough that he is able to stay calm and learn.
- I treat and praise him for staying calm.
- I do some simple obedience commands (e.g. Sit), so that he is focused on me, and looks to me for direction while under stress.
- When my dog is comfortable with the low-level stimulus, I very slowly increase its intensity, and repeat the focus and training exercises.
If our dog starts to react badly, then we have moved forward too quickly. I move a few steps back, help my dog to calm down, and then do some simple focus exercises so that I can end on a positive note.
While conducting desensitization exercises, it is important to keep sessions short, fun, and rewarding for our dog. In this way, he will begin to re-associate the bad stimulus with positive experiences.
6. Teach our dog the ‘Leave-it’ command.
- First, I get some yummy treats that my dog likes.
- I put one treat in my hand, and make sure my dog knows it is there.
- I close my hand into a fist, and hold it still.
- My dog will naturally nose all over my hand, while trying to get to the treat. I say Leave-it, and wait for him to briefly stop nosing my hand.
- As soon as he stops, I mark the behavior (Yes), and treat him from my other hand.
As our dog learns the command, we can slowly lengthen the time he has to leave our hand alone, before we mark and treat him.
Once we are comfortable with this exercise, we can practice the Leave-it command with a treat on the floor. Make sure that we are fast, or have our dog on a lead. In this way, we may stop him if he decides to lunge for the treat. If necessary, we can also cover the treat with our hand.
As soon as our dog leaves the treat alone, mark and treat him from our other hand. It is important NOT to give him the treat that is on the floor. This may inadvertently teach him that he gets rewarded with whatever is on the ground, which is often not the case in real-world situations.
Keep practicing this until we have a really solid Leave-it command. Now, we can use it when our dog gets tempted by animal leavings during walks.
Note that independent minded dogs may choose to eat the feces anyway, if they decide that our reward is of lesser value. If this happens, I try upgrading my rewards, and make sure that my dog does not get within striking distance of the bad stuff. In addition, I quickly march my dog home and end the walk, if he manages to sneak in some poop eating. This teaches him that if he eats the stuff, the nice and interesting walk ends. That is usually enough of a deterrent to stop any roadside temptations.
7. Make the dog poop taste bad.
Adding meat tenderizer containing papain, in small quantities to our dog’s food, will sometimes prevent poop eating. Make sure it does not contain other additives such as MSG or salt. Some people also suggest adding pumpkin, pineapple, or stool deterrent supplements as alternatives. Our vet can also give our dog medicine, that will make his stool taste extremely bitter.
Only use one additive at a time, so that our dog’s digestive system does not become overly unbalanced.
Remember to consult with our vet, before using any of these additives. Adding too much, may give our dog digestive issues. Some dogs may also be allergic to the added ingredients.
Instead of adding to our dog’s food, we may also coat our dog’s poop with taste deterrents such as Bitter Apple.
Note that taste deterrents are added to the feces, and *not* to the food.
However, stool deterrents only work when our dog is eating his own feces, or those from other dogs in the house. Results are usually much better and longer lasting, when we correct the source of the poop eating behavior, through the other methods listed above.
Rhonda L Frank says
Our dog is nearly 11 years old. He is Shiba through and through. He will not eat his poo unless he knows we are watching him. Normally, if we are not noticed, he will just sniff and walk away. Always checking to see if he is being watched. If he sees us, he starts chowing down! He knows “leave it” since a young pup.
He is Shiba; he only listens when he feels like it. We love him, but sometimes we threaten to release him into the wild.
N.Ratan .Rao says
I have a German. Shepherd of 5 mnths (cherry)who is eating her own poop and I go near to clean it she tries to snatch my hand and barks on me .Please sujest me any way to cure her
I have had the problem before, but luckily as my pup grew, he grew out of it as well. That is not to say that I wasn’t completely disgusted myself & tried many supplements as well – but the fact is, there are many reason for why they do it – incl medical ones as well as behavioral. For many pups, I can see behaviorally, how it could be misconstrued – as they watch their mothers’ natural behavior of “cleaning the den” – but those usually do grow out of it. I also could swear at times that while still a pup, watching me clean up outside, he thought maybe he was helping to so the same… who knows l, but then I made a point of cleaning up out of his range of sight. Is this the reason he stopped? Good question….
But it also needs to be said that there are some medical conditions associated w the behavior too – so after all other attempts have failed, it is always a good idea to check w your vet anyhow.
Its been said that most supplements only work 2% of the time, scolding works… never. They’ve said missing digestive enzymes could be responsible, but a small amt of apple cider vinegar in their water helps with that. I usually do that anyhow, but use very minor ants, about a teaspoon per about 6-8cups. Tenderizer = BAD IDEA, as MSG (& salt) are bad for both dogs & humans…
I’ve also read about pumpkin having some success. (a tsp of canned mixed into food), but this is also a trick used by breeders showing, to help combat diarrhea caused by stress.
I know there are more possible home remedies, but cant think much more at the moment… but I know that checking with your vet is always a good idea – both to rule out potential health issues causing the problem, and other possibly proven methods that other vets may have access with
I have a1yr old great dane female. She will not stop eating poop, hers the other dogs and animals. I live on a farm so it is impossible to control poop. My hunting hounds are kenneled, the cattle dogs loose in the yard The kennels are cleaned every day ,she spends 2hr a day in kennel spends a lot of time with me in the house. She gets a hour outside play time with the kids this is when she goes on a poop eating binge. I have tried different dog foods nothing is working. she is in real good condition, coat is shinny and growing well I want to get her spayed this month but if I can’t get a handle on this problem , I’ll have to consider getting rid of her, it is that or a muzzle or shock collar
kim bashore says
You would “get rid” of her just because of that, BUT you live on a farm? Yet you would MUZZLE or shock collar her? OMG! This was posted a couple months ago, I so hope that girl has a good life, maybe finding her a new home is the best thing! I’ll take her in a heart beat! I’m in CA! My puppy 5 month old lab eats the 4 year old’s poop all the time if I don’t get it picked up, if that’s the worst thing in life, I’m blessed. I’m working on it & hoping he grows out of it, along with changing his food. Giving up on a dog because of this, makes me sad just to read. WOW
After having tried all this and more I have a dog that eats her poop. She will deliberately not go outside so she can poop and eat it when no one is watching because she knows she will be told to leave it and walked away on leash, so she goes in her crate at random times when no one is there. You can see her thinking about it and then wait when she sees you in the house. We only find the telltale crumbs afterwards. Sometimes she gets really angry if she does go outside and gets pulled away from the poop, diving at it and growling at us because we won’t allow her to have her snack. She eats a high quality diet and I have tried grain free, additives, which just made it tastier, and even aversion training, but since the day I got her as an 8 week old puppy, she has been obsessed with eating her own poop. I can’t keep a dog like this, so am still working to get her to stop. You probably need to include advice on what to do when a dog eats poop because of obsession with the poop being food. She really believes she is entitled to eat it and does crazy things to be able to attain that goal. I used to think she just wasn’t housebroken, but if she realizes she can’t eat the poop (muzzle) she won’t go inside, only outside and angrily attack the poop in her crazed feeding frenzy.
I was told by my Vet, mix CUT green beans in her dry dog food. It took about a week, but my Bischon Frise stopped. Apparently, it causes the poop to taste bad, after its been digested with the cut green beans. She NEVER had the problem again. Good Luck yeah
Mrs Jill Calladine says
Hi, I’ve got a 15wk old puppy he’s on a really good food, the problem I’ve got is that I’ve 4 more dogs, the puppy doesn’t eat his own poop but he will eat the other fours, any advice as to what I can do? I’m pretty good as to clean up straight away when I see them poop in the garden, but with four I can’t always get to the poop before the puppy does. I can’t let him off his lead in the park as he will eat other dog poop.
Allison King says
I have my 5 month old maltese shih tzu puppy on a good dry food, but she eats her poop!. Since I live in a condo I have trained her to potty in the bathroom, on puppy pads. If I take her into the bathroom to poop I praise her with a treat and say Leave it, she leaves it alone. But if I’m in the other room and she poops she eats it every time!!
I’ve tried something the Vet gave me to sprinkle on. Meat tenderisor, fresh pineapple mixed in her food and nothing works! I watch her poop and put chili powder on it, leave it. She won’t touch it. I don’t know what to do! Please help me if you have any suggestions! ! Thank you for any help!
Join the crowd. My dogs will be one year old January 14. I’ve tried everything. I have to put diapers on them if I can’t watch for them to go. It’s total insanity. They are smart dogs. I tell them no no don’t eat the potty every time and they just think it’s a big joke. If anyone tries something that works I’d love to hear it.
I have a 2 year old Shih Tuz who uses a pad and also goes outside when I take her out. She pees on the pad but when I’m not looking she takes a poop and I catch her eating it. What can I do. Outside She is ok and leaves it and I pick it up right away. I tried meat tenderizer and for bid. Nothing worked so far.
Pia Hartman says
AHHHH, I have two pekingese. They are boys and twins. They aren’t eating their food very much. They always eat their poop, and hide it from my mom or me. Is there any suggestions, how I can solve this problem?
PLEASE, thank you very much… 🙂
I have an 11 year old cocker spaniel who likes to eat her poop. I have tried several different things to stop this habit but nothing has worked. So, I just tried the meat tenderizer. After one week her breath smells horrible. This has never happened with anything else. Did the tenderizer hurt her digestive system? It smells like urine. She just had a check up at the vets and is healthy. What do you think is causing this? She is on GD Science Diet mixed with Metabolic Science Diet. I am very concerned about her breath situation more than the poop issue at this point. Any advice would be helpful and appreciated.
Nancy, meat tenderizer contains MSG (monosodium glutamate) which has been known for years to be not so good for both humans and animals, so that’s the likely culprit. I’d stop it immediately and perhaps try giving her some dog digestive enzymes and probiotics to get her system back in order as soon as possible and thus hopefully to stop the poop eating.
My dog is extremely healthy and has a high quality diet. He does not ever eat his own poop. He only eats poop from other dogs. He doesn’t do it on walks. He only does it at dog parks, which are the only place he’s allowed off leash in town. He is also well exercised, confident, and not stressed in any way. He knows the ‘leave it’ command and responds to ‘NO’ in most situations. He also knows he’s not supposed to eat it and I’ll be upset with him. But he’ll eat it until I get close enough to stop him. Nothing in your article would cover this, but it’s pretty typical.. He likes eating other dogs poop. He’s healthy. he knows it’s ‘Bad,’ and he still does it. Everyone else at the dog parks correct him as well. Thanks in advance.
Any luck? This is the exactly the same frustrating scenario I am in and still looking for answers…My 1yr old dog is/was fairly obedient – he knows all the basics of “sit”, “stay”, “drop it”, “no” etc. – and even knows “no begging” and will go away if I am eating tempting food around him and we regularly do “sit-lay down-stay” games when he gets his daily treats. But when he is out for his walks and especially when let off his leash for exercise he goes right for the bad stuff (this includes mostly feces, but also dead garden snakes or dead birds if he finds them). He never tries to eat his own feces just other dogs that I have no knowledge of until he finds it. Oh and he has also been known to go for litter box treats when no one is looking. He will not only eat the bad stuff outdoors but roll around in it. For the most part I have curbed the rolling behavior by catching him and pulling him away before or at the slightest attempt to dive down. Some times I can get him to go get his stick and preoccupy him with fetch but other times (i.e. lately) he has no interest in playing fetch or takes his stick and instead of returning to me just heads for the bad stuff – and will pounce around licking at spots still trying to get to it as I am trying to get him as if it’s a game despite me telling him “no”, “stop”, “bad boy” etc. He seems to be doing it more lately and/or seems to be developing more of a “frisky/I know I’m being bad but going to do it anyway” attitude – even running to areas he knows he is not supposed to be in. Wondering if this behavior has anything to do with his puppy age and the equivalent of being a rebellious teen who likes to push the boundaries. Any advice or feedback is greatly appreciated!
Rod- did you have any luck? I am having your exact same issues with my 7 month old puppy. He’s already gotten a tape worm once. Please help, I’m willing to try anything. I hate to not let him run free at the dog parks any more