Why Do Dogs Eat Their Own Poop?

Feces eating, technically known as coprophagia, is an unpleasant but rather common issue with canines. Dogs with a taste for feces might eat their own waste products or those of other canines, or raid Kitty's litter box for cat snacks. Feces consumption isn't necessarily limited to the droppings of carnivores and omnivores -- herbivore stools also fill the bill. Dogs eat feces for various reasons, so it's important to make sure your pet isn't driven to nosh on waste because there's something lacking in his diet.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
A dog scavenging and sniffing in the grass.
credit: cgrumboski/iStock/Getty Images

Coprophagia in Dogs

While owners generally find their coprophagic canines behavior disgusting, that's not how dogs think about it. Dogs evolved as scavengers, and consuming the undigested waste in feces was just another protein source. Your dog might enjoy eating all sorts of unpleasant items -- unsecured garbage is always vulnerable -- but nothing seems to cause a human reaction like feces eating. If your pet is still a pup, there's a good chance he'll outgrow the habit with proper training. However, in some dogs, coprophagia becomes compulsive.

Medical Issues

Various medical issues can result in coprophagia. Dogs experiencing insufficient enzyme production will often lose weight, and their stools -- before consumption -- are particularly foul-smelling. Your vet will take blood samples to determine whether your dog suffers from a lack of dietary enzymes. If that's the case, she can prescribe enzymes to add to his diet, and possibly a switch to a high-quality dog food. If your dog receives steroids, he might be more prone to eating feces. Dogs with certain diseases, including diabetes, thyroid problems or Cushing's disease, might begin eating stools. Starting such behavior, particularly later in life, could indicate your dog is suffering from these conditions, so a thorough veterinary workup is in order.

Behavioral Issues

Your dog might learn to eat feces by watching other canines. It's a common habit in puppies, because exploring feces is part of exploring the world. By adolescence, most dogs stop this behavior. If you've got a mother dog with puppies, you know that she must lick them in the first few weeks to stimulate defecation. Realize that she will consume her puppies stool as part of cleaning their immediate living environment. Bored dogs might play with feces in the yard, then start eating them. Virtually all dogs will sniff excrement they come upon in their travels. Behaviorally, it doesn't take much for a sniff to become a taste.

Kicking the Habit

Prevention is the best way to cure coprophagia, especially if there's no medical condition involved. If you walk your dog, you're less likely to have an issue than if your dog has access to a yard or unsupervised area to defecate. Pick up droppings immediately, so he has no chance to indulge. If you have cats, make sure your dog doesn't have access to litter boxes. Your vet can recommend supplements that make the dog's own fecal material undesirable to eat. It's important to teach your dog the "leave it" command, which comes in handy no matter what you don't want him to touch.