Yes, it’s fairly disgusting to talk about but not an entirely uncommon behavior to our canine friends. Eating poo (aka coprophagy) is actually an evolutionarily behavior designed to keep our pals healthy and safe from predators. Though our modern pups are domesticated and housebroken, they still have the deep, instinctive mentality of their wild ancestors. Below are some of the reasons your dog may appear to be going off the reservation. There’s usually a good reason for most strange behavior if you look closely enough!
POOR DIET If a puppy or adult dog is eating a nutritionally deficient diet or is not being fed enough, it will instinctively seek out another food source. This often means feces in the yard or dog park. A dog’s digestive system is dependent on a specific mix of enzymes to break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats. There is some evidence that suggests that dog digestive systems haven’t quite caught up to modern diets that include less animal protein and far more carbohydrates and plant proteins. A lack of vitamin B may also be the culprit.
BOREDOM Dogs that are bored and lonely may play with and eat stool as a pastime. And, some dogs may resort to eating stool because they are not getting enough real food. If a dog’s living area is not kept clean, some dogs will resort to their own “housekeeping” efforts by eating stool.
NEW BORN PUPPIES If you have ever raised a litter of puppies, you’ll know that their mother will normally clean up after them by eating their feces. This is not only a sanitary solution, but an age-old survival mechanism. In the wild, predators hungry for a bit of puppy could locate the den simply by the scent of feces. It became necessary, then, for the mother to get rid of this evidence. Good canine mothers today do the same thing, even though those nasty predators are by and large no longer a threat.
MULTI-DOG HOMES For households with multiple dogs there is often a pecking order of dominant and submissive roles. Submissive dogs will sometimes eat the stool of their dominant counterparts. Another, rather interesting phenomenon is when multiple dogs are in the same household and one gets sick, the healthy dog will sometimes eat the feces of the unhealthy dog. This may be an instinctual reaction to hide the weaker dog from “predators” much as a mother does with pups (see above).
CLEANLINESS In over-covercrowded shelters, puppy mills or dirty kennels, dog feces can lie around for hours before being picked up. A curious puppy will often sniff around and then eat the feces, which still contains some scent of food. This behavior self-reinforces over time and when the puppy goes to a good home, the nasty habit often goes with them.
CONVENIENT LITTER BOXES Did you know that some dogs adore the taste of cat poop? This is most likely due to feline food (and therefore feces) containing a higher percentage of meat than dog food, as well as flavourings different than what dogs are used to. Cat feces can be in a litter box or dispersed randomly outdoors; with the power of your dog’s nose, it’s nearly impossible to stop him from finding these delicious cat leavings. Locate litter boxes in areas your dog cannot access—either high up or inside a room with a door propped open only a few inches, allowing cat access, but not dog.
To prevent coprophagy, keep your dog’s environment free of any waste and as clean as possible. Don’t leave your dog alone or in the yard for or any length of time, as he may eat his waste and self-reinforce this unwanted behavior. Take a careful look at their diet and feed them the highest quality food possible. While walking your dog, only let him sniff around in spots where you know there is no waste present. This means you decide when he gets to defecate or urinate! Lastly, if the problem persists make sure to see your veterinarian.