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What is Eating Poop?

Finding your dog eating poop can be upsetting and repulsive.  He goes out of his way to find feces in the yard, on his walks, and in the litter box. Do not despair; there are ways to stop your dog from eating poop.  The scientific term for eating feces is coprophagia.  Coprophagia is a common problem in dogs and puppies.  There are medical, physical and behavioral reasons why your dog may be eating poop, which include:

Medical or Physical Reasons

  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)
  • Parasites
  • Underfed
  • Poor quality commercial diet
  • Taste
  • Medications which can cause increase in appetite
  • Conditions such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease, and hyperthyroidism can cause excessive hunger.  

Behavioral Reasons

  • Puppy mill puppies, abandoned and abused dogs that had limited food previously
  • Seeking attention
  • Boredom

Chronic poop eaters should be seen by a veterinarian, wh0 can determine if there is a serious medical reason for the coprophagia.

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Why Eating Poop Occurs in Dogs

The reason your dog is eating poop will depend on what the underlying reason is for his actions: 

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (Maldigestion Syndrome)

Digestive enzymes are needed to help break down the food’s starches, fats, and proteins in the gastrointestinal tract. The digestive enzymes trypsin, lipase, amylase, and chymotrypsin are produced by the pancreas. The breakdown of the ingested food is essential so that nutrients can be absorbed by the intestinal cells and passed on to the bloodstream. If the pancreas does not produce these enzymes, foods is not broken down nor are the nutrients absorbed.  The undigested food is just passed out in the feces. Dogs will eat poop because they are starving.

Intestinal Parasites

Intestinal parasites rob a dog of his nutrients.  The most common worm parasites are roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms. Protozoan parasites can be giardia and coccidia. These intestinal invaders can render the dog hungry even though he is being fed.

Underfed

Not feeding a dog the needed amount will leave him hungry and in search of other food sources. Puppies and young dogs are very active and need a higher caloric intake than an older dog. Additionally, puppies should be fed more frequently than adult dogs.

Poor Diet

There are a lot of commercial dog foods that do not provide the nutrients needed for dogs. It is highly recommended to read the pet food label of every purchase.  It is a good idea to avoid foods that are loaded with preservatives, grains and dyes but are low in proteins. Poor diet can also lead to malnutrition. A nutritionally deprived dog will be hungry and eat poop. 

Taste

Many canines are attracted to the taste of cat poop.  The cat’s feces may smell like cat food, something that dogs are always trying to get in to.

Medications

Steroid medications will make a dog very thirsty and hungry. His regular serving of food will leave him looking for more food.

Diseases 

Illnesses such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease, and hyperthyroidism can cause excessive hunger.  These are diseases that your veterinarian may test for. If left untreated, these diseases can be fatal.

Previous Food Deprivation or Other Issues

Dogs and puppies that have been deprived of nourishment will have the tendency to always be looking for food. In addition, dogs and puppies kept in confinement for long periods of time may develop coprophagia. Dogs that have been punished or hit for pooping in the house may eat their feces in order to hide it from their owner. Fear of being punished makes the dog try to get rid of the poop. Dogs that have been abused may also have additional behavior problems; patience and love are essential in order for them to trust again.

Seeking Attention or Boredom

A dog that feels he is being ignored or is bored may do the exact thing that brings you running to him. Dogs learn very fast, and can figure out that eating poop makes you run to him.

What to do if your Dog is Eating Poop

Dogs that are eating poop should be seen by a veterinarian to rule out any serious underlying conditions.  The veterinarian will perform a physical exam on your dog and check his overall appearance.  He may want to discuss the patient’s current diet and frequency of feeding.  Let the veterinarian know if your dog is on any current medications.  

The veterinarian may want to run blood work on your pet such as a complete blood count and a serum chemistry panel.  He may also recommend having a urinalysis, fecal fat test (checks for enzymes) and a fecal examination (checks for parasites).  These diagnostic tests can help the veterinarian get to the root of the problem.  If it is a nutritional issue, the veterinarian may suggest a different diet, vitamins, and dietary supplements.  Parasites are usually treated with a deworming medication. If your pet is diagnosed with a disease, the veterinarian will provide you with a thorough treatment plan.  

If physical or medical reasons are ruled out, eating poop is most likely a behavioral problem.  The veterinarian may make some suggestions and may also refer you to a canine behaviorist professional.

Prevention of Eating Poop

Dogs diagnosed with a medical condition should follow the treatment plan provided by the veterinarian.  A healthier, nutritional diet will help your dog to be less hungry.  What you can do to help break him of coprophagia:

  • Pick up feces from the yard
  • Watch him during walks
  • Clean litter box and/or change the location of the box
  • Provide your pet with attention, exercise and toys
  • Teach the command “leave it” or “drop it”
  • There are products that can be put on the feces, which make it undesirable to a poop eater
  • Deterrent soft chews that contain natural ingredients such as yucca, parsley, chamomile, and proprietary enzymes can help deter the dog from eating his poop; these chews can also help with bad breath

Cost of Eating Poop

The cost of coprophagia can range greatly, depending on the underlying cause. It may be as simple as a few dollars per week with the purchase of a better quality food. This condition may cost you on average $300 for intestinal parasites, or if the cause is Cushing's disease for example, the veterinary bill may rise to approximately $2000.