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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Expert Advice December 2017 Issue

Dear Doctor: The Dog Won’t Stop Eating his own Poop

QI have not been successful in finding information on cause and remedy for a dog who eats his stool. Can you provide some information? I work with families who adopt our kennel dogs, and a family is currently having problems with this.

Joyce Spinden

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Dear Ms. Spinden,

A We can understand why the family doesn’t want their new dog eating poop. It’s disgusting. The thing is, it’s disgusting only to us. Some dogs find excrement to be a tasty, interesting treat. And it’s not bad for their health, despite fears that they will get sick from bacteria and other microscopic substances in stools. That is, eating poop won’t make them sick.

As for the cause, some dogs learn it from their mothers. Bitches will keep the whelping area clean after giving birth by eating the feces of their young. What dogs don’t learn from their mothers, they learn from their noses. Scents are all too interesting to them, and tasting is a natural follow-up to sniffing.

As for the remedy, many dogs engage in this behavior — technically called coprophagia — only when they are puppies and then grow out of it. So if the dog in question is still young, the remedy is simply to wait a bit. If the dog is no longer a puppy — or doesn’t grow out of it — the only solution is to deny access to excrement by always walking the dog on a leash and keeping his face away from other dogs’ waste. It’s also important to pick up after dogs — and other species of animals — who have relieved themselves in the family’s backyard.

Some people say that adding meat tenderizer or breath freshener to a dog’s diet will curb the habit. It won’t.

The main thing is not to feel too exercised about this. The dog will not get sick from eating poop, and if the family is happy with him in general, they can let this one go. At least the dog is not rolling around in feces. Some do love to perfume themselves with the scent. It could be a holdover from a time when they lived in the wild and had to mask their own scent to keep free of predators. But we suspect that more often than not, they just find the odor interesting/fun. It’s kind of like, “Look what I came across on my outing today! Cool, huh?”

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