Why does my dog eat poop?

If your dog eats poop then you may wonder why they do it, if it’s a normal behaviour and whether it could make them sick. Your dog may enjoy dining on their own dung, eating cat litter tray treats or they may prefer snacking on stools on their daily walks. It may be disgusting to us, but it’s actually a relatively normal behaviour for many dogs, particularly puppies. The question is, is it bad for them and should we stop them?

Why does my dog eat poop?

Eating poo, also known as coprophagia, is a normal behaviour for many animals and is seen in roughly 25% of dogs. There are many reasons why your dog may be eating poop, but it’s probably because they just like the taste and texture of it. We may be repulsed by the very thought of poo, but to dogs, it’s packed full of interesting information that tells them about who its maker was and what they’d been eating. As well as just enjoying a delicious dung dinner, dogs may feast on faeces because:
  • It’s a behaviour they learned as a puppy from their mum
  • They get some nutritional value from undigested matter
  • They’re hungry and looking for something to eat
  • They're bored or stressed
  • They may have a medical condition

Dogs like eating poo

One possible reason that your dog eats poo is simply because they enjoy it. Your dog’s sense of smell and taste are very different to ours and they may be able to detect undigested fats, proteins or other material that smell delicious to them. They may also enjoy the texture of certain stools, often favouring firmer, fresh faeces, particularly if it’s less than two days old.

While we often explore things with our hands, dogs use their mouths to help them understand the world, whether that’s licking your face to greet you, carrying things between their teeth, or playing with toys or balls. For your dog, eating poo may just be another way of examining something that seems interesting to them.

They’re copying their mum

Good canine mothers instinctively lick their newly born puppies to help them go to the toilet and to keep them clean. They also eat their puppy’s faeces to keep them and the area hygienic and free from diseases and parasites. In the wild, this instinct may also help to prevent predators from being drawn to the smell of a dog’s den. A dog’s mum teaches them how to be a dog, so puppies will instinctively copy their mother’s behaviour. Most mothers stop cleaning up after their puppies when they have either moved on to solid foods or they can leave their den to do their business. Around this time, most puppies stop being so interested in poo, but some never seem to grow out of it.

Hungrier dogs tend to be poo eaters

Research has found that dogs that are described as ‘greedy eaters’ tend to be more likely to eat poo. It may be that your dog is just very much food orientated, but if your dog regularly eats poo it's a good idea to think about the following questions:
  • Do they tend to eat poo at times when they’re most hungry, such as before meal times?
  • Are you giving them enough to eat?
  • Do you have a regular feeding routine and do you stick to it?
  • Are you giving them a good quality food that’s likely to keep them feeling full?
Always ask your vet or a behaviourist for advice before adjusting your dog’s diet.

The effect of boredom, stress or anxiety

Eating faeces can sometimes be a response to stress, boredom or anxiety. If your dog is home alone for long periods of time, then they may eat poo because there’s nothing else to do. In these situations, your dog will need more mental and physical stimulation and you could consider using a dog walker to provide them with company during the day. If your dog is stressed when they’re apart from you, eating poo may help soothe them. If your dog starts eating their own poo, it’s important that you don’t punish them. Punishing an already anxious dog can further increase their stress levels and make matters worse. Always consult your local vet or behaviourist to get the best advice.

Possible medical causes

It’s a common belief that eating poo is a sign of a dietary deficiency, but eating excrement is such a common canine behaviour that this is unlikely to be true in most cases. Although it’s possible that many dogs are just partial to eating poo, there are some medical conditions that could make your dog more likely to eat faeces, including:
  • Some medications, such as steroids
  • Some diseases that increase their appetite, such as diabetes, thyroid issues or worms
  • Issues digesting food
  • Dementia or other brain conditions
  • Illness that change the smell or texture of their poo, making it more appealing
You should speak to your vet if your dog suddenly starts eating poo, or eats it regularly,  particularly if they have recently shown any other signs of illness.

Do all dogs eat poo?

A study of over 1,500 dogs found that 23% of dogs were seen eating poo at least once in their lifetime, with 16% of dogs being described as ‘frequent stool eaters’. Dogs that were found to often eat poo were likely to be:

  • Described as greedy eaters by their owners
  • Living with other dogs
  • A terrier or a hound (Shetland Sheepdogs were most common and Poodles were least common)

No evidence could be found relating to poo eating and the dog’s age or diet.

Is it dangerous for my dog to eat poop?

Eating poo is a normal behaviour for dogs and although it’s disgusting to us it’s usually relatively harmless. Even though your dog may enjoy dining on dung, it’s probably something to be discouraged as there is always the risk of parasites, viruses and bacteria. Also, some medications can pass through an animal and into their faeces and these may be toxic to your dog, such as worming medications found in horse manure. If you’re unable to stop your dog from eating faeces, always ensure you give them something to eat or drink afterwards to help rinse out their mouth. Don’t let them lick you. Always wash your hands thoroughly if in contact with your dog’s mouth or saliva and make sure they’re up-to-date on any worming treatments.

Can my dog get worms from eating poop?

Yes. Some parasites or their eggs may be found in animal faeces and these can be transmitted to your dog if eaten. Dogs can be infected with hookworms, roundworms and whipworms and these can make your dog ill. Ensure your dog is regularly wormed and always speak to your vet for the latest worming advice.

How can I stop my dog eating poo?

If your dog regularly pigs out on poo then you should consider speaking to your local vet or behaviourist for advice. To help you manage this behaviour you could try:
  • Teaching them a good recall or to ‘leave it’, as these commands can help keep them away from poo when you're out on walks. Stay patient and keep using positive reinforcement. Make sure you give them plenty of praise to encourage them to behave differently
  • If you’re having trouble with training, keep them on a lead when out for walks
  • Wearing a basket style muzzle when out on a walk will help break the habit while still allowing your dog to pant
  • If they choose not to eat a poo give them lots of praise and attention
  • Distract your dog by giving them something else to carry in their mouths, like a ball or a toy (never a stick as these can splinter or cause a blockage if eaten)
  • Make sure you always pick up your dog’s stools as soon as possible and keep them on the lead when they're going to the toilet
  • Try feeding them more regularly or try a diet that fills them up for longer. Always speak to your vet before changing your dog’s diet
  • Some people recommend feeding dogs food that makes their faeces taste unpleasant, such as pineapple or courgette, but there is little scientific evidence to suggest these work
  • Give your dog a bit more attention during the day. Mental stimulation is just as important as physical stimulation, so remember to play games with them or think about new activities to do together, such as obedience, agility, rally or flyball

What not to do if your dog eats poop

If your dog does eat poo it’s important that you don’t react or show that you’re upset. Never punish or shout at your dog as this could cause more behavioural issues. Remember that eating poo is a natural behaviour to them so it may be a tricky habit to break.

How can I stop my dog eating cat poo?

Many dogs seem to particularly enjoy eating cat poo, so to some dogs a cat’s litter tray is like a buffet that’s hard to resist. To dissuade your dog you could try:
  • Cleaning out your cat’s litter tray more regularly
  • Moving the litter tray to a place that your cat can reach, but your dog can’t, such as:
    • High up on a table
    • Behind a stairgate with a cat flap in
    • In a litter tray that has a lid or a door

How do I clean my dog’s mouth after they've eaten poop?

One of the worst parts of seeing your dog eat poop is knowing that they’re going to try to lick you later on, or will have disgusting smelling breath, so how can you clean them? If your dog enjoys eating excrement then you could:

  • Give them food and water to drink, as this will help to wash away anything unpleasant and help to freshen them up a little
  • Wipe around their mouth with a cloth and some water
  • Use your dog’s toothbrush if you already use one. Don’t ever use human toothpaste as some of them may be toxic to dogs
  • Give them a dental stick to chew on
  • Give them plenty of praise while you clean them up to make it as stress-free as possible. It’ll also help take your mind off it too!

Why does my dog eat poop in the winter?

Dogs do not usually eat soft poo or diarrhoea, but seem to prefer eating more firm stools. The firmer the better. Some dogs particularly like to eat frozen poo and dogs that do not usually snack on stools may be tempted by these crunchy ‘poosicles’. In winter, especially when it’s snowed, poo is more noticeable in contrast to the white snow and may be more tempting to them.

My dog eats poo - when should I contact my vet?

If your dog regularly eats poo, or you’re concerned about their health or behaviour, then you should always contact your vet for advice, particularly if this is a new issue. Your vet may be able to give you some information on how to manage this problem, or they may suggest that you speak to a behaviourist. If your dog is eating poo and is showing other signs of illness, you should contact your vet immediately.

Find out more

Find answers to some of the other most commonly asked questions on our 'why does my dog?' hub, such as:
  • Why does my dog eat grass?
  • Why does my dog shake?
  • Why does my dog stare at me?
  • Why does my dog follow me everywhere?
  • Why does my dog lick me so much?
  • Why does my dog lick my feet?
  • Why does my dog sneeze so much?
  • Why does my dog smell of fish?

Think your dog may be affected?

If you're worried about your dog's health, always contact your vet immediately!

We are not a veterinary organisation and so we can't give veterinary advice, but if you're worried about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your local vet practice for further information

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