Why Do Dogs Eat Poop—and How Can You Stop It?
It's totally gross! Yet some dogs just can't resist eating poop. Here's why.
For the most part, dog behavior is fairly easy to understand. Pups eat, sleep, play, snuggle and pee and poop. It’s those in-between moments—a burst of zoomies or their infatuation with some revolting scent—that leave us shaking our heads. We find ourselves asking why does my dog eat grass? Or why does my dog eat dirt and why does my dog spin around before it poops? And for heaven’s sake, why do dogs eat poop?
Get Reader’s Digest’s Read Up newsletter for more pet insights, humor, cleaning, travel, tech and fun facts all week long.
RD.com, Getty Images
Why do dogs eat poop?
How can you explain something so gross? As it turns out, even animal experts can’t point to one definitive answer for coprophagia—the scientific name for the practice of eating feces—but there are several theories that help explain the age-old question: Why do dogs eat poop?
“Some behavioral theories suggest it is an evolutionary trait that has evolved over the course of domestication to protect humans and dogs from being smelled by other wild animals,” says Zac Pilossoph, DVM, consulting veterinarian at Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. This explains why it’s common for mothers to eat their puppies’ poop, to keep the litter clean and eliminate the odor from potential predators, adds Gary Richter, DVM, veterinarian and founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition. “As a result, some dogs might pick up this habit from watching their mother do it,” says Dr. Richter.
They also might nosh on poop to get missing nutrients. “Your dog’s system might be having a hard time absorbing nutrients from food, and the pup may eat feces as a way to supplement enzymes and B vitamins missing in their diet,” adds Dr. Richter. Sadly, dogs in shelters might eat poop to eliminate it from their confined cage because they don’t like to eat and sleep with poop nearby. And dogs in puppy mills might eat poop because of a lack of food, adds Dr. Pilossoph.
Is it normal for dogs to eat poop?
Even if scientists don’t fully understand why a dog would eat poop, it is fairly common for a dog to do it, Dr. Pilossoph says. In a 2018 paper, veterinary researchers at the University of California conducted online surveys to take a closer look at why dogs eat poop. One of the surveys focused solely on poop eaters. Among the 1,500 pet parents surveyed, researchers discovered a whopping 62% of dogs ate poop daily, and 38% weekly. Interestingly, key factors (age, sex, neuter status, age of separation from the mother and ease of potty training) didn’t influence poop eaters from non-poop eaters.
Generally speaking, canines eating feces is normal, but it doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t something wrong. “If your dog is trying to eat poop regularly, it is best to bring them to their vet to rule out any underlying medical causes,” says Dr. Pilossoph.
Why do dogs smell other dogs’ poop?
Whether your dog eats poop or not, chances are they will at least smell it. But why? “Some dogs primarily explore their world through smell. The scent is a dog’s most powerful tool that conveys information to them about the world and all the other animals around them,” says Dr. Pilossoph. After all, they have 300 million olfactory receptors in their nose, compared with our 6 million. And the section of a dog’s brain devoted to analyzing smells is about 40 times greater than ours. No wonder there are things dogs can smell that humans can’t.
When dogs sniff other dogs’ poop, they are essentially reading the neighborhood “doggy gazette,” learning about other dogs. “An animal’s feces may tell a dog a great deal about them, including their diet, emotional state, home environment, favorite walking place, health condition and more,” says Dr. Pilossoph.
Can feeding my dog pineapple help it eat less poop?
Pineapple is one of the many human foods dogs can eat, which is why you might have read that feeding your dog pineapple will make its own poop less appetizing. The enzymes in fruits like pineapple can change the taste of dog poop. However, there is no specific “dosage” Dr. Richter says. “A tablespoon or so for most dogs would probably have some effect, but pineapple is high in sugar and can lead to weight gain and/or stomach upset.” Ultimately the best solution is to remove the temptation and teach your pupster to leave it when you’re out and about.
Can a dog get sick from eating poop?
Possibly. It depends on the poop. One of the fascinating things the previous-mentioned study noted is that dogs have discriminating palates when it comes to poop: They tend to only eat poop that is less than two days old. This is a good thing, because the infectious larvae in intestinal parasite eggs don’t hatch for a few days.
This built-in safety mechanism is likely inherited from their wolf ancestors. When a sick wolf pooped in the cave, it instinctively knew to eat the poop right away to avoid getting parasites. Modern preventative veterinary care practically wipes out parasites, but it is definitely still possible for a dog to get parasites from eating the stool of another dog or get reinfected if they have a parasite, say roundworms, for example. Additionally, dog poop can disrupt the balance in your pupper’s G.I. tract, causing diarrhea, gas and discomfort, Dr. Richter says.
How can I stop my dog from eating poop?
Even though it’s normal for a dog to eat poop, it’s gross to think about your dog licking your face after its stinky snack. Luckily, you can do a few things to help curb your pup’s appetite for poop. Reminder: It’s best to talk with your vet if you notice your pup frequently eating poop. After chatting with them, try these strategies.
1. Keep your area poop-free
For starters, Dr. Richter says to keep your dog’s living area free and clear of poop to eliminate the potential for the behavior to occur. Immediately remove the temptation by using an odor-trapping poop bag or handy pooper scooper.
2. Supervise yard time
Celebrity dog trainer Chrissy Joy says looking after your dog in the yard is another important step to stop your dog from eating poop. “Leaving your dog unattended will just allow the behavior to continue,” she explains. “Approaching your outdoor adventures with a plan can help to find a proper routine for your dog.” This is also a great opportunity to train your dog to leave poop in the yard by rewarding them with treats and toys if they ignore it.
3. Work on the “leave it” command
When you’re walking your dog, Dr. Richter says to use commands like “no” and “leave it,” then offer a reward or treat if they leave it. Eventually, your pup should withdraw from the poop to get a treat. If you’re having trouble teaching this behavior, here’s how to find the best dog obedience school.
About the experts
- Zac Pilossoph, DVM, is a consulting veterinarian at Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. He’s a nationally recognized veterinary medical professional and a global veterinary cannabis educational expert who consults with several organizations.
- Gary Richter, DVM, is an award-winning veterinarian, a veterinary health expert with Rover.com and founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition. He has owned and been the medical director of Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, California, since 2002 and started Holistic Veterinary Care in 2009.
- Chrissy Joy is a celebrity dog trainer, live performer and International Trick Dog Champion who has been featured on PIX11 and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, as well as in USA Today. Her goal is to inspire others to develop their bond with their pup through activities like trick training.
- Veterinary Medicine and Science: “The paradox of canine conspecific coprophagy”