For the most part, my venture into pet parenthood has been pretty darn adorable. My Boston Terrier has a collection of bow ties (his breed is nicknamed the “American Gentleman”) and he gives post-jog high fives with his front paw. But, um, shortly after I got him from the rescue, I noticed that he had a nasty little habit we needed to break.
He’s guilty of committing coprophagia. That’s the scientific term for eating poop. Not. Very. Gentleman-like.
(Here he is with a “who me?!” expression. And here’s your official warning to proceed with caution because we’re about to do a deep dive into dog poop.)
As it turns out, many dogs are guilty of, shall we say, ordering a No. 2. Sixteen percent of dogs are “serious” poop eaters, meaning they’ve been caught doing it at least six times, according to a study published in Veterinary Medicine and Science by veterinary behaviorist Benjamin Hart and colleagues at University of California-Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. Another 7 percent of dogs have been busted eating poop one to five times.
The first time my pup was caught in the act, I took him home, brushed his teeth with his bacon-flavored toothpaste and immediately called the vet. She suggested spiking his kibble with a couple of tablespoons of canned pumpkin because apparently it tastes good in food, but bad in poop. (This is a strategy backed up by the Partnership for Animal Welfare, by the way.) Honestly, I don’t know if canned pumpkin helped because I’m mostly just on super-high poop patrol these days, helping to not lead my dog into temptation as we take walks.
Still, I’ve got a lot of questions about why dogs eat poop, so I looked into the research and turned to some expert veterinarians to help explain this gross canine habit. Doody calls, right?
First, Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?
The science isn’t completely clear on why dogs eat feces, said Gary Richter, M.S., D.V.M., and a veterinary health expert with Rover, a pet-sitting and dog-walking site.
Simply put, some dogs are always hungry and literally will eat just about anything, including poop, said Richter, who is also the owner and medical director of Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, California. Other dogs seem to seek it out as though they enjoy it, he said.
“Assuming the dog is eating an appropriately balanced diet — meaning basically any commercially available brand — nutritional deficiencies leading to coprophagia are very unlikely,” Richter explained. “In truth, eating feces is almost exclusively a behavioral issue rather than a physical one.”’
Here’s what science tells us, according to the University of California-Davis research:
- Terriers and hounds are most likely to be in the coprophagic category.
- Dogs living in households with two or more dogs are more likely to be stool eaters.
- The coprophagic dogs in the survey primarily consumed stools that were no more than two days old.
- Probably no surprise here, but dogs that are “greedy eaters” (the ones who chow down their food and linger under the dinner table) are more likely to be coprophagic.
Are There Any Health Risks Associated With Dogs Eating Feces?
Yes, dogs eating poop is undeniably gross. But is it actually bad for them? That depends.
It’s harmless for a dog to eat its own poop, explained Michel Selmer, D.V.M., a licensed veterinarian in New York known as “The Caring Vet.” (He’s also a certified traditional Chinese veterinary medicine practitioner.) But consuming the stool of other animals may cause health problems if it’s contaminated with parasites, viruses or toxins.
If your dog is eating stool snacks, it’s a good idea to contact your veterinarian to rule out health problems like parasites, poor diets, diabetes, Cushing’s disease and problems with medications, Selmer said.
How Can Dog Guardians Break Their Pets Of This Nasty Habit?
Whether it is their own poop or from another pet in your house, the first step is to be vigilant about cleaning it up, Richter said.
“Coprophagia is a crime of opportunity,” Richter said. If your dog is seeking out feces while on walks, training is key, Richter added. “A well-trained dog will always check with their owner before stepping out of line.”
Keeping your pet on a leash to prevent access or using a basket muzzle to keep them from picking things up off the ground can be effective deterrents, according to Richter.
Several food additives and tablets advertised as being able to treat coprophagia are on the market, but the study published in Veterinary Medicine Science found that pet owners didn’t have much success with those products. In fact, the reported rate of success ranged from none to 2 percent.
So, have any of you pet owners been able to successfully break your dogs of the poop-eating habit? How did you do it?