By Ashley Watson
It’s 7:30 in the morning, and you’re ready for work. You let the dog out for that last chance to go to the bathroom before you leave. After relieving himself, your dog suddenly turns around and eats his own poop, or maybe he finds the feces of another animal to snack on as heads back inside. If you find yourself in this scenario often, you know how frustrating it is to get your dog to stop this behavior.
While eating poop is a disgusting habit, it is quite common in dogs (cats rarely develop this habit). It even has a name! It’s called, “coprophagy,” and it is a specific type of “pica,” which refers to eating any non-food items. General pica can be dangerous if your dog gets into something toxic, such as human medicine or poisons, but eating feces typically does not harm your pet, unless the fecal matter is tainted with a parasite.
In any case, it’s important to get your dog to change this behavior to protect him from any potential health issues and to help you keep your breakfast down when he does it. But why do dogs eat poop? The truth is that experts are not really sure why they do it. However, there are several theories out there about this strange behavior.
Here are some theories behind why dogs eat poop, but keep in mind that there’s no substantial proof either way for any of these theories.
It’s Learned Behavior
Some experts believe that dogs learn this behavior from a mother when she cleans up after her pups by eating their feces. Puppies that learn this behavior usually outgrow it once they realize that it doesn’t taste good, but some dogs continue to do this as they get older. This behavior may also be learned from other dogs, or some dogs may do it just to get attention. That’s why it is important that you take the correct steps to change the behavior (see bulleted list below).
Another theory is that your dog eats poop because there’s something missing in his diet. Before you change your dog’s diet, talk with your Vet. This may not be the reason your dog is eating animal waste, so it’s important to go over this behavior with your Vet and decide together how to deal with it.
Curiosity or Anxiety
Many dogs eat feces because they are investigating their surroundings. Your dog may also be nervous or suffer from anxiety. A final theory is that the dog is doing it out of shame or neglect. If the dog pooped in the house, he may eat it to try to hide the evidence; this is another reason that rubbing your dog’s nose in poop to “teach him a lesson” is never a good approach.
What You Can Do
Most experts agree that because there’s no substantial evidence for exactly why dogs eat poop, you may need to speak with your Vet or an animal behavior specialist to find the right solution. Here are just a few suggestions to try first.
- Clean up after your dog—whether it’s in your own yard or while you are on a walk (this is part of being a responsible dog owner as well).
- Make sure the litter box is clean, which your cat will appreciate too!
- Spray the dog with water or whatever method you’ve developed for punishment if you catch your dog in the act.
- Don’t punish after the fact because your dog will not understand why he’s being punished.
- Keep in mind that if your dog is doing it for attention, verbal scolding may be misunderstood as interaction or rewarding him for the behavior.
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