We love our dogs. And we love when they’re snuggly and cuddly and they drool all over us with their affection. Well, maybe a little less slobber wouldn’t be so bad, would it?
But what we often tuck away in the back of our minds is that our dogs lick their butts. Constantly. And then they lick us with the zeal of a puppy every time they get the chance. Even more gross is that some dogs eat their poop and then want to have us pucker up. Why do dogs eat their poop, and what can you do to help them break that crappy habit?
Coprophagia: My dog eats poop and I don’t like it
If your dog eats poop, you’re not alone. Experts say anywhere between one in four and one in six dogs eats poop. The actual act of eating poop is called coprophagia and it’s pretty gross. That’s saying something, considering we know our dogs lick from the toilet, eat their own vomit and lick their butts with pretty regular consistency.
But why? Why do dogs do this, especially if you offer them better options than their own butt brownies? There’s not a ton of science on the matter, but experts suggest several theories.
Why does my dog eat poop?
When it comes to coprophagia, there could be several reasons dogs eat poop. Sometimes it’s behavioral, but most of the time, research suggests it goes back to their ancestral roots and needs to keep themselves going.
Some behavioral reasons dogs eat poop include:
- Cleanliness. Dogs with longer fur/feathers especially may do this simply to clean themselves up. Mama dogs especially will do this sometimes to keep her puppies’ den clean
- Boredom. Yes, it seems like a really poopy way to fight boredom, but believe it or not, some dogs do.
- Age. Puppies are often poop-seekers because they like to explore and they’re figuring out what’s edible and what’s not. Sadly, this is pretty common for puppies who start off in puppy mills. Too often, they really have no choice but to eat the poop to have places to sit and lay. Thankfully most puppies grow out of that, but not all, and that’s how habits start.
- Stress. Stressed dogs will often chew and eat things they’re not supposed to (learn more about pica in dogs). Including poop. Yes, it may be gross to us but really? Dogs think poop smells pretty revealing…enticing…tantalizing, even, when stressed.
This is a bacteria called Serratia Marcescens and it can be found in other places where water is prevalent (bathroom, laundry, etc.) If your dog has a compromised immune system, this bacteria can make it worse, and even if not, it can make your dog not feel his best. It can also be a traitor to your efforts to keep breath fresh, so it’s a good idea to make washing the dog’s bowls a daily event.
What’s your dog getting from eating poop that he’s not getting from food?
The big reason you want to get to the bottom of your dog’s poop-eating is that it most likely may signal a deficiency somehow. In the above-referenced study, Dr. Hart concluded that dogs eating their fresh stool reflects their ancestral days when they were trying to be sure that parasites in poop wouldn’t contaminate the den. So in a sense, it’s in a dog’s DNA to eat poop for protection.
But protection from what? Parasites, obviously, but animal behaviorist Steven R. Lindsay believes that dog coprophagia may also be a survival skill dogs evolved with to ward off starvation. In a sense, they eat what they have to eat so they can stay fueled.
Is that a thing in this day and age where we feed our dogs designer foods (or even home cooked or raw diets)?
It can be, and if your dog is eating poop, here are some reasons why they may be doing so:
- They lack enzymes. Dogs used to eat the whole kill in the wild, as well as local vegetation. Today, dogs are often fed highly processed kibble diets, and that may not allow the appropriate amount of enzymes in their diet. Eating poop helps bring some back, and this helps them absorb nutrition appropriately.
- Malabsorption. Speaking of absorbing nutrition appropriately, if they’re not…they’re not getting the fuel they need to stay healthy. Dogs eating poop may do so because they’re trying to get some of the undigested nutrients back from their poop. Ensuring their digestive system is optimal is important.
- Parasites. If your dog is suffering from parasites, he may suffer from coprophagia too because he intrinsically knows he has to feed those parasites. It’s a drive he can’t fight, and you need to be sure there aren’t any parasites pushing the movement.
- Metabolic disorders. Conditions like thyroid disease or diabetes or pancreatic insufficiency may cause your dog to feel like he’s hungry even if he’s not. If his food bowl is empty, he may be hungry enough to eat poop. Treatments, like steroids, can also drive this. Pancreatic insufficiency is critical to know about because again, if your dog isn’t getting enough enzymes, he won’t be able to digest food properly.
- Underfeeding. We know it seems basic, but really, dogs can be underfed. Consult with your vet for the right amount of food to ensure they’re getting enough.
What can I do to stop my dog from eating poop?
Aside from the basics for behavioral issues like making sure they have clean spaces and aren’t bored or stressed, you’ll want to make sure their diet is appropriate.
What’s the easiest way to do that? Supplement with Bernie’s Perfect Poop! Perfect Poop has the ideal combination of premium fiber, pre- and probiotics and enzymes to make sure your dog’s tummy gets just what it needs to stay away from the poop-eating train. The miscanthus grass keeps them feeling full and moves their food through their digestive system at just the right speed for maximum absorption and the added enzymes are just what your dog needs to break his food down into absorbable nutrients his body needs. It’s easy to supplement, and you’ll get to go back to poop-scooping with a smile on your face!