So, your dog has potty mouth (literally).  Try these expert-approved strategies to change his habits.

By Barry Stringfellow
March 19, 2019

Sure, it's gross to catch your pooch eating poop at the dog park—but the act of eating poop, also known as coprophagia, is not an uncommon dog behavior. Read on to learn more about why your dog may be eating poop, when it’s a sign of a more serious medical issue, and how to break your dog of this unappetizing habit.

Image courtesy of Getty.

Animals in the wild sometimes eat feces when they're in need of nutrients, since stools can contain large amounts of undigested food. Assuming your dog doesn't have to hunt prey to eat, the cause of its coprophagia may be gastrointestinal issues, malnutrition, difficulty absorbing nutrients, or parasites.

Related: Want to Make Your Dog Happier? Let Him Sniff, Science Says

A momma dog may eat the poop of her litter as an evolutionary habit to clean her den and protect her puppies from predators; puppies can pick up the same habit and continue the behavior.

But sometimes a dog eats poop out of boredom, because of stress, to prevent punishment (if the dog is usually punished for pooping in the house he may eat it to hide the evidence), or for attention.

Why Is My Dog Eating Poop?

Before trying to break your dog of this habit, you need to know why it’s happening.

Medical Reasons

Consult with your vet, who can do a stool test for parasites. Costs for stool tests generally range from $25 to $50. If parasites are ruled out, your vet may want to test for other maladies that increase appetite, such as Cushing's disease, diabetes, and thyroid disease.

A vitamin deficiency can also cause this behavior. According to Mara Bovsun of the American Kennel Club, "There's been a long-standing theory that dogs eat feces because they are missing something in their diets. Vitamin-B deficiency, in particular, has been a prime suspect, and studies have backed this up. In 1981, scientists showed fecal microbial activity synthesized thiamine, a B-vitamin. Other research found other missing nutrients."

If your dog happens to be taking medications for other ailments, they can be the culprit. Sometimes steroids can lead to lead to an increase in appetite. Your vet should review medication side effects during your consultation.

Behavioral Triggers

The causes of poop eating aren’t necessarily limited to physical health issues. Dogs may also exhibit coprophagia if they are stressed or experiencing other behavioral triggers. Dogs left alone for long periods or who are confined in small spaces tend to exhibit fecal eating more often than dogs who are well socialized and secure. Dogs may also eat their own waste when they are anxious or seeking attention.

How Do I Stop My Dog From Eating Poop?

The fix for your dog’s coprophagia will depend on the reason he’s exhibiting the behavior in the first place.

Proper Nutrition

If your vet decides a vitamin deficiency might be the culprit, makes sure you’re feeding your pooch a high-quality dog food and a supplement if recommended. If you really want to watch your pup's diet, consider making your own dog food or dog treats with our homemade dog recipes and homemade dog treats.

Exercise

Make sure your dog gets all the exercise and playtime he needs to help with emotional stressors, clean up after your dog as soon as he poops, and keep your dog on a leash when you take him on a walk to prevent him from eating the stool of other dogs that he finds along the way.

Training

Whether it’s illness, deficient diet or an emotional issue, once the underlying cause has been dealt with, you’ll likely still need to break the habit. Tom Shelby, author of Dog Training Diaries: Proven Expert Tips & Tricks to Live in Harmony with Your Dog and an expert dog trainer from Martha's Vineyard with more than 40 years of experience, has been called many times over the years by distressed and disgusted dog owners. Dogs who steal food off tables tend to be poop eaters, he says. To create owner omnipotence in the mind of the dog, Shelby has a technique that can be used to stop both behaviors.

"Say you have a snack on your coffee table, and the dog won't bother food even at height of its nose, but when you walk out of the room, the snack is not safe,"Shelby says. "Put a hot dog in Tupperware container and perforate it. Then set up a mirror so you can see the container without dog seeing you. Walk out of the room and when your dog sniffs, create a loud noise. You can take two pots and slam them together. The dog will quickly associate that startling sound to taking something off the table."

Shelby says the same technique is extremely effective for coprophagic canines. "Leave a poop in your yard and observe the dog from the window," he said. "The second it bends over to smell or eat, blow a horn."

Taste aversion is another way to curb coprophagia. Find a fresh stool and cover it with hot sauce. When your dog does attempt to taste the stool, he’ll get a spicy surprise. One bite could do the trick. This won’t harm the dog, but make sure there's a full water bowl nearby.

With a little work and some patience, you can break your dog of his poop-eating habits.

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