It’s one of the most disgusting things our dogs do—eating poop. Even if we shell out the big bucks for premium dog food, some dogs still seem to want to eat feces.
The technical term for eating poop is coprophagia. According the a study by the University of California at Davis, poop eaters are more likely to come from multi-dog households and be greedy eaters. Your dog might also eat poop because of a nutrient deficiency, a poor diet, hunger, or even for medicinal purposes. Read on for all the detail on the common theories about why dogs eat poop.
1. Nutrient Deficiency
Nutritional deficiency is probably the most oft-cited reason for eating poop, but there is no science backing up that theory, especially since most modern-day dog foods are fortified with iron and other minerals dogs would be lacking if they were eating poop for a nutritional deficiency.
“Generally dogs are on diets of premium foods that are well-rounded and have all the nutritional elements they need,” California Veterinarian Dr. Deirdre Brandes says.
2. Poor Diet
But along the lines of nutrient deficiency, some dog food is pretty close to the quality of poop. Low-quality supermarket dog foods are full of hard-to-digest ingredients and cheap fillers, and these foods may not contain the nutrients your dog needs.
“Commercially available dog food may have the appearance of real meat or real veggies and happy looking dogs on the front, and it may say nutritionally balanced for all life stages, but that really doesn’t mean that much in terms of the quality of the food,” holistic veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney says. “Unfortunately, most dogs tend to eat the same thing day-in and day-out and in doing so, they’re probably not going to be exposed to a diverse array of nutrients that their body needs.”
To address quality—which will make the nutrients more digestive and bio-available to your dog—look for premium-label foods at a pet store instead of the supermarket or consult Rover’s exposé on dog food to find a suitable brand. To address variety, switch the formula you feed your dog every few months, but remember to wean him onto the new formula to avoid an upset stomach.
Hunger can also tie in with low-quality food. Ingredients like corn, soy, and beef can be difficult to digest, meaning your dog doesn’t get all the nutrients from his food and will still be hungry.
Even if your dog is well fed with a high-quality food, there is a chance he could be starving. Dogs with parasites that steal nutrition from their food may turn to poop to fill the gaps. Make sure your dog is checked at least yearly for worms and parasites at the vet, but especially if you suspect a problem.
4. Medicinal Purposes
It turns out, poop isn’t always all bad. There are good bacteria and bad bacteria in poop, and your dog may be looking to strengthen his gut with some of the good. This is more commonly seen with other animal species and should not be encouraged with our dogs, especially since the bad bacteria like salmonella can pose a threat to humans in close contact with the dog.
5. Preventing Infestation
You’ve probably never heard this one before, but it’s the only theory based on research. Dr. Benjamin Hart led a study for U.C. Davis that surveyed about 3,000 dog owners. They concluded dogs eat fresh stools—as in one to two days old—as an ancestral instinct to keep infectious parasites from harming the pack.
They concluded dogs eat fresh stools—as in one to two days old—as an ancestral instinct to keep infectious parasites from harming the pack.
“The only way that wild [dogs] can remove feces before infective larvae hatch is by consuming them—no pooper-scoopers available,” Dr. Hart writes in the preliminary findings.
The researchers could find no evidence to scientifically support other theories why dogs eat poop.
“The main research focus was testing these other ideas and nothing held water,” Dr. Hart says.
How to Stop Your Dog from Eating Poop
If you’re hoping to correct this behavior in your dog, you may not have much luck; Dr. Hart’s study found the “cure rate” is only 1 to 2%. Here are some techniques to minimize poop eating:
- Training might work; teach your dog to “leave it” or “drop it” on command and practice, practice, practice so you dog is 100% reliable.
- Keep the kitty litter out of your dog’s reach, as dogs tend to prefer cat poop.
- Pick up after your dog regularly, if not daily. Regardless of why they eat poop, removing the temptation will eliminate the opportunity to do it.
Dr. Hart thinks the last method might be the best approach.
“I would suggest being very vigilant about picking up feces,” Dr. Hart adds.
“I would suggest being very vigilant about picking up feces,” Dr. Hart adds. “The best is to walk the dog in the morning and evening on a leash—and, of course, pick up feces—so almost all defecation is done away from the home.”
It can be tough to know what your dog wants sometimes — they don’t speak English and we, of course, don’t speak bark. Thankfully, though, some very smart pup pros and veterinarians have dedicated their lives to helping us decode what every sniff, paw, tail wag, and head-turn really means.
“People are verbal, and not really great observers,” says Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a veterinary professor at Texas A&M University, and executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. “Animals, on the other hand, are the opposite.” Bridge the communication gap with your dog by keeping a keen eye out for these telling behaviors.
1. He licks his lips or yawns — but he’s not hungry or tired.
These seemingly innocent behaviors are actually early indicators that your dog is uncomfortable or stressed in his current situation. “Most people only realize there’s an issue when more overt behaviors are displayed,” says Dr. John Ciribassi, a veterinarian at Chicagoland Veterinary Behavior Consultants and co-editor of the book Decoding Your Dog. “Aggressive behaviors like barking, growling, baring of teeth, snapping, and biting are obvious, but they’re the end product of stress gone undetected.”
Other often overlooked stress signs might include a raised paw, a furrowed brow, and a refusal to look at the source of his frustration (perhaps another dog, some kids, or possibly even you). If these cues go unnoticed, and the perceived threat remains, the situation can deteriorate, and “… the dog is forced to escalate and provide behaviors that people do understand,” says Dr. Ciribassi.
2. He’s curled up and his ears are flat or his tail is tucked in.
“When you notice these sort of reduced-size postures, your dog might be trying to get away from a situation,” says Dr. Beaver. She also warns that this could be an especially dangerous situation with kids. Because they are often closer to eye-level with the dog, they’ll look him in the eye, which could be perceived as a threat. “If you think about it, direct eye contact is a major threat for humans, too — but we can tell people to back off,” she says. If a dog feels trapped or can’t leave an anxious situation, he might stiffen up, growl, snap, or even bite. “It’s important to never leave a child and a dog alone unsupervised for this reason. People get into trouble when they assume their dog would never hurt anyone, but a young child could provoke a stressful situation.”
3. He’s growling at another dog and his hair is standing up.
Just like humans might want to display confidence with their posture, dogs try the same ploy. “If they’re walking very stiffly with their head up and tail up, and their hair is standing on end, they’re trying to display a sign of dominance,” says Dr. Beaver. “It might not be that impressive when a Boston terrier does it, but imagine a golden retriever!”
4. He’s wagging his tail.
If when you picture a happy dog you instantly see a cheery, furry face and a playful wagging tail, you’re not totally wrong. A loose, gentle wagging is generally a sign of a relaxed dog who just wants to play. But, reminds Dr. Beaver, there are times that a wag is not friendly. “If a dog’s tail is high, stiff, and moving very fast — almost as if it’s vibrating — it’s a sign of aggression we call ‘flagging’.”
5. He has that guilty look on his face.
“People tend to interpret submissive behaviors — like ears pointed back and angled downwards, a lowered head, exposed the belly, or tucked tail — as the dog demonstrating that it knows it did something wrong,” says Dr. Ciribassi. “But these moves actually do not indicate a degree of moral awareness by the dog.” Instead, they’re behaviors meant to avoid the aggression your dog senses (like, in this case, you yelling at him for digging through the trash). “It’s purely a reflexive means of self-preservation that can develop when punishment has been the typical response to problem behavior. Over time, if this approach persists, we can see the submissive behavior develop to include aggressive responses.”
A more constructive approach to dealing with bad dog behavior involves traditional, structured obedience training, a practice that Dr. Beaver says is almost more for the owner than the dog. “Make sure you’re the one offering the obedience commands in the class, not the trainer,” she says. This is important because if the commands come from someone besides you, your dog won’t associate what he learned in the lessons with you — and unless you’re going to invite your trainer to live with you, that’s a problem.
6. His butt is in the air, and his head is down.
“This is what we call a ‘play bow’,” says Dr. Beaver. “It says, ‘I’m getting into my playing mode and I’m going to play aggressively’.” Dogs might also bring you a toy if they’re seeking interaction. Humans tend to buy dogs lots of toys, so they learn to use them to be social.
7. He doesn’t approach you when you call him.
Guess what? Sometimes dogs want alone time, just like you do. “Dogs do not have to come when called,” says Dr. Ciribassi. “Inviting a dog to approach and then waiting for the response is best.” You can do a similar test when deciding whether a dog wants to be petted — place him in area in which he can easily get away, and then try petting him. If he looks away, licks his lips, tries to move, or doesn’t lean back into you once you stop petting him, he’s uncomfortable. “It’s also best to leave your dog alone when they are in their safe area — like a crate or on a dog bed. It’s just like how you would not want to be disturbed when reading a good book relaxed in a recliner.”
8. He just won’t stop barking.
Never-ending barks can mean many things, depending on the situation. “A dog might bark if it senses a threat, or it might serve as an effort to warn his family that something is bothering him,” says Dr. Beaver.
Dr. Ciribassi adds that noise-phobic dogs might yelp during storms or in response to everyday sounds, and a dog barking at home may be a way for him to establish his area. “Barking can also occur as a part of territorial behavior,” he says. For example, “When people leave their dogs loose and alone in yards, dogs develop innate territorial tendencies, since they can practice the behavior at will.”
Sometimes, though, a bark is just a bark. “They might also bark just because they’re bored and trying to get attention,” says Dr. Beaver. “Often this behavior has [developed after having] been reinforced for a long time, but if you work on ignoring it, they’ll eventually
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9. He’s chewing on your furniture.
Again, there can be quite a few explanations here. “Some dogs chew when alone because of separation anxiety,” says Dr. Ciribassi. “Puppies chew when teething and in exploration — if not adequately redirected, the chewing can persist into the dog’s adulthood.”
Sometimes, though, it’s just because a dog is, well, a dog. “Some breeds are just more mouth-oriented, and they’ll get into trouble because they’re genetically programmed to,” says Dr. Beaver. Another possible explanation? A delicious smell. “It could even be that food accidentally gets dropped next to a certain piece of furniture, and the dog might try to go after the smell.” It’s hard to blame him in that case.
In general, if you’re ever concerned about your dog’s behavior, stop by your vet’s office for a quick wellness check-up. It never hurts to be sure it’s not something bigger, and most vets have lots of treats around, making it a fun visit for your pup, too!
Somehow, along the way, I made the terrible life decision to only be friends with people who are well and truly coupled. I’m surrounded by loving significant others who fawn over one another (and have really expensive weddings) and I find myself looking around and not seeing what the fuss is all about. Sure, they’ll (maybe) have someone until the day they die, but there’s also a lot of baggage that comes with it, like shared finances and bathrooms. So, while they’re waxing eloquently about their boyfriends and husbands, I like to talk about my dogs (which is generally met with mixed reviews) because I’m convinced I’ve got the better end of the deal.
Not convinced a four-legged friend with a tail is a better choice for a life companion, well let me change your minds my friends.
1. You can kick the dog out of bed
When my dog starts hogging the covers, kicking me in her sleep, farting in bed and snoring too loudly, all I have to do is reach over and push them off the bed. There’s no conversation about boundaries or needing my space, and I don’t have to compromise on the amount of bed I take up. Granted there’s a lot of disgruntlement, but since there are more dog beds than empty floor space in my house, they can just deal with it.
2. Netflix and chill doesn’t come with awkward expectations
I’ve got an unending control over my Netflix account and a permanent couch partner to enjoy it with. While the pit bull does tend to prefer dog movies and the puppy has a strange thing for Frank Sinatra musicals, they’ll just go to sleep when they don’t like what I’ve put on. I can have a no-pants chill session in front of the TV and the only wandering limbs will be when the dog takes up too much of the couch.
3. I can complain as much as I want
Don’t try and pretend you don’t talk to your dogs — I’m not the only crazy one here. If I’m having a terrible, no good, very bad, rotten day, the dog’s going to hear about it. I’m going to moan and complain, tell them all about it, and since my pups are just as vocal, they generally sass me right back. I don’t have to hold it in because I need to be supportive of someone else’s bad day or feel bad about being worked up over something silly. I can vent to my heart’s content and they’ll bark back supportively.
4. They don’t care if I’m occasionally a disaster
The days when my emotions are out of control and I just want to be sad or angry or curl up in a ball and ignore the world, my dogs let me. I’ve always got someone to curl up next to me, put their head in my lap or kiss my cheek and let me wallow. They’re not going to get annoyed when it lasts too long or feel an obligation to make it better, or worse yet — talk me out of it. More often than not, just their presence will be enough to pull me out of it.
5. We don’t argue about the chores
No, the dogs are not going to take out the trash or load the dishes (or vacuum up their own hairballs), but there’s no expectation for help. You expect your significant other to pitch in around the house; when they don’t, there’s a lot of resentment. I know my dogs are going to tear up their toys, shed hair like it’s their job and generally be little mess makers, but if it was a spouse who did it I’d go bonkers.
6. I can train my dogs to not be jerks
I’ve heard that going into a relationship expecting to be able to change someone is generally frowned upon. With the dogs, I’m supposed to train them to behave properly in the world. At the start of the dog-owner relationship, the puppy is an agent of chaos and bad behavior, but within a few months they’re normally able to mind you and alter their behavior through repetition and kindness. Unfortunately for you, your partner’s personality is probably what you’re stuck with, good or bad. I’m not sure cookies and belly rubs can talk them into being more supportive.
7. They’re always up for a road trip
Sometimes, you just want to get in your car, open the windows, blare the music and go. My dog’s are always up for it and their infectious smiles and tongues hanging out only add to the experience. I don’t have to worry about who is going to drive, argue over where we’re going or if we’ll be back in time for dinner. They’re happy to just be on an adventure and trust that I’ll take care of everything — which is a balm to my Type-A personality.
8. The bathroom is all mine
While I sometimes wish the dogs would use the toilet (house training is a literal nightmare), it does let me have exclusive bathroom rights. They’re not stinking it up, using all the hot water or leaving beard trimmings in the sink. I can let my makeup sprawl and take as long as I want while they take care of business outside.
9. I get a companion and a child all in one
There are some girlfriends and wives out there who might argue that their partner fits into this, too, but that’s not necessarily for the better. My dogs give me the chance to nurture and raise something, and feel the responsibility and love from doing so, while also having companionship and someone that will grow into at least semi self-sufficiency.
10. They’re always overjoyed to see me
Whether you’ve just come home from work or a five-minute errand, your dog is always happy to see you. Can you say the same about your partner or friends? There are very few non-blood relations who give me the same unconditional love that my dogs do.
11. My dogs need me
There are far too many homeless dogs (and cats) in the world, and I can do my small part in giving some of them a home, care and all the love I can provide. There are no strings or time limits, it’s not conditional on their behavior nor dependent on whether someone better comes along. It’s one of the few relationships in life in which you’re not going to get hurt and you can freely and openly give of yourself without fear or judgement.
Now, next time you’re feeling too single, go hug your pup and be thankful you have them in your life. I’m convinced they’re the best companions a girl could have.