"Why does my dog eat poop?" It's not an unusual question for pet parents.
If your dog sees his waste as a meal, it's natural to be confused—and a little grossed out as you wonder what sparked his interest. As strange as this behavior may seem to you, however, it's actually quite normal. "Coprophagia" is the act of eating feces, and it's a common behavior for many animals, particularly dogs. Here are a few explanations:
Growing Dogs Are Curious
Although we don't know exactly why your pooch wants to try dining on another animal's excrement, it could just be a matter of discovery. Your poop-eating-pup could be attracted to the strong scent. Maybe he can smell the food previously ingested. There may be no specific reason your dog is feeding on feces other than sheer curiosity, and dogs explore the world around them with their noses and mouths.
Mother Pups Clean Their Babies
A dog who has just given birth to a new litter of puppies will lick her offspring to clean and nurture them as they adjust to their environment. While licking, the mother will inevitably ingest her pups' feces. This behavior is normal and should correct itself once the puppies begin caring for themselves.
"He isn't especially curious nor is he a parent, so why does my dog eat poop then?" Depending on the circumstances, it may be because of malnutrition. It's believed that dogs who have inadequate diets, deficient of vitamins and minerals, eat the feces of another animal to compensate. But if your dog is eating a well-balanced dog food like Hill's Ideal Balance, and his veterinarian has given him a clear bill of health, malnutrition is probably not the cause of your dog's interest in poop. It's still a good idea to keep your vet in the loop with what's going on with your pup, so if it's a new behavior, it's worth a call to your vet to check in.
Fear May Cause Your Dog to Do Strange Things
Have you punished your dog many times for pooping in a place he wasn't supposed to, such as your bedroom? If your dog is fearful of the consequences after going number-two, he may begin to eat his poop to hide the evidence. In fact, if this happens regularly, your dog may develop a compulsion to continue seeking feces to ingest. The best way to curb this behavior is proper potty training. Also, dogs who have accidents in the home due to illness or bad weather should have the feces removed before he has a chance to eat it.
How to Stop It
The simplest way to be sure your dog stops eating feces is to ensure any poop is discarded immediately. If you have a cat, place the litter box where your canine can't get to it. If you have a (human) baby in the house, all used diapers should be disposed of in a sealed trash can that he can't get to. Does your dog have accidents in the house? Restrict his access to certain areas of your home so you know where it might happen and you can observe him more closely.
Of course he's more likely to try to eat feces when you take him for walks; just make sure he's leashed at all times. If you notice him smelling the feces of other animals left behind, keep him close to you. When your dog eliminates, pick up his poop immediately.
Remember, just like many other unwanted behaviors it is important to never punish your dog for this behavior, as they do not always associate the bad behavior with the punishment. Instead using command training saying things such as "leave it" will help him better understand this behavior is unacceptable and learn not to do it in the future. However, if you are still in the middle of training him to avoid this behavior it is worth having breath-freshening treats available--especially if your dog is one of those that loves to give slobbery kisses. You wouldn't think training your dog would include teachings to stop eating poop, but this relationship is full of all sorts of adventure!
Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.