Why is my dog eating his own poop?

The first time you see it the shock and guilt hits you:

Am I not feeding him enough? Is he sick? Does he need supplements? Is he dysfunctional or mentally disturbed? Oh my...that mouth licked me!

Fast facts on “canine coprophagia”:

•    The habit of dogs eating their own or other dogs’ faeces is called coprophagia.
•    In the wild the behaviour is quite normal and allows food absorption to be maximised – this would have been a survival tool in times of hardship.
•    It is normal for a mother dog to lick her newborn puppies’ bottoms to stimulate urination and defecation. In the process the mother will consume the puppies’ faeces. This is normal and the mother dog should not be stopped or prevented from doing it. It also serves to keep the sleep area clean and in the wild removes smells that could attract predators.
•    Dogs also like to eat cat, horse and rabbit faeces.
•    Although it is normal it can cause serious health problems and we should aim to get our pets to stop this behaviour.

Why dogs eat faeces

Puppies copying mothers

Coprophagia is most common in puppies and could be due to puppies copying what their mothers do in the first eight to 10 weeks.

Puppy curiosity and boredom

Some animal behaviourists believe coprophagia can be as simple as a learnt behaviour arising out of curiosity and boredom in puppies, which often happens if they are left alone for long periods, during prolonged kennelling, and in stray puppies that had to fend for themselves.

Nutritional deficiencies (generally not)
This is usually the first cause that comes to mind when you see your dog eating his faeces. But generally it is not the reason, especially if you are feeding your dog a well-formulated, balanced diet. Faeces from herbivores (animals that eat plants) contain many of the B vitamins. Some researchers suggest that wolves (and some dogs) may eat faeces to replenish their vitamin supply.

Medical problems

In rare cases, medical problems can contribute to coprophagy. Such medical conditions include:
•    Severe disorders of the pancreas (pancreatic insufficiency) or intestine.
•    Severe malnutrition from massive parasitic infestations, or starvation.

Stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety are known to trigger coprophagy. The stress can be caused by being alone after another pet companion dies, being left in a kennel, moving home and changing owners.


One researcher suggests that dogs who have been punished by their owners for defecating inappropriately start to think any defecation is wrong, so they try to eliminate the evidence.

Like the taste

Yes, for some it is as simple as that: they like the taste!

What are the health risks?

•    Toxoplasmosis (Toxoplasma gondii) from eating cat faeces. Cats are the primary hosts for this parasite; they are the only mammals in which Toxoplasma is passed through the faeces.
•    Other parasites like Giardia and Coccidia – dogs eating the faeces of other dogs or cats can infect themselves repeatedly with parasites. A common symptom of infection is diarrhoea.
•    Roundworm, hookworm and whipworm infection become a problem if the faeces have been around for two to three days or more.

What to do?

•    The best place to start is by taking your dog to the vet for a good check-up and consultation, unless your dog is still a puppy. Your dog will be checked for any nutritional deficiencies or other medical problems. If he is physically fine then you’ll know the bad habit is caused by another trigger.
•    Most experts and vets will recommend that you should aim to change the bad habit and take away the trigger. This is called “behaviour modification training”.
•    Most importantly, try to keep his area clean of faeces.
•    If the trigger is boredom, try toys and regular interaction and play with your dog to distract him.
•    Some researchers suggest that making the faeces not so tasty could help solve the problem. This can be done by adding fibre to your dog’s normal diet. Please consult your vet before adding anything to your dog’s food.
•    Increased meal times to distract him – the same daily quantity, but split into smaller meals.
•    In situations where stress is the trigger, the cause should be eliminated. In cases of extreme anxiety, medication might be prescribed by your vet.
•    Don’t punish your dog for eating his faeces; this may only reinforce the bad habit by causing anxiety.

-    Hilda Geyer, Health24, updated August 2013.

Reviewed by veterinarian Dr Katja Bier.

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